Trojans’ defense chokes off Stingers’ attack
It’s been a long time since Blairsville and Saltsburg played football with the Bobcats looking up at the Trojans in the conference standings, but that’s the scenario for tonight’s clash.
Saltsburg (4-0 for the first time since 1981) comes to Blairsville with the 3-1 Bobcats needing to win to boost both its playoff chances and its hope of defending its Heritage Conference crown of 2002.
Saltsburg needs to win to keep pace with undefeated Northern Cambria and hike its own playoff hopes.
And did we mention it’s Blairsville’s Homecoming nightâ¢ Should be a whale of a contest.
Meanwhile the Trojans handed Marion Center its second straight loss, 13-7, on Sept. 18 in one of the “Hurricane Bowl” Heritage Conference games played that night.
Two years ago, the Trojans’ football team snapped a 23-game losing streak that lasted almost three years. Last year they won three games, and it seemed like something was stirring in Saltsburg.
Now, where once Saltsburg’s defense played just badly enough to lose, and the breaks always seemed to go against the Trojans, the defense is playing very well and the breaksâ¢ Well, you make your own breaks in football.
Saltsburg’s Glenn Richards, in his 12th year as head coach, says the team–and he–are having a fun season, but the pressure will be intense tonight.
Three of the Trojans’ four wins have come by six or fewer points, and they went to the wire against Marion Center.
After taking a 13-0 lead late in the first half and holding a 13-7 lead at halftime, Saltsburg twice fended off Marion Center threats in the second half.
The second one came in the game’s last 3:41 after the Stingers had moved to the Saltsburg 9-yard line. The Trojans ended the threat, with Cory Ulisse, Justin Johnson and Brandon Reinard teaming up on a sack on second down and Jeremy Boe and Bryan Smith knocking down a fourth-down pass with 19 seconds left.
Saltsburg struck for two quick touchdowns in the first half but ran only 17 plays in the second half. The defense, on the other hand, stayed solid throughout, holding Marion Center’s vaunted Wing-T rushing game to 103 yards, 130 below its season average. The Stingers’ one-two punch of running backs Thee Rapach and Jeff Pennington managed only 75 yards on 24 attempts and broke only one play for more than 10 yards.
Richards credited it to solid line play, the way he played when he was the nose guard on the 1981 Appalachian Conference team. He credited players such us Cory Ulisse, Brandon Reinard and Justin Johnson.
He also praised the senior leadership of players such as Mike Dunlap, Luke Poloff, Smith and Reinard.
The Trojans opened the season with a 6-0 win over United, held Penns Manor to one touchdown in a 28-7 victory and held off Homer-Center in the closing seconds of an 18-16 triumph. The defense essentially shut out Marion Center, with the only touchdown coming on Floyd Fishel’s 37-yard interception return late in the first half. The only big play the Trojans allowed was a 25-yard completion to Travis George on fourth-and-23 on Marion Center’s last possession.
Offensively, the Trojans have thrived on the passing game and mixed in the run to keep the defense honest. Marty Steele completed seven of 16 passes for 147 yards and one touchdown. A 63-yard bomb to Smith on the first possession of the game set up Chris Corridoni’s 7-yard scoring burst. The Trojans then took advantage of a Marion Center fumble at its own 36, setting up Steele’s 25-yard scoring strike to Ryan Nagg.
Saltsburg’s lone big mistake on offense came just before halftime, when Steele lost his grip on the ball and threw a fluttering pass that Fishel intercepted. Saltsburg’s offense managed only 56 yards and one first down after the interception.
Marion Center, on the other hand, had trouble sustaining drives throughout the game. The Stingers had only one first down in the first half and finished with only six. They failed to score in third quarter after taking over at the Saltsburg’s 30 following Kevin Houser’s 25-yard punt return, committing a costly illegal-procedure penalty after setting up third-and-2 at the 10. The drive stalled when quarterback Aaron Mills was sacked on fourth down.
The last possession was also plagued by two penalties, and the Stingers fumbled five times, losing two. MC Coach Dave Malicky said his team could have won except for all the mistakes, biut also credited Richards and the hard-nosed Trojan defense.
Marion Center played without two starters, quarterback Justin Barkey and end Ben Eisenhart, who suffered knee injuries in last week’s loss to Blairsville. Both are had MRIs last week.
Houser also had an interception for Marion Center.
Marion Center now faces the prospect of facing Northern Cambria, that other undefeated team, while Saltsburg tangles with Blairsville, its sister school, tonight.