ARMAGH — It had been four weeks since West Shamokin celebrated a victory on the football field, but it was well-earned Friday night.
After missing their second game against River Valley due to issues related to COVID-19, the Wolves moved to 2-0 in Week 3 before suffering two consecutive losses. They were to play Northern Cambria last week, but the Colts forfeited the contest due to COVID issues.
Nonetheless, West Shamokin now holds a 4-2 record after defeating the United Lions in a monstrous 70-36 victory.
It was the highest score of the season in the Heritage Conference as the Wolves and Lions combined for 15 touchdowns. Momentum swung back and forth between both teams through the first half, but it would ultimately be the Wolves who closed the deal with 36 unanswered points.
“We never felt safe,” Wolves coach Jon McCullough said. “We felt like we had to keep scoring because we felt like we weren’t able to stop them at all.”
The Lions were ultimately the first point-earners, however. The game began with a 70-yard carry by running back Caden McCully. It positioned the Lions far inside West Shamokin’s territory, but it took an 11-yard run by quarterback Jacob Boring on fourth down to score the Lions’ first touchdown.
West Shamokin would make its response with a 35-yard reception by Owen Stover. Quarterback Bo Swartz then completed a pass to his brother Lou for a 15-yard touchdown, and a successful extra point moved the Wolves ahead 7-6.
The Wolves would also get the next strike. Boring’s second pass went directly into the hands of Wolves defensive back Christian Sharp. He returned it 65 yards for a defensive score.
United then radically slowed its offensive pace on their next possession. It took the Lions 15 plays to reach the end zone, averaging less than 4 yards per play before Wade Plowman caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Boring.
West Shamokin escaped a dangerous situation after the Lions’ score. Faced with third-and-17, Swartz threw his second passing touchdown on an 87-yard pass to Stover at the start of the second quarter.
The contest continued with repeated offensive blows. United scored on a four-play drive with a 33-yard touchdown from McCully, his only score of the night. Lou Swartz then earned his second score on a 65-yard completion, moving the Wolves ahead 28-20.
The Lions tied the game on their next touchdown with a 5-yard pass to Zack Travis after a 55-yard run by Boring moving them into goal-to-go territory on the drive’s second play.
West Shamokin broke the tie when Bo and Lou Swartz connected for the younger brother’s third receiving touchdown. However, a missed kick on the attempted extra point kept the Wolves ahead by only six points.
With an opportunity to take the lead, the Lions pounced with a 41-yard score by Boring for his fourth all-purpose touchdown. A successful pass to Plowman on the two-point attempt gave the Lions a 36-34 advantage.
It would be the last time the Lions would see the end zone, and the amount of time they spent ahead would be almost nonexistent. From the Wolves’ 12-yard line, Stover found an opening through United’s kicking team coverage and made an 88-yard return to score West Shamokin’s go-ahead touchdown.
The Lions’ offense went cold near the end of the first half. After earning two first downs and reaching the Wolves’ 43-yard line, United struggled to move the ball to stay ahead of a waning clock. With 40 seconds remaining, they elected to punt on fourth-and-7, but the snap was off-center and the Wolves’ recovered at the 30-yard line.
Two plays later, Stover scored his second receiving touchdown in the final seconds before halftime.
Ahead 50-36, the Wolves took advantage of receiving the third-quarter kickoff. They finished a nine-play drive with Swartz’s only rushing touchdown. It stretched the lead to 20 points, and a Lions’ three-and-out enabled them to again extend the rapidly increasing lead. Logan McClafferty made the score on a 1-yard carry, and the Wolves added another touchdown in the fourth quarter with a 33-yard passing touchdown to wide receiver Christian Sharp.
The second half was a remarkable turnaround for the Wolves’ defense. After surrendering 36 points in the first half, they delivered a shutout in the third and fourth quarters en route to their 34-point win.
“We just had to re-establish ourselves,” McCullough said. “We did a couple things differently, but I ran about every defensive package we had. We just couldn’t slow them down in the first half, but we were better focused and had more energy in the second half.
“I’m proud of them for coming out and re-establishing themselves.”
Meanwhile, Lions coach Kevin Marabito recognized the morale strains on a team with a winless effort, but applauded his team’s valiant effort in the first half to stay competitive against a seemingly invincible Wolves’ offense.
“Even when people look at a team like us that doesn’t have a win yet, these kids are playing as hard as they can play,” he said. “They do not quit, and that’s everything you ask out of a group of young men.”
Next week, West Shamokin will play its out-of-conference game at Conemaugh Valley.
United will aim for its first victory against Marion Center.