Karns City's defense, special teams step up
CLARION — Karns City used two non-offensive second-half touchdowns to beat Chestnut Ridge, 35-29, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AA playoff Friday night at Clarion University's Memorial Stadium.
The District 9 champion Gremlins (10-3) will now take on WPIAL champion Aliquippa in the PIAA quarterfinals next week at a site and time to be announced.
“It feels good,” said Karns City coach Ed Conto about reaching the final eight in the state. “I would have never expected it the way the season went. We are still not a great football team. We have a long way to go. But I am very proud of the kids' character. They fought back and showed a lot of character tonight.”
Karns City, which led, 23-21, at halftime after the teams amassed 451 yards of combined first-half offense, trailed 29-23 nearly halfway through the third quarter after District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge (6-6) opened the second half with a 9-play, 72-yard drive that ended in a 10-yard Jacob Mock touchdown run, Mock's third rushing score of the game. Mock also ran for a game-high 171 yards.
But the Gremlins, who ran just one offense play in the third quarter, used a special team's touchdown and a defensive touchdown to change the game.
“That's big, that's real big,” Conto said about scoring two non-offensive touchdowns in the second half. “If you told me that before the game, I would have told you it's not going to happen.”
Matt Conto answered the Mock score with an 80-yard kickoff return to tie the game at 29-29. It was the second long kickoff return for the Gremlins in the game, but the first that went for a score.
“We practice a lot on our return game,” Ed Conto said. “I think we do a pretty good job with it. I thought special teams would be a swing point in this game.”
Then after Karns City's defense bent but didn't break, and Chestnut Ridge missed a 36-yard field goal late in the third quarter, the Gremlins defense came up with a score after a 50-yard Tyler Kepple punt pinned the Lions inside the 10-yard line.
With starting quarterback Beau Bosch, who ran for 164 yards and a touchdown, on the sideline nursing an injury from the previous play, backup quarterback JD Weyant fumbled a pitch at the Lions' 6 after being hit by Adam Whited, and Christian Turner scooped the loose ball out of midair and returned it for the go-ahead score.
“You've got guys flying around, hustling, and sometimes good things happen,” Conto said. “(Christian) was in the right spot and busted his butt to get into the end zone.”
Karns City appeared poised to put the game away with just more than two minutes to play when Zach Moore, who had a 24-yard field goal in the opening half, appeared to pick up a first down at the Chestnut Ridge 17 that would have allowed the Gremlins to run out the clock. But
the ball was stripped from Moore, giving the Lions one final chance.
Chestnut Ridge drove to the Karns City 35 with a short passing game before a penalty backed the Lions up to the Gremlins' 40. Then on fourth down from the 40, Weyant, playing in the wildcat, tried to hit Bosch, who had come back into the game one play after the Weyant fumble, with a long pass down the near sideline. But Dakota Mohney, who had a 33-yard first-half touchdown Friday night, picked the ball off, ending the game with just eight seconds left.
Chris Rossetti is a freelance writer.