JOHNSONBURG – The visiting Kane Wolves (4-3) rode the momentum of four touchdowns Friday night from junior running back Jonah Smith to drop winless Johnsonburg (0-7), 42-7.
After a tight 7-7 game in the first quarter which saw Smith score his first touchdown of the night, Kane mounted a furious offensive attack to score four times in just under six minutes in the second quarter.
Kane would cough up the ball twice on offense to start the second quarter but recovered on the ground both times; a three-and-out series forced a punt on 4th-and-5 and the Rams started on their own 20-yard line after a touchback.
Complemented by a stingy defense, the Wolves got a big sack from senior defensive lineman Josh Kibbie on a 2nd-and-20 play as Johnsonburg senior starting quarterback Jaryd Servidea was hit with a 5-yard loss. The Rams would punt the ball away as Smith gave the visitors good field position with a 30-yard return to the Johnsonburg 30-yard line.
Three plays later, Smith crossed the goal line from one yard out with 5:59 on the clock. A Hunter Jackovitz boot split the uprights to give Kane the 14-7 advantage.
The Kane defense picked up right where they left off on the Rams' next possession as senior defensive lineman Mike Swartwood planted Servidea for a 12-yard loss; Swartwood followed up the defensive play with a gem on special teams as he got a piece of a Kyle Sheldon punt, giving Kane excellent field position on the Johnsonburg 23-yard line.
Having kept the ball on the ground for most of the first half, Kane head varsity football coach Jason Barner elected to go to an aerial attack and the Wolves struck gold.
Kane junior starting quarterback Sean Jordan found sophomore running back Andrew Pierson down the right side for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 3:40 on the clock in the first half. A Jackovitz kick put the Wolves up 21-7.
After Johnsonburg junior tailback Frank Kocjancic, who shined on special teams throughout the evening, rattled off a 30-yard kickoff return, the Rams were listless on offense and went three-and-out.
Kane took advantage of a face-mask penalty on Johnsonburg during the punt and found themselves just outside the red-zone at the Rams' 21-yard line. After a 16-yard completion from Jordan to senior tight end Gunner Emberg, Smith trotted in from five yards out for his third touchdown of the night. Kocjancic blocked Jackovitz's low extra point try as Kane took a 27-7 lead.
After his block on special teams, Kocjancic continued to shine as he took the kickoff 50 yards from the Johnsonburg 18-yard line all the way to the Kane 32-yard line. The play was for naught, however, as a Servidea offering was intercepted by Pierson.
Kane could do little on this offensive possession as they were immediately backed up thanks to a sack from Johnsonburg senior defensive lineman Michael Kennedy. Facing 2nd-and-20 with 1:04 left in the first half, a 12-yard Jordan run nearly cut the yardage in half before an incomplete pass forced a punt.
Servidea connected with Kocjancic for a 7-yard gain to open the drive but coughed up a second-down play that was scooped up by Johnsonburg senior offensive lineman Steve Zimmerman. Facing a 3rd-and-7 play, Servidea tossed another interception to Pierson, who gave Kane another chance to score before the half.
"Our cornerback apologized at halftime and said he didn't know what was happening, he had a guy open in the flats but they went deep on him-- we just went to the wrong guy," said Johnsonburg head varsity football coach Jesse Schreiber.
Kane took advantage of their last chance before halftime as Jordan found Smith for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 4.7 seconds on the clock; Smith would then convert a 2-point conversion on the ground for the 35-7 halftime lead.
"That last touchdown before the half was my fault, I should've kept the ball on the ground and went with short passes," Schreiber said. "I tried to get us to throw one deep and it got picked, and came back for another touchdown. I take that one, it's definitely my fault."
Smith, who finished with 87 yards on the ground on 17 carries and three rushing touchdowns, also had a receiving touchdown to his credit as well with the 29-yard grab just before halftime.
"That's the best [Smith] looked all year so far, he ran hard and looked good," Barner said. "We're pretty happy with his effort. We had run it enough to the point where we thought we could set up some play action and we were able to hit it there.
"I told them we have to run the ball first to get some of those things open."
