'Wildcat' drives Bobcat win as team enters second of playoffs
A loss at Marion Center the week before put Blairsville on the fast track to success last Friday in the first round of the District 6 Class A playoffs. At least that's what was "in the stars," according to Blairsville coach Ab Dettorre.
Dettorre's point was well taken. The Bobcats' sub-par performance against the Stingers might have been just the wake-up call they needed, and Dettorre felt the Bobcats were better off without a bye week anyway.
Upon closer inspection, it appears success also had a lot more to do with senior running back Andrew Iezzi and the dry, green grass of home. The combination of Iezzi and the fast playing surface at Memorial Stadium put Blairsville on track for a convincing 48-20 win over West Branch.
Blairsville (7-3, No. 8 seed) will play at Bellwood-Antis, the top seed, tonight.
The Bobcats took full advantage of the excellent playing conditions last week. Iezzi's speed was highlighted in the Wildcat formation to the tune of 136 rushing yards, which was more than half of Iezzi's rushing total of 249 yards, his career high.
"It's just his innate ability. With that, you give him a wider range of things he can do," said Dettorre of Iezzi in the Wildcat. "He can see better now than he can looking at the handoff. There are a lot of cutback options. He utilizes blocks. He allowed guys to set him up. They made their move. He was right on their hip ready to cut off.
That's not something we taught him. That's something from the genetic makeup he has. That's the kind of kid you want in there."
Blairsville's Wildcat is a direct shotgun snap to Iezzi and was introduced against Marion Center for just a couple of snaps - hardly enough to give West Branch a handle on how to defend it. Quarterback Tyler Ferguson isn't even on the field, and Iezzi has an option to run or throw.
He opted to run 13 times, gaining more than 10 yards per carry.
"Those are things you have to do," said Dettorre. "You have to add a wrinkle or two. It's just another weapon for us."
"We were aware of their Wildcat," said West Branch coach Lester Smeal. "We just weren't adjusting on the field right a couple of times, and whenever we did adjust, a couple of times we had some people out of position."
Iezzi also completed one pass for 42 yards out of the Wildcat. But all five of his touchdowns came on handoffs from Ferguson, including his last carry, a 54-yard scoring run in the third quarter that all but knocked the remaining fight out of West Branch (5-5, No. 9 seed).
Early on, West Branch made good on Blairsville mistakes. A pair of turnovers in the first quarter resulted in short fields - 23 and 27 yards - for the Warriors, and they capitalized on drives of five and six plays, respectively. Chad Speigle scored on runs of 5 and 4 yards.
In between, Blairsville punched in a 4-yard touchdown by Iezzi, set up by six rushes out of the Wildcat.
The Bobcats completely took over the game in the second quarter. They scored three times, as West Branch simply couldn't stop the Wildcat. Iezzi gained 108 total yards in the quarter while scoring on touchdown runs of 15 and 6 yards.
Meanwhile, the Blairsville defense forced a fumble on West Branch's first possession of the quarter. On the second possession, senior linebacker Steve Mortensen timed the snap and shot a gap to sack West Branch quarterback Tyler Rothrock for a 3-yard loss.
"He gets himself all over the field," said Dettorre of Mortensen. "He's a downhill player."
It was a play that helped set the defensive tone for the rest of the game. Tackle Logan Goodlin and linebacker Alex Jennings contained running back Ethan Slippey on the next play, and linebacker Sheldon Clayton knocked down a fourth-down pass to set up Blairsville's last possession of the half.
The Bobcats didn't waste it. Ferguson dumped a 23-yard screen pass to Mike Maryai to the West Branch 26. Three plays later, Ferguson tossed the same screen pass to Iezzi for 21 yards and another touchdown with 1:26 remaining. Iezzi finished the first half with 180 rushing yards and 212 total yards.
"He's pretty much their offense," Smeal said of Iezzi. "And we told our kids coming in, if we could take him out of the game, we'd be all right. We started out really good, then things just didn't work really well for us. But he's a quality kid, and they have a quality program."
