JOHNSONBURG – The Elk County Catholic Crusaders improved to 5-0 on Friday night as they took a 25-0 lead through three quarters and then held off an attempted fourth quarter rally by the Rams to come away with a 25-12 win on Friday night at Memorial Field.
The Crusaders racked up a total of 250 yards in the game, with team members rushing for 135 yards and 115 coming from the squad's passing game. Johnsonburg, on the other hand, relied heavily on passing, with 192 of their 214 yards coming on pass plays.
A key to the Crusaders' success, particularly in the opening half, was shutting down Johnsonburg senior Mitchell Holmberg.
"We were able to get up on Mitch Holmberg there and pressure him a little bit as far as getting the ball. I think that helped," said ECC coach Travis Skrzypek. "Then we went into a little bit more deep coverage in the second [half] and they were able to hit some underneath routes and open it up a little bit."
Johnsonburg coach Jesse Schreiber concurred that ECC's coverage on Holmberg hurt his squad offensively in the first half.
"The first half, ECC did a great job-- they played two guys, sometimes three guys, on him (Holmberg). They really shut him down," Schreiber said. "At halftime we made some adjustments to try to get him the football in other places, but then they let up on some coverage, which made him open. He's one of our best athletes, so we've got to get him the football as much as we can."
"They (ECC) did a nice job shutting him down the first half, so credit goes to their coaching staff and their kids. They had a great plan and they shut him down," Schreiber added.
Schreiber also remarked that he hopes the Rams' 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter motivates the team moving forward.
"I think it does wonders for us, mentality-wise, to get some success, to show some success, and to say to our kids, 'We won the fourth quarter, now we can build,'" Schrieber said. "It's a big week obviously here for Johnsonburg, with Ridgway week coming up. It's always a rivalry and it will be fun to see what happens next Friday."
The Crusaders were led on the ground by Hank Cappiello with 43 yards on 11 carries. Joe McLaughlin added 35 yards, while Brock McCullough had 31.
Quarterback Mitchell Vallone was 4-for-12 for 115 yards, including two touchdown passes to Clayton Housler, one for 78 yards and the other for 15 yards.
"Mitchell Vallone did a nice job throwing, and Clayton did a heck of a job catching there in the first half," Skrzypek said. "They hooked up on a couple passes, so that was nice to see the passing game get going a little bit."
Holmberg had 31 yards rushing for Johnsonburg and also had five catches for a total of 135 yards, including both of the Rams' touchdowns. Quarterback Frank Kocjancic was 14-for-27 for 192 yards.
Elk Catholic won the coin toss and elected to receive. Both teams struggled to get their offenses going early on, though, and they traded punts. After Elk punted the ball away again, the Rams put on the first real drive of the game, getting as close as the Crusaders' 40-yard line before penalties and losses backed them up and killed their momentum. Still, they were able to pin the Crusaders at their own 13-yard line on their next possession; however, following a 9-yard run by Cappiello, Vallone connected with Housler on a 78-yard pass play for ECC's first touchdown of the game with 4:31 remaining in the opening quarter. The PAT failed, and the Crusaders took a 6-0 lead.
The ensuing kickoff saw Holmberg return the ball to his team's 15-yard line to start their next drive. Any hope of answering ECC's score was lost, though, when the Rams fumbled the ball away on a pitch from Kocjancic to Holmberg. The ball was recovered by Elk Catholic's Ben Cortina at the Rams' 18-yard line and it took ECC four plays before Vallone connected with Housler once again, this time on a 15-yard pass play, for another touchdown. The try for two failed, giving Elk Catholic a 12-0 advantage with 3:03 left in the first quarter.
The teams traded possession of the ball throughout much of the second quarter. On their first drive, Johnsonburg was able to get the ball down to the Crusaders' 13-yard line through a series of nice pass plays by Kocjancic. The Rams decided to go for it on fourth down and Kocjancic's pass was caught cleanly at the 1-yard line. Unfortunately for Johnsonburg, the player making the catch was ECC's Dan Singer, who promptly took off back down the field and was eventually taken down at the 23. While the Crusaders ultimately ended up punting on that drive, they were able to get their momentum going again on their next possession as Vallone made it into the end zone on a 1-yard run with 16.7 seconds remaining in the half. The try for two failed once again, leaving ECC with an 18-0 advantage.
With limited time, the Rams picked up a few yards on a pass to Kyle Sheldon, but then Kocjancic's next pass was picked off by Cortina as time ran out, sending the game into halftime with Elk Catholic up 18-0.
The Crusaders scored their final touchdown on their opening possession of the second half as they went 60 yards on seven plays with the score coming on a three-yard run by McCullough with 5:33 left in the third. Ryan Seelye added the PAT to give ECC a 25-0 lead.
The teams spent much of the remainder of the quarter trading the ball back and forth, which continued until the Rams' second possession in the fourth quarter. The Johnsonburg squad was finally able to finish off a drive, going 67 yards in five plays for the score on a 19-yard pass play to Holmberg. Johnsonburg decided to try for two, but Kocjancic's attempted pass to Caleb Garvey was broken up, making the score 25-6 with 7:11 remaining in the contest.
As Elk Catholic began to substitute in players, their offense struggled a bit at times, and they went four-and-out on their next possession to give the ball back to Johnsonburg at their own 32-yard line. It once again took the Rams just five plays to get back into the end zone, this time on a 23-yard pass play to Holmberg. The try for two failed once again, making the score 25-12 with 2:02 remaining.
The Crusaders were able to run out the clock on their next possession, with the game ending as quarterback Andrew Gebauer took a knee with only seconds remaining on the clock.
The Crusaders are now 5-0 on the season and 5-0 in the Allegheny Mountain League. They will be back in action next Friday as they travel to Kane to take on the Wolves in a 7 p.m. contest.
The loss drops the Rams to 1-4. Johnsonburg will host Ridgway next Friday at 7 p.m.
The winners of the 300 Club Drawings were:
1st quarter - David Wolff
2nd quarter - George
3rd quarter - Pat Nelson
4th quarter - Mike Votano