NORTHERN CAMBRIA - Some of the Northern Cambria players admitted they were nervous - and maybe even a little intimidated - when they took the field against Cambria Heights, and it certainly looked that way when the Highlanders took the opening kickoff and marched easily 70 yards for a touchdown.
Maybe the Colts just needed some space to settle it.
Derek Bearer got plenty of it on NC's first play from scrimmage and bolted 55 yards for the equalizing score. Northern Cambria was on solid footing after that, getting 149 yards and two touchdowns on the ground from Nate Zachesky while limiting Heights to six points over the final three quarters in a 29-20 senior night victory on Friday evening at Duffy Daugherty Memorial Stadium.
In addition to giving the Colts possession of the Coal Bucket Trophy in the archrivals first meeting in seven years, NC also clinched a spot in the District 6 Class A playoffs - it will travel to second-seeded Portage.
"A couple of coaches got us fired up. I think we were almost intimidated by Cambria Heights at the beginning," said NC senior captain and lineman/linebacker Alex Atkins, who blocked an extra-point that could have tied the game early in the fourth quarter and allowed the Colts to put it out of reach on Jeff Hogan's 15-yard touchdown pass to Adam Polites and Zachesky's second two-point conversion run of the game. "This is deeper than us."
The Colts (7-3) snapped Cambria Heights' six-game winning streak and cost the Highlanders (7-3) a District 6 Class AA quarterfinal home game. Despite Tyler Crawford's 120-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance, the Highlanders, because of wins by Ligonier Valley, Central and Tyrone, slipped into fifth place; Heights will travel to defending champion Tyrone next Saturday night.
"We're fine. We're in the playoffs. Tip your hat to Northern Cambria," Heights coach Jarrod Lewis said. "The last game we lost, we went on a six-game winning streak. I think we'll be fine."
The Highlanders also lost senior running back/defensive end Donnie Contorchick for much of the second half. Lewis said he thought Contorchick would be ready to play next week.
Contorchick's absence made it more difficult for the Heights' defense, but Northern Cambria's line already had been asserting itself against the Highlanders' big, rugged front on both sides of the ball.
"Week in and week out, they're there," NC coach Paul Taranto said. "When we play mistake-free football, we're a pretty good football team. We matched up well against them. They're a big, strong team."
Zachesky fit right in, finding much of his yardage in seams between the tackles. He scored on runs of 1 and 26 yards in the second quarter and had a pair of two-point conversion runs.
"We came out with the jitters. Then those went away, and our O-line handled them pretty well. There were holes everywhere. I was just making cuts," Zachesky said.
The biggest hole, though, might have been on Bearer's run, a counter that opened up perfectly for him to get out to the home sideline and race for the tying score 19 seconds after Heights' impressive 11-play opening drive.
"Our guard, Evan Ludwig, is so close to me, he's like a brother. We run that play, and when we get it, it goes," said Bearer, who ran for 78 yards as NC totaled 244 on the ground.
"It was great that the kids didn't hang their heads. It was great they hit a play," Taranto said. "We had a tough loss last week [to Ligonier Valley]. We didn't get the [Heritage Conference], but we got the Coal Bucket and the playoffs."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Cambria Heights14 0 0 6 - 20
Northern Cambria 7 14 0 8 - 29
CH-Bearer run (Irwin kick), 7:20.
NC-D. Bearer 55 run (Polites kick), 7:01.
CH-Crawford 1 run (Irwin kick), 1:33
NC-Zachesky 1 run (kick failed), 7:57.
NC-Zachesky 26 run (Zachesky run), 1:05.
CH-Crawford 6 run (kick failed), 11:51.
NC-Polites 15 pass from Hogan (Zachesky run), 1:49.
RUSHING: Cambria Heights-Crawford 28-120, Bearer 9-41, Contorchick 5-35, Miller 2-8, Fees 2-4. Northern Cambria-Zachesky 24-149, D. Bearer 7-78, Polites 2-10, Suchar 5-8, Hogan 4-3, Baker 1-1, TEAM 3-(-5).
PASSING: Cambria Heights-Bearer 6-12-0-60, Legros 0-1-0-0. Northern Cambria-Hogan 2-7-0-24.
RECEIVING: Cambria Heights-Brawley 3-29, Contorchick 2-22, Legros 1-9. Northern Cambria-Polites 1-15, Suchar 1-9.
INTERCEPTIONS: Cambria Heights-none. Northern Cambria-none.