Second half stats
West Branch also came into the game with a reputation for running the ball well (225.1 yards per game). But the Warriors had just 81 rushing yards and four rushing first downs in the first half. It didn't get better in the second half, as West Branch didn't record another rushing first down until 10:15 remained in the fourth quarter. Blairsville held West Branch to just 159 rushing yards for the game, well under the average for the Blairsville defense (211.9).
"I think we played super defense tonight," said Dettorre. "We've had our moments, but that's something we have to do on a regular basis. If there's such a thing as confidence in the 10th game of the year to be gained, we certainly gained more confidence tonight."
The Warriors managed just one passing first down in the third quarter while the Bobcats scored twice more - and quickly. After Iezzi's 54-yard run on the third play of the drive, the Bobcats came back with another three-play drive, highlighted by Iezzi's 42-yard pass to sophomore receiver Anthony Faulk. Junior running back Noah Tarr finished the possession with a 2-yard dive over the right side.
Tarr took over for Iezzi at that point and spearheaded a 72-yard drive on the next possession to end Blairsville's scoring spree. He gained 47 yards on four carries, and Maryai polished it off with a 25-yard touchdown off yet another screen pass. Tarr finished with 49 rushing yards.
West Branch found its offense again but only after Blairsville introduced its reserve defenders. Slippey scored a meaningless 13-yard rushing touchdown inside the final minute.
Blairsville outgained West Branch, 444 total yards to 192, though the Warriors held a 14-second edge in time of possession. The difference was Blairsville's much larger advantage in yards per play: 9.9 to 4.2. Credit mostly Iezzi in the Wildcat, but the Bobcats also opened up gaping holes.
"Take nothing away from our offensive line; we knocked some people off the ball tonight," said Dettorre.
Notes: This was Blairsville's first playoff win since 2005. Iezzi passed 1,000 rushing yards on a 35-yard run out of the Wildcat in the first quarter. His current total is 1,185 yards. If Blairsville had any blemishes, it was in the penalty department. The Bobcats totaled 70 yards on seven penalties, but 25 of it came on an intentional grounding call when the ball was snapped over Iezzi's head in the Wildcat. Iezzi alertly headed for the West Branch bench and threw an incomplete pass along the sideline. Dettorre insisted that Mike Milliron was in the area, but not according to the referees. Dettorre said he could prove it on video. After this performance by Blairsville, it was hard to doubt him.
Blairsville 48, West Branch 20
West Branch 13 0 0 7 - 20
Blairsville 7 21 13 7 - 17
WB - Speigle 5 yard run (run failed)
B - Iezzi 4 yard run (Maryai kick)
WB - Speigle 4 yard run (Emigh kick)
B - Iezzi 15 yard run (Maryai kick)
B - Iezzi 6 yard run (Maryai kick)
B - Iezzi 21 yard pass from Ty.Ferguson (Maryai kick)
B - Iezzi 54 yard run (kick blocked)
B - Tarr 2 yard run (Maryai kick)
B - Maryai 25 yard pass from Ty.Ferguson (Maryai kick)
WB - Slippey 13 yard run (Emigh kick)
RUSHING: WB - Speigle 18-85-2, Slippey 13-81-1, Rothrock 5-(-7); B - Iezzi 24-249-4, Tarr 6-49-1, Thompson 2-12, Maryai 2-9, Palmer 2-7, Ty.Ferguson 1-(-4).
PASSING: WB - Rothrock 5-10-0-33; B - Ty. Ferguson 4-5-0-80, Iezzi 1-3-1-42.
RECEIVING: WB - Lidgett 4-17, Gurbal 1-16; B - Maryai 2-48-1, Iezzi 2-32-1, Faulk 1-42.
INTERCEPTIONS: WB - Lidgett 1-23.
TEAM STATISTICS WB B
First downs 12 20
Rushes-yards 36-159-3 37-322-5
Passing Yards 33 122
Passes-int 5-10-0 5-8-1
Total offense 192 444
Punts-avg. 4-34.3 2-27.5
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-1