Justin Wheeler was a pretty fair linebacker in his day at Penn Cambria, and he was a good enough football player to successfully walk on at Penn State.
He seems to have been imparting his knowledge of defense as coach at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic, and the Marauders are catching on well.
Just ask Wheeler's high school alma mater.
Mirror photo by J.D.?Cavrich
Marauder defender Nick Ceschini gets ready to bring down Penn?Cambria running back Justin?Fuller.
Guilfoyle, which gave up nearly 30 points per game in going 1-8 in 2011, held its fourth opponent in five games this year to seven points or less by upending previously undefeated Penn Cambria, 14-8, on Saturday night at Mansion Park.
The Marauders, who got 100-yard rushing performances from Pat Irwin and Cody Rossman with starting quarterback Brandon Chadbourn out injured, improved to 4-1 overall and took sole possession of first place in Section 1 of the Laurel Highlands Conference at 3-0. Penn Cambria now is 2-1 in section play.
"Every win's big, especially after what we went through last year with only one win. Now we have four. But this win is even more special, because of our coach," BG senior lineman Nick Ceschini said of Wheeler, who still works in the Penn Cambria School District. "He's given so much to us, we want to give something back to him."
Penn Cambria entered the week fourth in the area in scoring at 37.0 points. Guilfoyle, though, limited the Panthers to 192 total yards, including just 69 on the ground in 26 carries.
Ceschini recovered a fumbled inside the BG 10 to thwart one Penn Cambria threat and had a tackle for loss and a pass deflection on consecutive plays on the Panthers' final possession.
"Our defensive line played a great game," Wheeler said. "Those guys up front are big, they're fast, they're athletic. They do some great things for us."
Rossman and Irwin accounted for Guilfoyle's touchdowns. Rossman ran for 101 yards. Irwin netted a team-leading 117 yards, including a 43-yard scoring jaunt midway through the third quarter to make it 14-0 and the conversion of a fourth-and-1 at the BG 39 in the last two minutes that allowed the Marauders to run out the clock.
Irwin had been Guilfoyle's starting QB last season but moved to receiver before Chadbourn's injury. He alternated with Damon Rickens under center in the first half and rushed for 98 yards in the second half.
"Coach gave me a lot of options to audible at the line so we could try to run away from the blitzers. That [part of playing quarterback] came easy," Irwin said. "I played [quarterback] all year last year, so I wasn't really worried.
"This is huge. We thought we could win, but to actually win ...."
Penn Cambria's only touchdown was a beautiful 52-yard strike to Nathan Keagy from Brendan Eckenrode with 2:38 left in the third quarter.
"They really controlled us on both sides of the ball up front and deserved to win" Penn Cambria coach Ernie Fetzer said. "We still had chances to win, but they dominated us up front."
The Marauders stopped Penn Cambria twice deep in the BG end in the first half without a point. Early in the first quarter, after the Panthers got great field position following a Rossman fumble inside the BG 20, the Marauders tackled Devin Lawhead a yard short of a first down on four-and-3 at the 8.
In the second quarter trailing by seven, the Panthers were on the doorstep again, but the ball was punched out of the Eckenrode's hands, and Ceschini pounced on it at the 9.
E.J. Madey also turned in a big defensive play, batting a flea-flicker pass away from the 6-foot-6 Keagy inside the Marauder 10.
Guilfoyle scored first when Rossman took advantage of a big surge from the Marauder front line to cross the goal line from the 3 with 6:31 left in the first half. The drive was set up when Dante Delerme's shanked punt of 15 yards put BG in business at the Panther 45 and highlighted by a 12-yard run by Rossman. A 5-yard facemask penalty also helped it along.
"It's a big step for us," Wheeler said of the win. "We definitely took a step in the right direction. This was a huge challenge. Penn Cambria's an outstanding football team."
Game notes: Penn Cambria tight end Seth McLendon hurt his leg in Penn Cambria's opening drive and didn't return. ... A moment of silence was observed before the game in memory of BG grad Tori Lingenfelter, who was killed in a car accident last week. ... It was Altoona Parochial League football night. ... Penn Cambria hosts Cambria Heights on Friday. Guilfoyle travels to St. Francis University to play Bishop Carroll on Saturday.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Penn Cambria0 0 8 0 - 8
Bishop Guilfoyle0 7 7 0 - 14
BG-Rossman 3 run (Verba kick), 6:31.
BG-Irwin 43 run (Verba kick), 6:46.
PC-Keagy 52 pass from B. Eckenrode (Lawhead pass from B. Eckenrode), 2:33.
RUSHING: Penn Cambria-Lawhead 12-28, T. Janosik 4-9, Tsikalas 2-11, Fuller 6-24, B. Eckenrode 1-(-4), Behe 1-1. Bishop Guilfoyle-Irwin 16-117, Rossman 24-101, Kitt 8-24, McCloskey 3-0, TEAM 2-(-3).
PASSING: Penn Cambria-Tsikalas 2-9-1-17, B. Eckenrode 4-5-1-106. Bishop Guilfoyle-Irwin 2-4-1-17, Rickens 0-4-0-0.
RECEIVING: Penn Cambria-Behe 5-71, Keagy 1-52. Bishop Guilfoyle-Nardelli 2-17.
INTERCEPTIONS: Penn Cambria-Behe. Bishop Guilfoyle-Kitt, Irwin.