WINGATE — Forget the fat lady singing, the latest Iron Bell battle between Bald Eagle Area and Penns Valley wasn’t over until Dion Barnard and Jordan Kobularcik ganged up on Cameron Tobias at the BEA 1 with one second left on the clock, forcing a fumble which Kobularcik recovered.
That preserved a 21-20 Eagle victory in the series which began in the late 1950s, giving them their first 3-0 start since 1993. And it was only fitting that Kobularcik, who can trace his football bloodline back to his grandfather, Bob, who played on the BEA teams prior to the school going under roof at Wingate in the fall of 1956, sealed the win.
“I was wishing someone would get a big hit, get a fumble,” said BEA coach Jack Tobias of the nail-biting finish. “And I got what I was hoping for. I knew something big had to happen. If we had been on the other end of this it would have been a heartbreaker.” It was.
But Ram coach Martin Tobias was able to keep it in perspective as he talked in the midst of a gently falling rain.
“We can leave this field with our heads held high,” he said. “We left it all on the field tonight. We put together a solid effort but we missed some opportunities. This was a really good football game between two teams that went at it hard.”
Both teams squandered chances to alter the final score. In the second half BEA drove inside the Penns Valley 15 three times and came away empty. The Rams, of course, will look back at the final play.
“I got his (Tobias’) leg and then Kobo (Kobularcik) crushed him,” said Barnard. “Then Kobo jumped on the ball.”
“No question, we missed opportunities,” Martin Tobias said. “We knew that if we didn’t get in there at the end we were going to call time out and kick the field goal. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get that chance. No guarantee we would have made it but we wanted that chance.”
That it came down to that at all was a testament to the grit of this Ram team that twice was backed up to the precipice of a loss only to claw its way back.
After it had stopped BEA on fourth and 10 at the 15, the Rams were stopped on their own 19, giving the ball back to BEA with 4:01 left.
And again they held, getting the ball back on their own 15.
That’s when this game shifted into high drama.
After two incompletions, Cameron Tobias hit Ian Brown for 15 yards and a first down. After another incompletion Tobias hit Sam Kozer for 19 yards to the BEA 49, but a personal foul penalty pushed them back to their own 34 with 1:28 to go. After three straight incompletions, Cameron Tobias found Brown for a 37-yard gain on fourth-and-10, moving the ball to the BEA 29. Two plays later, Tobias gained 19 yards to the BEA 10, then took it to the BEA 3 with only 22 seconds left only to lose 10 yards on a holding penalty. Taylor Collison got six of those yards back and there were 10 seconds showing when Tobias took the snap and headed up the middle where he met Barnard and Kobularcik.
When the pile was cleared, one second remained on the clock.
“We tell the kids to take it one blade of grass at a time,” Jack Tobias said. “I think there were about three blades of grass between that ball and the goal line. But this team has tons of heart. They kept slugging away even though they were beat up and made a ton of mistakes. We played a heck of a game on offense. We never punted the ball once.”
Give Barnard much of the credit for that. Weighing in at 140 pounds, the scrappy tailback wound up with 193 yards on 27 punishing carries to energize the BEA offense.
“He’s a great running back,” Jack Tobias said. “I know he had a ton of carries tonight. He is one tough-nosed, son-of-a-gun. He can be a little squirrelly at times and you don’t know where he’s going. But he did a nice job running the ball tonight. He ran some guys over. He’s a senior and he’s put the time in and he did a nice job. And the guys up front did a great job. So did Kaleb Weaver. He was filling in for (Nate) Sharkey and he did a super job as the lead blocker for Dion.”
“Wow, I had no idea I that many yards,” Barnard said. “But I knew I had a lot. I black out when I get the ball. I have no idea what I did. Sometimes Coach will say I made a nice cut and I had no idea what I did. I just go where my big linemen go. I have to give all the credit to my guys up front — the Creamanators (Tanner and Levi Cramer), Hunter Clark, Hunter Hall and Caleb Day.
“We could feel the pressure there at the end. Coach Tobias was getting real emotional. I was freaking out. We just had to start smacking people in the mouth.”
Barnard’s blockers cleared the way for him to score from the 1 with 9:22 left in the second period to give BEA the early lead. Tyler Schall’s kick made it 7-0.
But Penns Valley served notice right away that even though it was winless in two starts, that didn’t matter on this night in this game.
Behind Cameron Tobias, the Rams marched from their on 25 to the BEA 10, where Tobias scored on a keeper around the left side. The key play in the drive was a 31-yard pass to Luke Weaver that put the ball on the BEA 24. The Penns Valley PAT attempt was blocked.
Four plays later, the Rams took the lead when Weaver scooped up a wayward lateral at the BEA 40 and raced to the end zone for the touchdown. The run for the two-point try was stopped but the Rams were up 12-7.
BEA bounced right back and drove 70 yards with Barnard going in from the 3 with 25 seconds left in the half. Schall made it 14-12. Barnard came up big on a fourth-and-inches call from the Penns Valley 48, breaking loose for 10 yards and a first down to keep the drive alive.
The Eagles opened the second half with a 15-play drive that ate up 8:01 off the clock and died on the Ram 9 when Cole Long’s pass fell incomplete.
The Rams couldn’t mount a drive on their possession and punted the ball away, giving the Eagles possession on their own 49. Four plays and a blown pitchout put the ball back on the BEA 41. But on a jet sweep, Bryan Greene popped free on the right side and bolted 59 yards for the score with 11:47 left in the game, giving the Eagles a 21-12 lead and a little breathing room.
But not for long. Brown broke a 54-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, putting the ball on the BEA 25. A pass from Cameron Tobias to Brown was good for 20 yards and three plays later, Luke Weaver banged into the end zone with 8:46 left. Tobias found Collison for the two-point conversion and the tension began to crackle along both sidelines as the Rams mounted their final drive.
“We gave them more opportunities than we should have,” Jack Tobias said. “We gave up the big kickoff return, we had the backward pass (lateral), Cole (Long) was struggling with his throws on the short stuff.
“We just have a lot of things we have to clean up. We had no trouble getting to the red zone, but obviously we struggled when we got there. We just have to clean up our mistakes. We’re a good football team but the difference between a good team and a great one is cleaning up the mistakes.
“But my hat’s off to Penns Valley. They played a phenomenal game. They came out and punched and punched and punched. They played a great game.
“They had us with our backs against the wall. Then he (Cameron Tobias) ran it up the middle and someone came up with a big hit, the ball came loose and we jumped on it.”
And only then could they begin to celebrate the win.