Speal throws for 312 yards in Saltsburg win vs. Stingers
SALTSBURG–When Saltsburg quarterback Manny Speal found out he would be throwing a lot of passes last Friday against Marion Center, he knew he would need help from his receivers.
“At the beginning of each half,” Speal said, “I walked into the huddle and looked at my receivers — everyone who was going to touch the ball tonight. I said, ‘Guys, make me look good tonight.'”
To say that they came through for him might be an understatement.
Speal threw an astonishing 34 times for the Trojans (1-3), completing 22 of those passes for 312 yards in a 24-14 homecoming win against the Stingers (2-2).
“As a quarterback, you always like to put the ball in the air,” said Speal, who attempted just nine passes the previous week against Homer-Center. “Coach (Eric Kostic) came up to me before the game, and he told me we were airing it out all the first drive and then later in the game, and I got a big smile on my face.”
Kostic delivered with his promise, as the first play call of the game was for a pass which went for a 30-yard gain to wide receiver David Painter.
Passing and scrambling, Speal marched the Trojans downfield before an incompletion on fourth down ended the drive at the Marion Center 9. However, Saltsburg had set the tone as the Trojans called for passes on nine of their 10 plays that drive.
“I think … early in the first quarter after we drove the ball down the field and didn’t get anything, (the players) really felt like, ‘You know whatâ¢ We can win this game,'” Kostic said.
On their first drive, it appeared as if the Stingers would set a tone of their own — domination on the ground.
Marion Center drove 91 yards in eight plays — all runs — to take a 7-0 lead. Running back Russell Bopp accounted for 80 of those yards on six carries, including an eight-yard touchdown.
The Trojans continued to throw on their next possession as Speal connected on 10-yarders with Painter and Logan Grguric and a 12-yarder to Andy Fortwangler. The 87-yard drive was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Dylan Carr on the first play of the second quarter. The extra point was blocked.
The Stingers seemed unphased during their next possession as they marched it down the field again for a touchdown. During the 57-yard drive, Bopp carried the ball three times for two gains of 16 and 15. Jed Peterson scored for Marion Center on an 11-yard run to make the score 14-6.
On the next four total possessions, the teams could manage only one first down apiece.
The Trojans then got the ball at their own 5 with just 2:31 remaining in the first half and an eight-point halftime deficit almost a certainty. But, 2:31 and 95 yards were nothing to the Trojans’ potent passing attack.
After a Carr run went for no gain on first down, Speal completed four consecutive passes that got the Trojans down to the Marion Center 35. Following an incompletion, Speal then hit Grguric twice in a row to take the Trojans to the Stingers’ 4 yard line.
An incomplete pass intended for Fortwangler on first and goal left the Trojans with just a few seconds left in the half and a chance for one last shot.
This time, Speal connected with Fortwangler to pull the Trojans within two points at halftime after the two-point conversion failed.
“(The Trojans) deserved to win the football game,” Marion Center coach Dave Malicky said. “They made some plays, and we had our chances in the first half to make plays.
“That touchdown late in the (first) half, that was huge.”
After neither team could move the ball during the early part of the third quarter, Saltsburg got the ball at its own 18, hoping to capitalize on another long drive.
And on this drive, Speal’s favorite receiving target really made him look good.
On a second and two at the Trojan 39, Speal lofted a pass for Fortwangler down the left sideline over the defensive back’s head which required Fortwangler to make a sprawling catch at the Marion Center 33 for a 28-yard gain.
If that wasn’t enough, the Trojans ran the same pattern two plays later with the same result — Fortwangler made a diving catch, this time for a 30-yard gain down to the 3.
“That was amazing,” Kostic said of the catches. “Talk about laying out and giving everything you have — he certainly did that. Manny (Speal) threw the ball where it was either a catch or was incomplete, so you gotta give credit to him.”
Fortwangler would finish the game with 11 catches and 165 yards receiving.
The first play after the 30-yard completion, Speal kept it himself on an option and ran in for the score, giving Saltsburg an 18-14 lead, its first of the game … and the season.
The Trojans would not give it up.
They completely shut down the Marion Center running attack, which had terrorized them earlier in the game.
After giving up 188 yards on the ground in the first half, the Trojans held the Stingers to just 27 in the second half. Bopp, who rushed for 143 yards on 12 carries in the first half, carried only once for three yards the rest of the game.
“We were trying to spread things around,” Malicky said. “It looked like (the Trojans) were keying on (Bopp) a little bit.”
Saltsburg added an insurance touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 16-yard run by Grguric.
After the game ended, the team celebrated its first conference victory since Sept. 9, 2005, against Ligonier Valley.
“After last game (against Homer-Center) when we dropped to 0-3, (the Saltsburg players) were down,” Speal said. “They were hanging their heads, but then this win brought a lot of people back up. It gave them some confidence.
“When you’re winless, when you’re in that big losing streak, you look forward to every week, but in the back of your mind there’s that losing streak you want to get rid of.”
Saltsburg’s opponent tonight, Blairsville, also ended a losing streak last week when the Bobcats beat Purchase Line to pick up their first win of the season.
The two rivals square off at 7 p.m. in Blairsville.
“It’s a big game no matter if one team is 0-7 and another team is 7-0,” Speal said of the annual Blairsville-Saltsburg contest. “There’s always that hype going into the game. Everyone’s pumped up.”