Buzzer-beating touchdown propels Homer-Center to win
HOMER CITY -- It was kind of like a scene from a movie.
A small rural school is playing a bigger school from the city, and the small school is forced to start its backup quarterback.
With his team trailing, that quarterback throws a deep pass -- as the buzzer sounds -- to a receiver who's double-covered.
The ball starts to come down toward the back of the end zone, and ...
The receiver catches it, of course. Just like a movie.
Although, unlike a Hollywood film, this play happened at the end of the first half, not the second. Still, Homer-Center fans would buy tickets to see this movie any time as that touchdown just may have saved the Wildcats' season.
The 26-yard touchdown pass from Zak Harvey to Zack Davis tied the game going into halftime, and the Wildcats rode the momentum from that unexpected score into the second half of a 20-6 non-conference victory against Langley last Friday.
The Wildcats (1-2, 0-2) were trailing 6-0 in their home opener with one more shot to score before the half from the Langley 26 with two seconds left. Harvey, who entered the game for injured starter Stephen Nymick, lofted a pass in the back right portion of the end zone where Davis got behind two Langley defenders and made the clutch grab just before he fell back out of the end zone.
"The ball was in the air, and I could hear fans, I could hear the buzzer, and I could see the ball," Davis said, "and I'm like 'I'm not missing this pass,' and it was an excellent pass. It was right there."
Harvey credited his receiver with making the play.
"I threw the ball up, and he did the rest of the work," the senior said, "so it was a good job on his part."
The touchdown broke a streak of eight scoreless quarters for the Wildcats.
"Finally," head coach Greg Page said, "a break went our way."
It came at just the right time as the Wildcats were in danger of falling to 0-3 as they trailed Langley (2-1) and the offense showed very little bite. The first two weeks of the season had been rough for the Wildcats as they were outscored by a total of 73-6 by Heritage Conference preseason favorites Penns Manor and Ligonier Valley.
"We got thumped pretty good the first couple of weeks," Page said after the win. "We knew they were two good football teams, and we knew another one (Langley) was coming in tonight, but there's not many choices you can make in theses situations. You have to come back to work, prepare, and hope that your preparation carries you through, and it did tonight."
With another conference title contender, United, coming to town tonight, the win against Langley was crucial if the Wildcats hoped to make a fourth straight playoff appearance under Page.
The Wildcats knew it wouldn't be easy to defeat the Mustangs, a Double-A team from the Pittsburgh City League that came into the game with a 2-0 record. Homer-Center scheduled Langley because a hole in the schedule opened up with the closing of Laurel Valley Middle/High School.
"They're very athletic, and they're more rugged than we thought," Page said of the Mustangs. "They really try to push you up front. ... It was a hard-fought game."
After Langley jumped out ahead to a 6-0 lead with a first-quarter touchdown drive, the Harvey-to-Davis touchdown capped off a second quarter in which the Homer-Center defense dominated by holding Langley to zero first downs and five total yards. The defense's play constantly put the Wildcats in good field position, but they couldn't take advantage until the final drive.
That possession started at the Langley 34-yard line with 28 seconds remaining. A short pass completion from Harvey to Jeremy Smith was followed by two incompletions, including a catchable ball that went through a receiver's arms in the end zone. Harvey went back to the end zone on the very next play for the touchdown to Davis.
"It was a big momentum changer," Davis said. "It just really boosted us to get out into the next half. We were in the locker room screaming. We were all pumped up. We just wanted to get out there again and start hitting some people."
The Wildcats carried that intensity out onto the field on defense as they held the Mustangs to three first downs and 62 yards of total offense in the second half.
The biggest defensive play came from freshman linebacker Mike Newhouse, who intercepted a pass to set up the Wildcats' go-ahead touchdown.
On a second-and-31 midway through the quarter, Newhouse perfectly read an intended pass from Jaquan Green to Stephon Faye in the middle of the field. Newhouse jumped in front of Faye to make the interception and set up Homer-Center at the Langley 43.
