HARRIS TOWNSHIP — With St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy already ahead 32-6 in the third quarter, Mercyhurst Prep’s Eric Baer angled his punt toward the sideline and away from a lurking Kahsim ‘NuNu’ Buey.
As the ball bounced harmlessly out of bounds, Buey slowed his stride near the Mercyhurst sideline where he respectfully embraced Lakers’ special teams coach Scott Goring.
“Ain’t no way we were punting that to you,” Goring said with a laugh as he patted Buey on the helmet. “Lesson learned No. 1.”
Buey’s two previous punt returns for touchdowns helped St. Joseph’s begin its inaugural football season with a 46-6 throttling of Mercyhurst on Saturday, which just couldn’t compete with the Wolves’ speed.
Not only was Goring’s punt strategy too late, it also meant little because four plays later Sabir Breon scampered 61 yards for another score and triggered the mercy rule.
In fact, the Wolves’ roster of just 18 was impressive from nearly top to bottom.
Buey coupled kick returns of 55 and 80 yards with 55 rushing yards on nine carries, and five receptions for 67 more yards and two scores.
Breon added 109 yards on six carries and two touchdowns, while quarterback Phil Fenstermacker went 13-for-18 for 141 yards and three scores.
Mike Jabco caught a Fenstermacker touchdown pass and finished with four catches for 57 yards.
“I think we have a lot of big-play potential out of our guys,” said Wolves’ coach Dave Carson.
The Lakers, coming off four-straight seasons with eight or more wins, fielded a roster of just 28 after 60-plus last season. They dressed only 23 Saturday and lost two players to injury.
“They have a great team,” said Lakers’ coach Matt Morgan. “They have a lot of talent. We’re very, very young and we ran into them. We don’t play in a league with a lot of speed like they have.”
That was evident early.
After Mercyhurst fumbled on the game’s second play from scrimmage, Fenstermacker hit Buey with a screen pass and the junior knifed through the Lakers’ secondary for the game’s and program’s first score.
Mercyhurst responded with a five-play, 80-yard drive punctuated by a 14-yard Baer touchdown run with 8:07 left in the first, but Buey wouldn’t be denied.
The Lakers failed on the point after and two plays from scrimmage later, Fenstermacker lofted a touchdown pass down the left sideline to Buey, who got behind the Lakers’ secondary.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Buey returned the ensuing punt up the right sideline, broke back left and made it 19-6.
Buey, who transferred after playing at Bellefonte last season, couldn’t wait to make his debut with the Wolves.
“I was really excited,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep. I went to bed at 1 a.m.
“My blockers are good on the punt returns and stuff so I give all the credit to them.”
Carson, who coached junior high football at Bellefonte last season, gave Buey a little more credit.
“He’s a danger,” Carson said. “Anytime the ball’s in his hands it doesn’t matter where he’s at or who’s in front of him. He’ll make you miss.”
On the 80-yard punt return, Buey waited and then fielded the ball on a hop as defenders rushed toward him. A quick twist of the hips and a shake of the shoulders and he was gone. The most significant contact on the play came when Buey ran into a teammate as he broke it open.
“I just read their feet,” Buey said. “Most of the defenders get flat footed and I know I can get past them.”
The defense did the rest. Baer busted mostly off tackle right in the first half for 125 early yards.
The Wolves adjusted with Elisha Lipscomb on the weak side. Linebacker Titus Tice was also big, adding a sack and recovering a fumble. Baer rushed for just three yards in the second half.
“The game plan was to get in the backfield as soon as those two guards pulled,” Lipscomb said.
The freshman shot through and dragged Baer down on a pivotal play with the Wolves up 19-6 and the Lakers driving just before the half.
Mercyhurst turned it over on downs and Fenstermacker led the Wolves on a four-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a 39-yard strike to Jabco that made it 25-6 with 16 seconds remaining. The second half was all St. Joseph’s.
“All it takes is determination to win,” said Breon. “We did not want to lose this game. This is the first game for St. Joe’s, and for the whole school — hopefully this goes down in history.”
Fenstermacker and Jabco also transferred from Bellefonte to help St. Joseph’s build a program. And getting a win in game one couldn’t have been sweeter.
“It was huge,” said a wide-eyed and smiling Carson. “We tried not to talk about it, but we thought we could do this today. And now that it’s here, it’s great. What a great way to start.”