Traditionally a power running team, Springdale's passing attack helped team advance to Class A quarterfinals
Sammy Carey acted out his childhood football fantasies in Springdale's first-round playoff game at Carmichaels: trailing by one, the ball in his hands with the Dynamos needing a last-minute drive to win.
It ended in storybook fashion, too, with Carey overcoming Ethan McFarland's false start on the goal line by throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Josh Harmon with 3.4 seconds left and capping an 11-play, 60-yard drive that gave Springdale a come-from-behind 50-44 victory — the Dynamos' first postseason win since 2012.
“Growing up, that's what you dream about: a game-winning touchdown drive and a touchdown pass to win the game,” said Carey, who passed for a career-high 290 yards and five touchdowns. “It feels good, but you know you can't screw up or it's going to be on you. (After the false start) I was saying, oh, God, this is going to backfire, and then we ran the pass and got the touchdown and took the lead.”
Despite the tense situation, Carey and Harmon said they felt no nerves when Springdale got the ball with about five minutes remaining.
Given their success throwing the football this season, they had reason for confidence. Traditionally a power running team out of its wing-T formation, Springdale (6-5) is showing balance and having offensive success as a result.
It adds up to an offense enjoying one of the most successful seasons in recent memory, averaging 326 yards and 25.7 points heading into Friday's WPIAL quarterfinal game against Jeannette (10-1).
Carey surpassed 1,000 passing yards on the season in the victory over Carmichaels, becoming only the second quarterback in school history to achieve that mark; his 1,068 yards trail only Beau Citrone's 2005 total of 1,137. The senior also ranks second in single-season passing touchdowns with 12 and third in career passing yards and touchdowns.
Harmon has 25 receptions and eight touchdowns, ranking third and second, respectively, in the Dynamos' single-season record book.
“We're comfortable when we're throwing the ball because we already know everyone's going to stack the box and try to shut down our run, so it's nice to know we have a good passing attack,” said Harmon, a junior. “The run really helps the passing game out. (I think the pass can help the run) because we can start spreading people out, and we can go back between the tackles.”
Springdale coach Dave Leasure put more trust in the passing game this season with Carey, a second-year starter, back under center and a talented group of skill players that includes Harmon, McFarland, Ben Sowinski and Devin Wilks.
“(Opponents) can't focus on one player anymore like they did last year with Ben,” Harmon said. “They just tried shutting him down. This year, we have a variety of skill players we used, which helped open up our offense.”
Even though the Dynamos participated in fewer seven-on-seven games, Harmon said, they built enough chemistry there to move into the season.
“He's been allowing me and Sammy to really open it up with the passing game, putting me one-on-one in certain situations,” Harmon said of Leasure. “It's really paid off as the year's gone on. I think he just trusts us more this year. He knows what we can do. We showed in seven-on-seven we have a decent passing game, and as the year's gone on, he's trusted us more and more.”
Said Carey: “Coach is finally calling pass plays more often during games and letting us throw more, and it's been paying off lately. He's finally taking the clamps off, letting the cannon loose. It feels great, just knowing they're going to be expecting Springdale to run. They're not really expecting the pass, so when we come out passing, it's open.”
The increased passing hasn't hurt Springdale's power running game. Sowinski has 1,326 rushing yards — fourth-best in school history — and 14 touchdowns while averaging nearly 6 yards per carry.
“I was very impressed by (Springdale against Carmichaels),” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “Their quarterback has a nice arm, and we were very impressed with how they threw the ball. They have some big guys on the line, and normally Springdale is a predominately running team. I'm sure they're going to mix it up very well, and we've got to be prepared passing and running.”
Leasure said the game plan likely will change against Jeannette, which has seven shutouts this season and talented skill players on both sides of the ball.
“We're going to have to run the football, we're going to have to control the clock (and) we're going to have to keep their offense off the field,” Leasure said. “We have to take some shots in the passing game, but let's not think we're going to come out in the no-huddle and throw the ball all over the field. That's not who we are.”
In the first meeting between Springdale and Jeannette this season, the Jayhawks clamped down on Springdale's offense in a 48-0 shutout. Carey is hoping a balanced offensive attack can help the Dynamos pull off an upset and reach the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 2009.
“They're a great team,” Carey said. “We already played them, and we didn't score against them, which (stunk). If we do just what we did offensively, we can shock some people.”