"That was a great play," Page said. "He's kind of playing center field there in the middle, and he read it. When you told him to spy the quarterback, he did. Our three freshmen and a couple sophomores have really made some good contributions for underclassmen."
Seven plays later, Smith followed the left side of the offensive line to score from 7 yards out to give Homer-Center a 12-6 lead.
That scoring drive included a 17-yard run by Adam Andrascik, which was one of several big runs the Wildcats were able to get off, something that had been missing in previous weeks.
Harvey broke off a 33-yard scamper late in the third, and Smith added a 33-yard run of his own midway through the fourth.
The Smith run set up a 1-yard sneak up the middle by Harvey for a touchdown. Another run by the quarterback on the 2-point conversion put Homer-Center up 20-6 with 5:44 to play.
Smith was an important piece of the Wildcats' second-half success as he finished with 109 yards rushing on 21 carries. He entered the halftime break with just 13 yards on the ground.
"We're going to go up against some more physical teams, and you have to be able to move the football on the ground," Page said. "We're going to get another good week of preparation with this offense, so it's very important to get a good push and for our backs to run hard."
Down 20-6, the Mustangs desperately tried to get into the end zone quickly. They finally broke off some big plays with a strong kickoff return by Faye and a 16-yard scramble by Green.
The Mustangs got as close as the H-C 17 before a bad snap put them back 16 yards. Green tried to scramble for a first down on a fourth-and-22, but the Wildcats' defense made its final stop when Newhouse tackled the quarterback a few yards short of the first down to seal the victory.
The only other time in the game the Langley offense showed some life was in the first quarter when the Mustangs drove 69 yards on their second possession. The key play was a 30-yard leaping catch by Robert Minor down the H-C 3 that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Joey Bell.
From that point on, the Homer-Center defense was dominant.
"The assistant coaches put a great plan together to stop their offense," Page said, "and I honestly think in the second half our conditioning showed through. We've conditioned harder this offseason in the summer and in the camps, and I really believe it held true tonight."
For the game, Homer-Center held Langley to 157 total yards and forced three turnovers, including an interception and a fumble recovery by sophomore Matt Jones.
"We worked hard on defense this week," Harvey said. "It really paid off. I can't even explain it. It feels so great to come back to good old Homer-Center football on defense."
NOTES: The Homer-Center win was the first for Heritage Conference teams in three games against non-conference opponents this year. ... The win also snapped a five-game losing streak for the Wildcats dating back to last season. The team scored just 13 total points in those five contests. ... The Mustangs hurt themselves greatly by committing 12 penalties for 101 yards. Homer-Center had just three penalties for 20 yards.
Langley: 6 0 0 0 - 6
Homer-Center: 0 6 6 8 - 20
L- Bell 2 run (run failed)
HC- Davis 26 pass from Harvey (kick aborted)
HC- Smith 7 run (pass failed)
HC- Harvey 1 run (Harvey run)
RUSHING: L- Bell 13-45-1, Faye 9-28, Green 6-27, Caldwell 5-22, Team 1-(-16); HC- Smith 21-109-1, Harvey 8-44-1, Newhouse 7-26, Andrascik 5-21, Holt 5-7.
PASSING: L- Green 5-12-2-51; HC- Harvey 3-10-1-42.
RECEIVING: L- Minor 1-30, Blair 2-13, Faye 1-4, Thompson 1-4; HC- Davis 1-26-1, Smith 2-16.
INTERCEPTIONS: L- Faye 1-0; Jones 1-2, Newhouse 1-0.
TEAM STATISTICS L HC
First downs 7 13
Rushes-yards 34-106 46-207
Passes-int 5-12-2 3-10-1
Passing yards 51 42
Total offense 157 249
Punts-avg. 5-34.0 3-28.7
Fumbles-lost 3-1 2-1
Penalties 12-101 3-20