Special teams help seal title for Panthers

By Philip Cmor

pcmor@altoonamirror.com

SOMERSET — A collection that performed greater than the sum of its parts? Probably. A tremendous defense? Definitely. A clutch team? You could say that. A team of destiny? Perhaps.

District 5 Class 1A football champions?

Undeniably.

Face with the prospect of another heartbreaking loss in the district finals, Northern Bedford, which had led most of the way, drove 85 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with just 2:28 left, then blocked the would-be tying field goal in the waning seconds to capture its first district title in 22 years, 17-14, over Windber in a gem of a game on a cold Thursday evening at the Somerset Area High School football field.

“I can’t even describe it,”said Panther senior Josh Dasher, who scored the first touchdown of the night on a hook-and-ladder pass and then blocked the Evan Custer’s 25-yard field goal at the end. “It’s what we’ve worked for ever since we were little kids. I don’t even have the words for it now.”

Panther coach Garry Black got a running hug from his 6-year-old son, Brady, after Northern improved to 10-2. Northern Bedford will open PIAA tournament play next Friday against District 10 champion Farrell at Slippery Rock University.

“Character. Leadership. It’s a special group,” Black said. “They’re my first group to come through from sophomores to seniors. We talked before the game, no matter what happened, how thankful I am that they were part of the program. I’m just so happy they were able to take a District 5 trophy back to Northern Bedford.”

It took everything the Panthers had to do it.

Northern held a 10-0 lead at halftime, but that evaporated after a fumbled punt return paved the way for Windber to get on the board on Cody Simanski’s 4-yard run late in the third quarter. The Ramblers then turned to their own trick play to take the lead midway through the fourth: a spinning jump pass from Tommy Hanik to a wide-open Jeremy Layton that went for a 65-yard score.

The Panthers, though, responded, taking advantage of a pair of 15-yard penalties on Windber — one for pass interference, the other a personal foul — to jump start an 85-yard march culminated on Andrew Foor’s 13-yard pass to Garret Clouse.

Its powerful running attack held in check most of the game, Windber found itself when it matter most and drove to the NB 6. However, with no time outs and the clock under 20 seconds, the Ramblers had to settle for a game-tying field goal to go into overtime.

No one ever will know if it would have been accurate or not. Dasher and Jaden Fernandez both broke through the Ramblers’ right edge. Dasher got the block. Fernandez recovered it.

“All I felt was the excitement that we were both in there. Both of us were flying at the ball. I knew that we were going to block it. I just felt it,” said Fernandez, who also turned a third-and-12 middle screen into a 22-yard gain on Northern’s go-ahead scoring drive. “D5 champions. Here we are.

“It was a lot of pressure, but I have faith in our team that we would pull together and become something bigger, like the way we’ve been playing all year.”

Clouse put the Panthers up when Foor’s pass hit him right in stride cutting toward the post for a 13-yard score on third-and-5.

“I think the (defender) was playing off too far, playing outside shade. Andrew made a perfect pass,” Clouse said. It feels like (we’re a team of destiny), especially the way it ended. It’s unreal. I’m so happy.”

Foor finished with 167 yards passing and the two touchdowns. It was key, because Windber was able to bottle up the Panther running attack for just 51 yards, although Dasher’s 43 on 21 carries did put him over the 1,000-yard mark this season.

Windber finished the season 8-4. The Ramblers, who got 94 yards on the ground from Simanski and another 78 from Evan Quinn, also had a 15-yard personal foul on their last offensive drive but managed to overcome it, only to fall short at the end.

“They made a great play. Our guys fought hard. The flags started flying in the fourth quarter, but not a one of them went in our favor. It is what it is,” Windber coach Matt Grohal said. “That’s a really good football team we just lost to.”

The Ramblers came in averaging more than 364 rushing yards per game, but Northern Bedford was up to the task, holding them to 190 yards on the ground. Windber had just 39 total yards at halftime.

“I think our guys just wanted it that bad,” NB senior defensive end and captain Trevor Allison said. “We always play as a team. We’re all best friends. We just stuck it out, and we got it done.”

Northern Bedford only had 132 yards of offense itself in the first half, but 55 of it came on one very important play. Facing third and 13 at his own 45 late in the first quarter, Panther quarterback Andrew Foor hit Garret Clouse at the Windber 49.

As he was being hit, Clouse tossed the ball to Dasher, who tippy-toed the sidelines and covered the remaining distance for the only touchdown of the first half.

“I wasn’t surprised. I know Coach trusts us,” Dasher said of dialing up the trick play so early. “He trusts me. He trusts Andrew to make the pass and the line to give Andrew time to throw it, and I trust Garret to get it to me. It’s a whole team effort.”

Foor and Dasher connected on a more conventional play later for a 32 yards, putting the Panthers in position to assume a 10-0 halftime lead on Jacob Keller’s 21-yard field goal with 3 seconds left on the second quarter.

“That was monstrous. To get out to the lead, I thought, was really beneficial to us,” Black said.

The Panthers started strong and finished strong, and, as a result, they are District 5 champs.

“We just wanted it,” Allison said. “We were hungry for it.”

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Windber 0 0 7 7 — 14

Northern Bedford 7 3 0 7 — 17

First quarter

NB–Dasher 55 pass from A. Foor (Keller kick), 2:21.

Second quarter

NB–Keller 21 FG, 0:03.

Third quarter

W–Simanski 4 run (Custer kick), 3:44.

Fourth quarter

W–Layton 65 pass from Hanik (Custer kick), 7:47.

NB–G. Clouse 13 pass from A. Foor (Keller kick), 2:28.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: Windber–Simanski 21-94, Quinn 15-78, Thomas 9-35, Hanik 2-(-17). Northern Bedford–Dasher 21-43, Imler 2-6, Smith 3-5, Donaldson 1-2, Fernandez 1-2, A. Foor 5-(-5), TEAM 1-(-2).

PASSING: Windber–Hanik 5-7-0-55, Simanski 1-1-0-7, TEAM 0-1-0-0. Northern Bedford–Foor 8-14-1-167.

RECEIVING: Windber–Layton 3-70, Simanski 2-(-8), Quinn 1-0. Northern Bedford–Dasher 2-86, Fernandez 1-22, Imler 1-17, Donaldson 2-21, G. Clouse 2-19.

INTERCEPTIONS: Windber–Layton. Northern Bedford–none.

TEAM STATISTICS W NB

First downs 12 9

Rushes-yards 47-190 34-51

Passing (comp.-att.-int.) 6-9-0 8-14-1

Yards passing 62 167

Total yards 252 218

Fumbles-lost 3-0 2-1

Penalties-yards 2-10 2-10

Punts-avg. 6-32.0 5-42.8

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