It has been a long time since Bald Eagle Area has been able to celebrate a District 6 title.
Thirty years to be exact.
Friday night, Blake Roberts not only helped the Eagles snap that streak with a 21-16 win over Forest Hills in the Class 3A game at Altoona’s Mansion Park, but he also got the proverbial monkey off his back.
“I keep saying the same thing over and over again,” Roberts said. “This was our goal three years ago when (BEA coach Jesse) Nagle brought his new staff to Bald Eagle Area. Just being a fresh sophomore, I had no intention of doing this the year of, but three years down the road now this has been my ultimate goal. Now we are here and did it; this is a great feeling, almost like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
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Eagles coach Jesse Nagle echoed the words of his senior: “He has a heart of gold. A lot of times he could have checked himself out because he was tired, but he wanted to play all 48 minutes, and make sure we had a district championship.”
Roberts accounted for all of BEA’s scores, and by his and Rangers’ coach Don Bailey’s words, he was a workhorse. He carried the ball 21 times for 63 yards, which was second on the team behind quarterback Jaden Jones’ 83 yards on the ground. He also had one pass for 16 yards.
“We knew going into the game that we had to either stop him or slow him down somehow,” Forest Hills coach Don Bailey said. “He had a good game both offensively and defensively.”
Oh yeah, Roberts had two of the Eagles’ four interceptions with the last one sealing the title.
“No better person for this to happen to,” Nagle said. “He is an outstanding football player. They’re all very good football players, but it helps having 32 and a Division I kid on your side. He is an unbelievable kid on and off the football field.”
Roberts got the Eagles on the board first five seconds into the second quarter. The running back took a snap out of the wildcat formation began to run, stop-jumped and threw a pass to Kael Gardner, who took it 16 yards for a score.
However, BEA trailed 8-6 at the half.
The Eagles reclaimed the lead on Roberts’ first rushing score with 3:52 left in the third quarter. They began a drive on their own 15 and in two plays moved the ball to Forest Hills’ 20. A block-in-the-back penalty moved the ball to the Rangers’ 31. Roberts caught a 27-yard pass from Jones to get to the four-yard line and punched it in on the next play. Jones connected with Nicholas Turner for a two-point conversion, and BEA led 14-8.
“We lost two all-state kids four or five games ago,” Nagle said of the loss of Gage McClenahan and Matthew Reese during the Eagles’ loss to Clearfield. “When the two kids went down, the seniors and I talked. Nick Turner and him (Roberts) especially offensively, said, ‘Coach give us the ball, we are going to take over.’ Both of those kids have really stepped up.”
With 10 minutes left in the game, the Rangers drove down the field to the BEA five-yard line. They looked as though they were going to take the lead again.
Roberts had other plans.
Forest Hills quarterback Adam Cecere, who is committed to play college baseball at Wake Forest, was under pressure and threw a pass to the flat intended for wide receiver Dylan Fyock. Roberts jumped in front of it and returned it to the Eagles’ 45.
BEA started the 13-play drive with 6:31 left in the game. Roberts carried the ball seven times -- over half the drive -- for 29 yards. His last carry was a two-yard score giving the Eagles a 21-8 lead with 1:41 left in the game.
“They weren’t great runs but they were crucial, and we needed those,” Roberts said of his 21-carry performance. “Other than that, I give credit to the line for doing that. No matter how hard the other team was hitting, we were getting yards.”
The Rangers scored with 30 seconds left in the game to get within five points. They recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff thanks to a BEA player touching the ball before it went 10 yards.
The Rangers had the ball at midfield with 27 seconds to go. Cecere threw four straight passes. The fourth one landed in Roberts’ arms and the clock had zeros on the board.
“I jumped up, and I was catching that,” Roberts said. “I fell to the ground and it was over. I looked up at the clock, I still couldn’t believe it was zero seconds and we were winning.”
The Eagles will now play Bedford, who topped Westinghouse 46-17 on Friday night, in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. The teams will play either next Friday or Saturday at a site and time to be determined. It’s quite possible they play back at Mansion Park but for Nagle, he and his team are going to savor this moment.
“I’m very, very proud of our kids,” he said of Friday night’s victory. “A couple years ago, when we took this over, our goal was to be here by year three. We’ve made it. Getting this win is very critical for our program.”