PATTON - Penn Cambria football coach Jason Grassi knew it was just a matter of time. That time finally came on Friday night.
The Panthers forced four turnovers and Tyler Strasser rushed for 102 yards as Penn Cambria scored its first win of the season, a 32-22 decision against Cambria Heights in a Laurel Highlands Conference football game at Patton Field.
Limited to three touchdowns in its first five games, Penn Cambria matched the total by halftime as it assumed a 19-16 lead. The Panthers (1-5) outgained the Highlanders, 289-280.
"The kids working and kept believing in themselves," Grassi said. "They pulled together and played their butts off. I can't ask for any more."
Chad Tsikalas and Mike Eckenrode scored two touchdowns apiece for Penn Cambria. Mark Mardula ran for the other score and threw a touchdown pass to Tsikalas on a flea-flicker to open the Panthers scoring.
Tsikalas completed 4-of-6 passes for 72 yards. Eckenrode added 34 rushing yards.
"It feels great to finally come out on top for once," Strasser said.
Joe Davis' 38-yard punt return midway through the first quarter gave the Highlanders (1-5) a short field. Dennis Link cashed in with the first of his two scoring runs to give Cambria Heights a 7-6 lead.
Mardula's halfback option pass to Tsikalas drew the Panthers within one. Dante Delerme's fumble recovery set up Eckenrode's first scoring run, from 9 yards, and put Penn Cambria ahead to stay.
Delerme's second fumble recovery of the first half preceded Tsikalas' 26-yard touchdown pass to Mardula.
"That's been a problem all year," Cambria Heights coach Jarrod Lewis said of the turnovers. "It was that again - three very early in the game. When you're playing good football teams this is too much to overcome."
"Football's a game of turnovers," Grassi said. "When you eliminate your turnovers and take the ball away from the other team, you always have a chance to win."
Link added a second touchdown in the second period, followed by Johnny Galinis' 39-yard field goal, to drew the Highlanders within 19-16 at halftime. Angelo Snyder's recovery of the Panthers' lonely fumble provided Cambria Heights with the chance at the rare field goal.
Eckenrode (8 yards) and Tsikalas (1 yard) staked the Panthers to a 16-point lead as Penn Cambria, meanwhile, used the ground game to eat up the clock.
"We got in the Power-I set, and just kept pounding and pounding and pounding," Grassi said.
"We established in the locker room we were going to come out in the second half and punch them in the mouth," Strasser said. "The line came to play; the backs came to play. We've got a lot of heart. That's all it took."
Trenton Coy scored from 11 yards for Cambria Heights in the fourth quarter. Senior Josh Fees led the Highlanders with 95 rushing yards on 13 attempts.
Quarterback Richard Legros completed 3 of 10 passes for 95 yards for Cambria heights. His 70-yard completion to Owens advance the Highlanders to the Penn Cambria 5, and set up Link's second touchdown.
Mardula caught three passes for 72 yards.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Penn Cambria12 7 6 7 - 32
Cambria Heights7 9 0 6 - 22
CH-D.Link 1 run (Galinis kick). 4:02
PC-Tsikalas 65 pass from Mardula (kick wide), 3:40
PC-Eckenrode 9 run (run failed), 2:14
PC-Mardula, 26 pass from Tsikalas (Shable kick), 3:57
CH-D. Link 2 run (kick wide), 3:06
CH-Galinis 39 FG, 1:15
PC-Eckenrode 8 run (run failed), 6:58
PC-Tsikalas 1 run (Shable kick), 11:57
CH-Coy 11 run (run failed), 9:05
RUSHING: Penn Cambria - Strasser 24-102, Eckenrode 8-34, Tsikalas 7-12, Myers 1-3, Mardulas 3-3. Team 4-(-2). Cambria Heights - Fees 13-95, Coy 3-30, D.Link 8-20, Legros 8-15, Davis 2-8, Baum 1-2.
PASSING: Penn Cambria-Tsikalas 4-6-0-72, Mardula 1-1-0-65, Team 0-1-0-0. Cambria Heights-Legros 3-10-0-95, E.Link 1-7-0-15, Baum 0-1-1-0.
RECEIVING: Penn Cambria-Mardula 3-92, Tsikalas 1-70, Hurley 1-18. Cambria Heights-Owens 1-70, Coy 1-17, Lacue 1-15, Baum 1-8.
Interceptions: PC-Mardula. CH- Lacue