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Written by: Avery Falisec on Saturday, August 28th, 2021
Senior running back Brady Syster is ready to make a play, after picking up some blocks from his line. RAY KAUFFMAN PHOTO
High school football is finally underway in the Heritage Conference and Northern Cambria and Purchase Line opened their seasons with the ultimate defensive brawl, Friday, August 27. In the end, the Red Dragons defeated the Colts, 20-14, after touchdowns from sophomore quarterback John Elick, senior wide receiver Mello Sanchez, and senior running back Brady Syster during a spontaneous fake punt, but there is more to it than just the score.
The game began at the Northern Cambria 37-yard line, where the Colts’ returner was taken down. After a few short bursts from junior running back Peyton Myers, junior quarterback Owen Bougher added some yards of his own to the 35-yard line. Just when it seemed like Purchase Line’s defense was grabbing ahold of Northern Cambria’s run game, Bougher faked a quarterback keeper and made a last-minute pitch to junior receiver Xander Dolansky before being tackled by the Dragons’ swarming defense. Purchase Line’s junior safety Andrew Beer took the lead with that tackle at the 18-yard line.
Two plays later, Bougher took the momentum through a gap in the right side of the line in red and took it to the house for a 15-yard touchdown with about half of the first quarter left. With the extra point kick, the Colts stole the first lead of the game, 7-0. A successful drive for Purchase Line would tie the game, but they wouldn’t get the chance. On the next kickoff, the Dragons fumbled the ball near their own 30, and the Colts were able to make the recovery, putting them in perfect position to add to their lead. Northern Cambria attempted to do just that, except Purchase Line’s defense simply would not allow it. It was senior linebacker Jayce Brooks that made sure of that when he tackled Myers before the runner could even make the play.
This put the Colts at fourth down and three yards to go. Bougher tried to run it up the left side, but was tripped up by Sanchez short of the first down marker. The first look of the red offense started with a run from Sanchez up the left sideline to around the 30 and Syster added to that with a first down. A muffed snap and a few failed run attempts put Purchase Line back a few yards from their starting point, but Elick and Beer fixed that with a 15-yard connection to the Northern Cambria 35. This ended the first quarter with a lead for the Colts, 7-0.
To begin the second quarter, the Dragons were faced with a fourth and two. Elick snatched the ball and ran up through the line for the first down. Then, it was Brooks’ turn to break some tackles and advance Purchase Line even farther into Norther Cambria’s territory. Two plays later, Sanchez took to the left side again and was able to get even closer to the endzone. Elick capped the drive on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to score Purchase Line their first touchdown of the season. Deciding to go for the conversion, Elick lined up under center and quickly handed off the ball to Brooks, who powered through for the two points. The lead went to the home team, 8-7.
Unfortunately for the Colts, they received a taste of their own medicine when the kickoff was fumbled and the Dragons recovered the ball at the Northern Cambria 33-yard line. The Elick and Sanchez duo struck with a pass to the 14-yard line, allowing Sanchez to elude tacklers and run in the 33-yard touchdown. The lead for the Dragons increased to 14-7. After Brooks’ kick to the 24, sophomore Brock Small made the stop that allowed no gain on the play for the Colts. A couple of plays into this drive, Myer split through the lines for a big first down. However, that was the lone bright spot for the Colts because the next four plays were dominated by the red defense.
When Purchase Line got the ball back, there were small errors that stopped them from advancing. The first muffed snap set the Dragons back a few yards and things were about to get worse when there was a second. After getting back a hold on the ball, Elick launched the ball back to the line of scrimmage to Beer. Facing a big fourth down, the Dragons’ punt team took the field, led by Syster, who had some other things in mind.
Syster stated, “I decided that I was going to run if there was green before the snap even happened. We needed a first down or more. I saw green and hit it. When I cut back, the only thing in my head was get in the endzone.”
The ball was snapped and Syster, who was supposed to punt the ball, ran right, just past the line of scrimmage. When he was swarmed by defenders, it seemed to be over, but Syster cutback the other direction to the left side, eluding even more tacklers and causing that side of the defense in white to collapse. Syster took the ball to the house for a 54-yard touchdown, leaving the Colts’ defense stunned, and scoring what would be the game winning touchdown.
Northern Cambria desperately needed to catch up, with the half dwindling down, so they tried taking to the air. On their first pass attempt of the drive, the ball was tipped by Syster and fell right into the hands of sophomore defensive end, Jaylin Robertson. Close to midfield, the Colts forced an intentional grounding on the Dragons and became a solid wall, unable to be breached. Elick was able to break through for a first down, but a couple of plays later, the ball was intercepted by the Colts. The Colts could not cap the drive, due to the clock running out, leaving a score of 20-7.
The Dragons began the second half with a turnover on downs, but on the Colts’ drive, Brooks sacked Bougher, which was followed by a muffed snap. Brooks took care of the rest when he got to Bougher in the backfield, once again. The Colts lined up to punt and would have done so, had the long snap not been too high. Beer was ready for this as he took down junior punter Cody Dumm at the Northern Cambria 35-yard line. The Colts didn’t have to wait long before they got another try at the endzone, after the Dragons turned the ball over on downs. Bougher took advantage of this as he sprinted through Purchase Line past midfield.
A few plays later, sophomore Maverick Baker snatched a pitch from Bougher and ran the left sideline for a 29-yard touchdown run, followed by the extra point kick. The Northern Cambria Colts shortened Purchase Line’s lead to six points, 20-14. A few minutes later, the third quarter ended.
Runs from Myers and Baker advanced the Colts closer to the first down marker to start the last quarter of the game, but it was Bougher that got them the first down at the Red Dragon’s 25-yard line. On the next play, Myers found a hole to run through, but as quick as it was made, it was gone and Myers was driven back by Sanchez. With the Colts nearing the endzone, any penalty would hurt, so when they received the offsides call, the Dragons’ excitement showed. This led Northern Cambria to a turnover on downs, but it didn’t stop them. The Colts’ defense came together to push the Dragons to a quick four and out.
On Northern Cambria’s last drive of the game, it was important for Purchase Line’s defense to keep them from the endzone and from getting a first down. This would enable them to get the ball back and run the clock out, which was exactly what happened. The Dragons crowded around the Colts’ every move up the field. From there, the Dragons utilized short bursts through the middle to let the time run out. The Red Dragons took their first win of the season with a final score of 20-14.
Syster concluded, “Overall, I thought we were pretty physical. We had them in the first half. That’s what we have to work on, finishing and some small things. Blocking and tackling are two big things that we have got to fix. Other than that, I’m pretty satisfied with the win.”
Elick added, “It felt great to finally get the season started and the win made it so much better. I think that we need to really fine tune our game and to focus on the small things, such as snaps and reading plays correctly.”
Purchase Line Head Coach Matthew Falisec said, “It felt great to get a win under our belt for the home opener. I give our players a ton of credit for battling through the heat throughout the entire game. We have a lot to work on to get better and get ready for the United Lions.”
You can catch the Northern Cambria Colts next week against the Homer Center Wildcats at their home field and the Purchase Line Red Dragons on the road against the United Lions, Friday, September 3.
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