Even in all-star games, mistakes often make a big difference between winning and losing.
A case in point was illustrated at the ninth annual Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association East West All-Star Game at Mansion Park Friday night.
The West team turned the ball over seven times, five on fumbles, and the East rode the avalanche of miscues to a 37-22 victory by wiping out a 10-0 first-half deficit.
The East's Thomas Ryan, who played his high school football at Father Judge of the Philadelphia Catholic League, returned an intercepted pass 22 yards for a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown to give the East a 21-10 lead.
Ryan also capitalized on a partially-blocked punt by the West team to produce a 43-yard touchdown return two minutes later, helping the East team to a 6-3 lead in the all-time series and snap a two game losing streak.
Ryan's game-breaking interception came near midfield early in the fourth quarter with the East holding a 14-10 lead.
He stepped in front of a pass by Clearfield High School's Jarrin Campman - who completed 8-of -2 for 141 yards and three touchdowns - and returned it to the house to give the East a big leg up on victory.
"One of my teammates made a great play and tipped [the pass] up, and I put my hands up and the ball landed right in it,'' Ryan said.
Two minutes later, he gathered in a deflected 14-yard punt by Mars High School's Matt Oczypok near the sideline and tightroped his way 43 yards to the end zone past a group of stunned West defenders.
"It looked like a short punt, and nobody was around,'' Ryan said. "I thought it would be going out of bounds, and I made a play before it went out.''
East coach Mark Evans felt confident with his team's position at halftime, even though the East trailed, 10-0.
"We were in the red zone in the first half, but we couldn't score points,'' Evans said. "We knew we just had to stay the course and execute.''
West mistakes helped grease the East's wheels at the outset of the third quarter.
A bad snap out of punt formation forced the West to turn the ball over at its own 20 early in the third period, setting the stage for a 3-yard touchdown burst by East fullback John Nurthern of Great Valley High School, who is headed to Navy.
The East took the lead for good, 14-10 later in the third quarter, after Liberty High School linebacker Daryl Klotz covered a fumble by the West's Brandon Real (West York/Bloomsburg University) at the West 30. That set up a 5-yard touchdown pass from East quarterback Zach Zulli (Perkiomen Valley High School/Shippensburg University) to wide receiver Jared Bausch (Lower Dauphin High School).
"We just didn't play well,'' said West coach Scott Heinauer (Mars High School). "We were pretty excited at halftime, but turnovers just killed our momentum.''
Penn State-bound wideout Christian Kuntz (Camp Hill Trinity High School) caught two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, of 66 and 12 yards from Campman, to make the final score respectable.
East defensive end J.C. Smolke (Halifax High School) returned a fumble 18 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Lebanon High School's Charles Lee picked up credit for a safety for the East.
The West had a 10-0 lead at intermission, courtesy of turnovers by the East squad. An interception by the West's Justin Gildea - a Hollidaysburg High School standout who is bound for Division I Temple University - set up the West's first touchdown, a 35-yard scoring pass from the Lycoming University-bound Campman to Gateway High School's Josh Vermeulen.
Vermeulen, who is headed to Geneva College, was an original scratch for the game with a broken finger sustained early this week, but he later received medical clearance to play.
Gildea was happy for the opportunity to play in the high-prestige game before reporting for Temple next week, even though the final score could have turned out more to his liking.
"This is my last football game in the area, and it was a really good experience, a lot of fun,'' he said.
Game notes: East running back Jeremiah Young (Steelton Highspire/Bucknell) left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter, the extent of which was not determined at press time. ... Smolke, who is enlisting in the Marines on Monday, sold 55 tickets in advance of the game to people who wanted to come out and support him. He received a standing ovation at the game's awards banquet Thursday night.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
East0 0 14 23 - 37
West0 10 0 12 - 22
W-Vermeulen 35 pass from Campman (Oczypok kick), 1:08.
W-Oczypok 26 FG, 0:00.
E-Nurthern 3 run (Raupers kick), 7:59.
E-Bausch 5 pass from Zulli (Raupers kick), 6:23.
E-Ryan 22 interception return (Raupers kick), 11:45.
E-Ryan 43 punt return (Raupers kick), 9:41.
E-Safety (Wehner tackled by Lee in end zone), 7:14.
W-Kuntz 66 pass from Campman (run failed), 4:08.
E-Smolke 18 fumble return (Raupers kick), 2:03.
W-Kuntz 12 pass from Campman (kick blocked), 1:38.
RUSHING: West-Carr 11-89, Price 2-2, Real 6-6, Perdue 3-(-32), Campman 4-(-15), Wehner 7-(-3). East-Zulli 7-28, Barket 9-18, Young 3-15, Quiteh 8-9, Nurthern 2-4, Giubilato 6-2, Maples 1-1, Bausch 1-(-2), Clentimack 1-0.
PASSING: West-Campman 8-12-1-141, Wehner 5-13-1-25, Oczypok 0-1-0-0. East-Zulli 5-9-0-89, Barket 0-1-1-0, Giubilato 1-3-0-(-2).
RECEIVING: West-Kuntz 5-102, Vermeulen 1-35, Darby 2-10, Delmonico 2-10, Williams 2-5, Carr 1-4. East-Clentimack 2-46, Bausch 3-26, Persch 1-15.
INTERCEPTIONS: West-Gildea. East 2-Ryan, Yeager.