CRESSON - For the 18 seniors on Penn Cambria's football team not much has gone right in their final season.
But in the group's final home game, it put together its most complete performance of the season and celebrated senior night with a 33-8 win over Westmont Hilltop.
"I'm so proud of these guys tonight. This season hasn't gone like we all hoped, especially the seniors, but they have never quit and tonight they put it all together," Penn Cambria coach Jason Grassi said.
Grassi was dealing with his own adversity at gametime as he came down with a flu bug mid-afternoon and spent the night coaching from the pressbox. He praised his staff for keeping the kids focused in his absence.
"We have a great coaching staff, and they did a great job on the field tonight. I told them I'm now 1-0 in the pressbox, maybe I'll have to stay there," Grassi said.
Penn Cambria (2-7) got its offense rolling on its second possession of the game behind junior tailback Tyler Strasser.
Strasser broke free for a 16-yard run on the opening play of the possession before rattling off a 48-yard touchdown run on the second play.
The Panthers broke the game open in the second quarter as quarterback Chad Tsikalas found his groove. Penn Cambria's first possession of the quarter saw Tsikalas hook up with two long strikes to Jake Hurley, setting up a 1-yard Payton Behe touchdown plunge.
Later in the quarter, Tsikalas led a nine-play, 55-yard scoring drive, completing two more long passes, this time to Mark Mardula and Dante Delerme respectively. The drive was capped off by a Mike Eckenrode 4-yard touchdown run, and the Panthers went to the half up 19-0.
"The first half was really a breakout half for our offense. We saw some holes we could exploit with Strasser running and we were able to get up and get our confidence going," said Grassi.
Westmont was unable to manage much of anything, especially in the first half, as the Panthers defense continuously stymied the Hilltoppers. It wasn't until the fourth quarter that Westmont was able to generate any big plays, and its lone score on the night came on a Sam Curry 1-yard touchdown run with nearly nine minutes remaining in the game.
"Really disappointed in the outcome tonight. We really couldn't do much of anything on offense, and they really shut down our outside running game. They had a few big plays and that was the difference," Westmont coach Pat Barron said.
The Panthers added two scores in the second half, the first a 15-yard scamper by Eckenrode in the third quarter and the second and final score a 42-yard interception return by Hurley.
Strasser finished the game with 127 yards on the ground consistently moving the chains for the Panthers' offense.
Penn Cambria moves on to its final game of the season next week against a tough Somerset team and Grassi hopes his team can build off this win.
"No one thinks we can beat Somerset next week. They are a tough, athletic team with a great record. But we are going to give it our all and play hard and hopefully take some confidence into that game. Maybe we can shock some people to end this season," said Grassi.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Westmont Hilltop0 0 0 8 - 8
Penn Cambria7 12 7 7 - 33
PC - Strasser 48 run (Shable kick), 6:13
PC - Behe 1 run (pass failed), 7:03
PC - Eckenrode 4 run (pass failed), 00:37
PC - Eckenrode 15 run (Shable kick), 5:36
WH - Curry 1 run (Barron pass from Moran), 8:44
PC - Hurley 42 Int return (Shable kick), 5:18
RUSHING: Westmont Hilltop - Curry 18-60, Moran 15-65, Sabo 3-15, Shriver 2-8. Penn Cambria - Strasser 16-127, Eckenrode 5-26, Tsikalas 4-22, Mardula 3-16, Behe 2-6, Conley 2-0, Roberts 1-10
PASSING: Wesmont Hilltop - Moran 6-14-2-76. Penn Cambria - Tsikalas 5-10-0-96, TEAM 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING: Westmont Hilltop - Curry 4-62, Barron 1-13, Campigotto 1-1. Penn Cambria-Hurley 2-62, Mardula 1-19, Delerme 1-16, Strasser 1- (-1).
INTERCEPTIONS: Westmont Hilltop - none. Penn Cambria - Mardula, Hurley
Yards passing76 96