Finally, after a week of heartbreak and tears, the Bald Eagle Area football team had a reason to smile.
On Tuesday evening, the Eagles lost assistant coach Lester Horton to a heart attack, shaking them to their core and casting a pall over their preparation for Friday night’s game with Philipsburg-Osceola.
But by Friday evening, they had regained their focus, swallowed their heartache and beat the Mounties 42-17 in a game that swayed in the balance until a third-quarter interception by BEA defensive back Elliot Peters allowed the Eagles to gain control and pick up their first win of the season.
“This was a tough week for us,” said Eagle coach Ron Hoover. “We had a lot more than football going on.”
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“It was a hard week,” agreed Eagle fullback-defensive lineman Adam Morgan. “But we did what he (Horton) would have wanted us to do. We dedicated this game to him. We felt this was the biggest gift we could give to him and his wife.”
The Mounties gave the Eagles a gift on BEA’s first possession, when they got caught inside on a sweep to the left and Hunter Hockenberry had a clear path to the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown with 10:54 showing on the clock. Jared Ishler made it 7-0.
“They got me on that one,” said P-O coach Mike Soyster. “I blitzed where I thought they would run. I blitzed up the middle and they ran outside.”
The Eagles added two more touchdowns in the quarter as Hockenberry scored again on a nine-yard run and Mitch Struble scored from five yards out with 2:04 to go in the quarter.
But the Mounties swung the momentum their way when, after Aaron Boumerhi booted a 40-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in the quarter, their defense clamped down on the Eagles while their offense ignited.
In the second quarter Jake Anderson connected with Tanner Lamb for one touchdown and Kyle Hawkins scored on a 13-yard run. Boumerhni’s PAT after Hawkins’ score made it 21-17 with 2:21 left in the half.
“We just couldn’t make a play in the second quarter,” Hoover said. “P-O turned the game around in the second quarter. They did a nice job there.”
“In the second quarter our defense was spectacular,” Soyster said. “That’s one quarter. If you can get that for four quarters then you’ve got a dominant defense.”
But in the third quarter, the BEA offense changed tactics, choosing to run the football on the first nine snaps before Jason Jones hooked up with Cole Robinson for a 42-yard score. Ishler boosted the Eagle lead to 27-17 at the 7:03 mark.
Then Peters stepped in front of an Anderson pass in the flat and returned it to the P-O 18, and three plays later, Jones went in from the 1 with 5:03 left in the quarter to put the Mounties behind 35-17.
“I saw that coming like it was in slow motion,” said Soyster of the intereption. “That kid made a great play.”
The teams traded fumbles late in the third quarter before BEA resumed pounding the football at the Mountie defense on a 92-yard drive that featured six running plays on an eight-play march that ended with Jones hooking up with Struble for a 23-yard score with 10:17 left to play. Ishler put the final point of the evening on the board with his PAT kick.
For the night the Eagles racked up 460 yards in total offense, 329 of those yards on the ground. Hockenberry finished with 135 yards on 12 carries while Struble had 131 n 19 attempts, most of that yardage coming behind Josh Fye and Levi Cramer on the left side.
“We like to run left behind Josh and Levi, Hoover said. “And they like that. They want the pressure. On one third-and-2 we asked the kids if they wanted to run a toss or go off tackle and those two guys said, ‘Run it behind us.’ We just decided that in the third quarter we’d go to our power game, just go head-to-head.”
Soyster said he saw signs of progress from last week’s 30-28 loss to West Branch.
“At times we played better defense than we did last week,” he said. “I thought our kids played extremely hard and that’s all you can ask. And give Bald Eagle credit, they played very well.”