The Little Team That Could: Trojans Conquer Comets with 35-28 Win in Postseason Opener
Written by: Luke Rainey on Sunday, November 4th, 2018
For the Saltsburg Trojans, the road to the postseason was a task that was far from simple. Despite having a roster of less than 20 players, the Trojans earned 4 victories during the regular season, including a stunning win against the West Shamokin Wolves that was made possible due to a game-winning touchdown late in the 4th quarter. The Penns Manor Comets held a 5-5 record entering the playoffs, and the most notable of victories occurred in a 6-overtime thriller against the Purchase Line Red Dragons to carry Coach Bill Packer to his 100th career win. Both teams contributed to the Heritage Conference sweep against the WestPAC Conference in the crossover games from the previous week, but to begin the playoffs, the Trojans would survive against the Comets to keep their season alive, defeating Penns Manor to win their first playoff game in more than 25 seasons.
The Trojans received the ball at the start of the game. Aided by a pass interference call on 3rd down in their own territory, the Trojans worked inside Penns Manor’s 30-yard line, but an incomplete pass on 4th & 9 would end the 6-minute drive. The Trojans would be fortunate to regain possession after their defense forced a three-and-out, but as a near replica of their first series, Saltsburg’s offense would return to the sidelines empty-handed after fumbling on 4th Down at the Comets’ 23-yard line.
The first quarter would come to a close with a major 50-yard reception by Erick Keith to get a much-needed spark for Penns Manor’s offense. The Comets would follow the play with 6 rushes, varying between Dimitri Lieb, Matt Somogyi, and Tommy Hamilton, who capped off the drive with a touchdown from the goal line. The 2-point conversion would give Penns Manor an 8-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter, but it would be short-lived. Saltsburg countered the Comets’ touchdown with one for themselves, as Gino Bartolini won a 47-yard footrace to the end zone, and the successful 2-point attempt evened the score.
Tommy Hamilton takes a direct snap into the end zone for a Comets touchdown early in the 2nd quarter. 8-0 pic.twitter.com/YNyambsD8v
— Luke_Rainey (@LukeRainey3) November 3, 2018
Following the touchdown, the momentum continued to build for the Trojans on the kickoff, recovering an onside kick to begin another series. After a 34-yard reception by Nathan Slapinski to get inside the Comets’ red zone, Cindric backed the play with an 18-yard receiving touchdown to take the lead, and a failed 2-point attempt would make the score 14-8. Penns Manor managed only 1 first down on their next possession, and the failed drive would prove costly when Josh Gibbons connected with Slapinski to score a 28-yard touchdown in the closing stages of the first half. The Comets tried to beat the clock in the final minute of the quarter, but the opportunity dissolved when Gibbons intercepted a pass inside Penns Manor’s territory to end the half with a 20-8 lead.
Staring at a 12-point deficit, the Comets ran 8 times and passed only once in an effort to methodically score, and the strategy worked when Lightner kept the ball and scrambled for a 1-yard touchdown. The 2-point attempt was unsuccessful, allowing Saltsburg to have a 20-14 lead with more than 7 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. However, on 4th & 1 at their own 45-yard line, the Trojans ran the ball with Cindric, who broke free for Saltsburg’s 4th touchdown. The lead expanded to 14 points after the 2-point conversion. Cindric made his offensive ability clear throughout the game, but with Penns Manor getting on the Trojans’ end of the field once more, he intercepted a pass late in the quarter to preserve Saltsburg’s comfortable advantage.
Despite the interception, Saltsburg could not take advantage on the resulting series, and Penns Manor remained competitive after running on 12 consecutive plays to score a touchdown. The Comets could not convert on the 2-point try, but the touchdown shrunk Saltsburg’s lead to 1 possession midway through the 4th Quarter. The game appeared to shift directions when Penns Manor was about to hold the Trojans to a quick punt, but Gibbons threw a 41-yard pass to keep possession and get to the Comets’ 22-yard line. Moments later, Cindric finished the drive with a touchdown from the goal line to give Saltsburg another 2-score advantage with only 4 minutes and 26 seconds remaining.
Even though Penns Manor needed to score quickly, they chose to run the ball on all but 1 play on the next series. However, within 85 seconds, Matt Somogyi would score a 4-yard touchdown, but because they trailed by 15 points before the score and do not have a kicker, they desperately had to score the extra 2 points. On the play, Lightner rolled outside of the pocket and found an open Somogyi in the end zone to get within 7 points of Saltsburg.
Matt Somogyi scores a critical touchdown with 7:11 in the 4th Quarter. pic.twitter.com/FyEbZolHQK
— Luke_Rainey (@LukeRainey3) November 4, 2018
The Comets chose to go for an onside kick and almost recovered, but the ball was still alive once the Comets lost control of it, and the Trojans gained possession. Penns Manor appeared to give themselves a chance to end Saltsburg’s series quickly after forcing a 3rd & 22. Instead, Gibbons launched an all-or-nothing pass into very heavy traffic. Miraculously, Slapinski leaped in the air to make the catch and help the clock inch closer to 0:00. There was not enough time for Penns Manor to earn a final chance, allowing Saltsburg to take a 35-28 win to advance to the next round of the playoffs against the Northern Cambria Colts.
Following the victory, Trojans’ Head Coach Mike Leasure spoke about the breakaway plays that guided his team to the win. “Penns Manor’s a fast team,” Leasure asserted. “We were able to (outrun them) tonight, and it was great to see. When these kids get into open space, they can make some plays.”
2nd Quarter – PM (9:08): Tommy Hamilton 2-yard Rushing TD (Successful 2-point attempt): 8-0
2nd Quarter – S (6:24): Gino Bartolini 47-yard Receiving TD (Successful 2-point attempt): 8-8
2nd Quarter – S (5:59): Dylan Cindric 18-yard Receiving TD (Pass failed): 14-8
2nd Quarter – S (1:02): Nathan Slapinski 28-yard Receiving TD (Missed kick): 20-8
3rd Quarter – PM (7:40): Jimmy Lightner 1-yard Rushing TD (Failed 2-point attempt): 20-14
3rd Quarter – S (5:15): Dylan Cindric 55-yard Rushing TD (Successful pass): 28-14
4th Quarter – PM (7:11): Matt Somogyi 1-yard Rushing TD (Successful pass): 28-20
4th Quarter – S (4:26): Dylan Cindric 1-yard Rushing TD (Elwood kick): 35-20
4th Quarter – PM (3:01): Matt Somogyi 4-yard Rushing TD (Successful pass): 35-28
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