KENWOOD — There is a difference between crisp and crispy. In Blairsville’s case, it’s all about the why.
The Blairsville Bobcats gave up a staggering 502 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns and 20 rushing first downs to the Penns Manor Comets last Friday and lost, 54-29, at Pat Corrigan Field.
Blairsville tackling earlier this season was “crisp.” The Bobcats more than held their own, even dominated, in scrimmages against Bishop Carroll, Greater Johnstown and Penn Cambria. As late as Sept. 12, Blairsville’s defense looked top shelf against Ligonier Valley and held the Mounties to seven points.
Now Blairsville’s checkered defense has surrendered 853 rushing yards and 98 points in the last two weeks. Poor tackling has turned the Blairsville defense into something crispy, as in burnt, waiting for someone to stick a fork in it.
Whyâ¢ That’s what Blairsville coach Ab Dettorre would like to know. He is searching for the answer and must find it before visiting Saltsburg tonight.
“Defense wins football games,” Dettorre said last week. “Defense also loses football games. And defense lost this football game. But that’s on me. I’m the defensive coordinator.
“I didn’t have my kids ready to play, obviously. Our tackling is very, very poor. The odd thing about it is that it was very, very crisp through the entire preseason and probably the first four games. And all the sudden now, we have grabbers. We did it last week (in a 41-3 loss to Homer-Center).”
Blairsville produced a few bright spots. Some members of the defense, such as linebacker Zack Faith and lineman Brandon Tomachek, played solid games. And on offense, Faith led all rushers with a career-best 168 yards, a career-long 83-yard run and a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to give Blairsville its only lead.
They were great achievements for Faith, but his effort was overshadowed by the Comets trio of slotback Travis Trimble (157 yards, two touchdowns), halfback Rob Blystone (156, one touchdown) and halfback Keith Shubra (126, three touchdowns).
Penns Manor consistently beat Blairsville defenders to the corners on toss sweeps by Shubra and counter runs by Trimble, then mixed in quick hitters to Blystone. Blairsville made occasional stops and individual efforts shined through, but the Bobcats couldn’t do it consistently.
The Comets wasted no time exploiting Blairsville’s poor tackling and inability to shed blocks. With the first play of the second quarter, the Comets took the lead for keeps, 12-7, on a 12-yard quarterback sweep by Chris Gahagen. At that point, Penns Manor already had seven rushing first downs and 123 rushing yards in just two possessions. The first possession resulted in a 48-yard touchdown run by Shubra.
“If I have to give a game ball to anybody, it has to be that offensive line because they did a great job making holes for those running backs,” said Penns Manor coach Bill Packer.
Despite its defensive woes, Blairsville battled back.
Penns Manor took a 20-7 lead late in the second quarter on a four-yard run by Blystone. The Comets were getting the ball to open the second half and were threatening to take control. Blairsville had to answer in the final 1:30 of the second half and did so with a hurry-up passing drill that moved the ball 74 yards in eight plays, including five passes for 67 yards.
Blairsville quarterback Justin McGinnis capped the drive with a five-yard run, leaving Blairsville trailing, 20-14. But, to remind Blairsville that its defensive problems remained, Blystone closed the half with a 33-yard run. He didn’t score, but Penns Manor had set the tone for the second half.
An illegal push to the back brought back a long counter run by Trimble to open the half, but Penns Manor barely missed a beat. Five plays and 55 rushing yards later, Shubra was in the end zone again on a 17-yard sweep to the right side.
Down only 26-14, Blairsville had the firepower and plenty of time to recover. But Penns Manor recovered an onside kick called by special teams coach Aaron Packer and had the ball again at Blairsville 48. Two plays later, Trimble raced to the corner and down the sideline on a 42-yard counter run to make it 32-14. It proved to be the winning touchdown.
Blairsville came back with a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jon Santoro to tight end Brian Adamchick after McGinnis left the game with an injury. But the Comets continued to roll up rushing yardage, and Blairsville lost three fumbles on consecutive possessions to cost it any chance of keeping up with Penns Manor.
Shubra added touchdown runs of 14 and 32 yards. Though he gained the least yardage of Penns Manor’s three backs, he outgained everyone in total yardage, with 204.
Tomachek dropped Blystone in the end zone for a safety early in the fourth quarter. Blairsville closed the scoring with a 62-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Michael Milliron to running back Ryan Conrad.
Notes: McGinnis needed 169 yards to become Blairsville’s all-time passing yardage leader, and he surpassed the mark with a 32-yard pass to Corey Molitor in the third quarter. É Blairsville’s George McGuckin sat out a second straight game due to injury. With 12 catches in the first four games, he is sorely missed in the Blairsville offense. É The win was the fourth in a row for the Comets and their first against a team with a winning record. Their remaining opponents are all .500 or better. É To be playoff-eligible by school standards, Blairsville must win two of its remaining three games against Saltsburg (0-6), United (2-4) and Laurel Valley (4-2). For various reasons, none of them figure to be easy.