ST. MARYS – The Elk County Catholic Crusader football squad opened their season with a 33-6 victory over the Smethport Hubbers at Dutch Country Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
ECC jumped out to an early 12-0 lead with a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter. Smethport scored their only points in the second quarter while the Crusaders added another touchdown, making the score at halftime 18-6. Elk Catholic finished with another pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the 33-6 win.
"We did a good job," said ECC coach Travis Skrzypek. "Up front, the line was able to create some holes and our backs found them and made some plays."
The Crusaders were able to capitalize on a Smethport error for one interception during the game, but also turned the ball over twice on fumbles.
"It wasn't as clean as we'd like," Skrzypek said. "We turned the ball over the one time on the the drive in the third quarter. We'd like to clean that stuff up."
Elk Catholic's offense was led by senior Hank Cappiello, who finished the day with 116 yards on 11 carries and scored all three of the team's touchdowns in the first half. Brock McCullough had 13 carries for 77 yards, and quarterback Mitchell Vallone had four carries for 55 yards and a touchdown.
The Hubbers were led by Karl Lightner with 100 yards on 11 carries. Quarterback Clay Schuler added 66 yards on 12 carries.
Smethport won the coin toss and elected to defer, leaving ECC to receive the opening kickoff. Starting their drive at the 50-yard line after close to a 30-yard return by McCullough, it took ECC nine plays to march down the field and score their first touchdown on a 15-yard-run by Cappiello. Cappiello also tried to kick the PAT, but the ball was wide left, leaving the Crusaders with a 6-0 lead with 8:07 left in the opening quarter.
Smethport was unable to pick up a first down on their opening possession and were forced to punt. This time, it took the Crusaders just four plays to find the endzone again, this time on a 39-yard run by Cappiello with 3:52 left in the quarter. The Crusaders tried going for two, but the throw to Ryan Childs failed, leaving the score at 12-0.
After a penalty on ECC for a delay prior to the kickoff, Smethport was able to return the ball to about their own 37-yard line to begin their next drive. Seven plays-- including a 38-yard run by Lightner-- later, the Hubbers were facing a third-and-eight scenario at the Crusaders' 9-yard line as the quarter ended. On the first play of the second quarter, Schuler connected with Ryan Corbett for a five-yard pass to pick up a first down, and then Schuler ran the ball in himself to cut ECC's lead to 12-6 with 11:28 remaining in the half. The Crusaders were able to block Dario Caminite's PAT attempt, preventing the Hubbers from making up any more ground.
Elk Catholic made it all the way to Smethport's 3-yard line on their ensuing drive before turning the ball over on downs. Smethport also struggled to gain any ground, managing to pick up only about a yard before they were forced to punt the ball away. Unfortunately for the Hubbers, Caminite's punt went awry and ended up out of bounds around the 10-yard line, giving the Crusaders great field position. Cappiello ran the ball in on ECC's first play, making the score 18-6 with 6:41 left in the half. The Crusaders' two-point conversion attempt failed as Vallone's pass intended for McCullough was picked off in the endzone.
Neither team scored for the remainder of the half. Smethport got bogged down near midfield on their next drive and, just as ECC looked to be picking up ground on their final drive of the half, Cappiello had the ball stripped away by the Hubbers. Smethport recorded a turnover of their own just a few plays later, though, as ECC's Clayton Housler picked off a pass by Schuler that was intended for Lightner. With just over 10 seconds remaining on the clock, Vallone took a knee to send the game into halftime.
Neither team scored in the third quarter. Smethport was forced to punt on both of their possessions. McCullough had the ball stripped away by Hubber Jordan Johnson on ECC's opening drive of the half, and the Crusaders were at Smethport's 36-yard line, six plays into their next drive, as the quarter ended.
Five plays into the fourth quarter, Vallone took off on a 19-yard run to the end zone. The Crusaders again tried for a two-point conversion, and this time the pass to Joe McLaughlin was good, making the score 26-6 with 9:42 remaining in the game.
Smethport turned the ball over on downs on their next drive, and Elk Catholic pulled most of their starters to give some of their other players a chance to see what they could do. With Andy Gebauer taking over under center, ECC marched 55 yards in six plays to return to the endzone on a 21-yard run by George Urmann. Ryan Seelye kicked the PAT for the Crusaders, giving the team a 33-6 lead with 2:21 left on the clock.
Smethport went four-and-out on their final drive, turning the ball over on downs with just 18.9 seconds remaining. Gebauer took a knee to end the game and seal the Crusaders' 33-6 victory, which helped cap several days of events held in celebration of ECC's 50th anniversary.
"It was nice to see the big crowd [at the game to support the team and take part in ECC's 50th anniversary celebration]. There were a lot of alumni in attendance, which was also nice to see," Skrzypek said.
The Crusaders are now 1-0 overall and 1-0 in the Allegheny Mountain League.
ECC will return to action on Saturday afternoon as they travel to Sheffield to take on the Wolverines in a 1:30 p.m. contest.
Both the ECC and Smethport marching bands performed for the crowd during halftime.