Johnsonburg went three-and-out to start the second half as Kane wasted no time in getting the 35-point deficit mercy clock rolling. The Wolves got three first downs on seven straight running plays, held back midway by a 5-yard delay of game penalty. On a third-down play, Jordan went to the air on a 9-yard pass play to Kane sophomore wide receiver Jeffrey Kocjancic at the five-minute mark of the third quarter. Jordan finished with three passing scores on a nearly perfect night, completing four of his five passes for 70 yards. A Jackovitz extra point gave Kane a 42-7 lead to start the mercy clock.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kane nailed a squib kick to counter the Rams' special teams return game and the strategy paid off as Johnsonburg struggled to scoop up the ball on the muddy field. Kane would recover their own kick but go three-and-out. A botched punt gave the Rams excellent field position at the 50-yard line but immediately fumbled the ball back to Kane. Johnsonburg senior defensive linebacker Troy Padasak sacked second-string quarterback Kevin Cleer for a 10-yard loss to end the third quarter and came up big again to open up the fourth quarter, stopping Cleer again in the backfield, this time for a 2-yard loss.
By that time, the game was out of reach.
After three straight rushing plays to Johnsonburg senior fullback Michael Shuey, Servidea was sacked by Kane sophomore defensive lineman Andrew Zuzek to turn the ball over on downs with just over eight minutes to play.
After a fumble from Kane sophomore running back Nate Moore gave possession back to the Rams, Servidea tossed his third pick of the night, this time to Hulings.
"When we went to the air, we definitely give credit to Kane because they're a quick team and they made the plays," Schreiber said. "We give Kane credit as they're definitely a good football team and well-coached."
Pierson ran up the middle on the next three plays for a first down before Cleer kneeled the ball three times to preserve the 42-7 win.
"Our players played well and I was happy with all three phases of the game," Barner said. "Offensively, we did some things that we haven't been doing like running the ball a bit more and it was more consistent.
"Our special teams play at times was good but our kick coverage definitely needs some work as Johnsonburg had some decent returns, and that's because they have a good coaching staff that works the team hard. I thought it was a good team effort as we came out, established the run, and both of our lines did well for us."
Defensively, the Wolves held the Rams to just four yards of total offense, sacked the quarterback three times, and came up with three interceptions. Kane also recovered two fumbles.
Johnsonburg showed signs of life in the first quarter, however, as they immediately responded to an early deficit.
After Smith crossed the line from four yards out for an early 7-0 lead on the first offensive possession of the game, the Rams went to work.
Kocjancic came up with his biggest play of the night, a 61-yard kickoff return with just one defender to beat.
The Rams got a 5-yard run from junior split end Shane Bickford and a 4-yard run from Shuey to start the drive. After Shuey failed to convert on 3rd-and-1, Bickford converted the big fourth down with a 5-yard run to move the chains to the 4-yard line.
After Kane was hit with a penalty to cut the distance in half, Kocjancic ran in from two yards out; an extra point from Shuey went down the middle for the 7-7 tie.
"In the first quarter, we had a nice kickoff return-- and all night those were pretty good-- but we got the ball down there and had a nice drive to the end zone," Schreiber said. "The offensive line blocked well, we had [Michael] Shuey in the backfield at fullback for the whole game this week and Frank Kocjancic ran hard in the tailback spot, so those are some positive points.
"It was nice to be tied at 7-7 in the first quarter, it gave our players some life and our team responded well. It was nice to be in the football game but after that, we really didn't have an answer for Jonah Smith. Containing the outside has been a problem all year and we bumped people around, basically draw straws with different positions, and it's a guessing game for us. Sometimes we just don't guess right."
While the Rams still search for their first win of the season, the rejuvenated Wolves have snapped a 2-game losing streak after back-to-back losses to Curwensville and Elk County Catholic.
With a revitalized defense and consistent offense that had their second-best offensive output of the year, the Wolves are eying another possible playoff run as Ridgway (4-3) comes to town next Friday.
"There are a lot of 'What ifs?' and it's one of those years where it will play itself out until the end of the season," Barner said. "There will be teams that won't know until week 9 or possibly week 10. Some teams have a 10th game scheduled and it could come down to those. At this point in the year, this is about where I hoped we'd be.
"We lost a couple tight ones by a touchdown, and we could've been in a different position but we are where we are and we're going to make the most of it. There will be no 'What ifs?' with us, we always go with what we have and play hard every week, and see how the chips fall."