NuMINE — Experience and momentum.
Both played a pivotal factor in West Shamokin’s 34-28 victory over a talented Purchase Line football team Friday night at Jack Boyer Field.
Although it was the season opener for both teams, West Shamokin quarterback Bo Swartz looked in midseason form and completed nearly 80 percent of his 24 pass attempts for 253 yards while also adding 100 yards on the ground.
“His development from last year to this year has been amazing,” West Shamokin head coach Jon McCullough said of the second-year starter. “I think we saw tonight how he is able to make plays with his legs and make throws on the run. He is a special kid.”
Another special player got the scoring started for Purchase Line on the first play from scrimmage when Josh Syster showed why he is one of the best backs in the Heritage Conference. After a 27-yard kick return by Mello Sanchez, the senior running back cruised 68 yards for the contest’s first touchdown.
It did not stop there for the Red Dragons. On the ensuing kickoff, a jarring hit by Purchase Line’s kickoff team forced a fumble that was recovered by senior Dylan Overman at the West Shamokin 21-yard line. Four plays later, Syster raced in again, this time from 3 yards at the 10:04 mark of the first quarter for a 14-0 lead.
West Shamokin found the end zone for the first time when wide receiver Dylan Wolfe took a quick handoff around the left side for a 4-yard touchdown run. Wolfe’s touchdown capped a 75-yard drive that featured two Red Dragons penalties, including an offsides marker on fourth-and-4 that resulted in a first down at the Purchase Line 16-yard line.
Purchase Line coach Matt Falisec agreed the penalties played a part in shifting the momentum.
“We talked about that as a team. We were up 14 and gave it back to them. The key to that drive was that we jumped offsides two times. That’s a huge momentum swing.”
After a short Purchase Line possession stalled after only three plays on its next drive, a Brady Syster punt pinned the Wolves inside their own 10-yard line. From there, West Shamokin’s experience took center stage when Swartz found junior receiver Owen Stover for a 35-yard completion to bring the ball to the Dragons 7-yard line. Stover had a big night, catching eight passes for 135 yards.
Elijah Linhart scampered around the left side for a Wolves touchdown at the 9:33 mark of the second quarter that was followed by an Ezeck Olinger extra point to tie the game at 14-14.
Purchase Line bounced right back, grabbing the momentum once again when Josh Syster went untouched around the right side for a 59-yard touchdown run. The extra point brought the score to 21-14 Red Dragons with 7:16 to go in the first half.
McCullough acknowledged that the Wolves had a tough time containing the Dragons’ senior back.
“Maybe in the second half we didn’t do as bad of a job, but in the first half we struggled,” he said. “We had to make some adjustments at the half.”
Swartz capped the first-half scoring on West Shamokin’s next drive when he found Dylan Wolfe for his first of two passing touchdowns. The pair connected from 5 yards, and another Olinger extra point brought the score to 21-21 at the half.
Swartz continued his dominance to begin the second half when he kept the ball around the left side for a 15-yard touchdown at the 10:20 mark of the third quarter. The touchdown run was the seventh play of a 71-yard scoring drive. Olinger’s extra point brought the score to 28-21 in favor of the home team.
A Red Dragons penalty on the following kickoff negated a 55-yard Sanchez return to bring the ball all the way back to their own 15.
From there, a 9-yard muffed punt set the Wolves up with their next scoring drive. A two-play drive was finalized when Swartz made quite possibly his most impressive play of the game when he scrambled to his right and hit his brother Lou in stride for a perfect 21-yard touchdown pass at 8:32 mark. Olinger missed on his fifth extra-point attempt, and the score sat at 34-21.
The Dragons did not lay down, putting on easily their most impressive second-half drive that began at their own 8-yard line. Isaac Huey scored on the 12th play of the drive from 5 yards with 1:13 left in the third quarter. McCracken booted his fourth straight extra point to bring the Dragons within six points at 34-28.
Purchase Line had one more opportunity to at least tie the game late in the fourth quarter. After a pair of rushing first downs by junior quarterback Jayce Brooks brought the ball all the way to the West Shamokin 21, it was Olinger who stripped Brooks of the ball, which was eventually recovered by defensive stalwart Jonah Linhart, ending any chance of a rally for the Dragons.
“We got lucky there at the end,” McCullough said. “We could have easily allowed things to get away from us. It was nice to see our offense pick up for our struggles on defense.”
Both teams seemed to come out of the game healthy, for the most part. Falisec acknowledged one injury on his side, saying, “On the second drive of the game we had a key injury to one of our linemen that didn’t help.”
Both teams will need to be at full strength next week when Purchase Line plays host to Marion Center, another experienced team with an athletic quarterback.
“Next week we have Ty Ryen and he’s a really good athlete,” Falisec said.
West Shamokin will be on the road next Friday night to face a strong Homer-Center team.