After a 28-year hiatus, the renewed rivalry between Philipsburg-Osceola and West Branch was all that it was billed to be.
The game was tight down to the final whistle, with a last-ditch Mountie rally stopped short by the Warriors, who took home a 30-28 victory on Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
P-O was playing its first game under new head coach Michael Soyster, who shelved the traditional Wing-T and introduced a spread offense.
The adjustment to the new offense took time, as P-O started out slow. The Mounties had a field goal blocked on its first drive before its second drive ended in a punt.
“It’s still new to them, but we have been practicing it for three weeks now,” said Soyster. “We have to be able to click a little bit better. They just need to continue to learn the system and keep moving.
“The kids were nervous and I tried to talk to them all week about what it means to be nervous and why. They have to mature. We are a young, young team.”
West Branch marched right down the field on its first possession as Creighton Coble punched in a 13-yard score. The Warriors went for two, but the pass failed, giving them a 6-0 lead.
On the Warriors’ second drive, quarterback Walker Williams took in a 17-yard TD. The kick failed, putting the visitors up 12-0.
West Branch pounded the ball up the middle most the game, as running back Kris Smeal finished the night with 279 yards on 35 carries.
Smeal scored three times, including the third touchdown of the game for the Warriors.
Philipsburg-Osceola finally got on the board with 5:54 to go in the half, as Ty Laird took an 8-yard run in to the end zone. Aaron Boumerhi hit the PAT, cutting the score to 18-7.
The Warriors fumbled on their next possession, giving the Mounties the ball at the WB 41. But two negative rushing plays and a sack forced the Mounties to punt the ball, giving it back to West Branch close to where it was fumbled.
P-O had two chances before time ran out, as Tanner Lamb hooked up with Caleb Belinda for two passes spanning 27 yards.
But Belinda was tackled in bounds on the second catch and time ran out before the Mounties could get a play off.
Things didn’t get much better in the third as West Branch recovered a fumble and Philipsburg-Osceola had a player tossed.
The incident gave West Branch a first down after being stuck with a third-and-30. The Warriors went on to score on a 5-yard run by Smeal, increasing their lead to 24-7.
Philipsburg-Osceola finished the night with several penalties, including over 37 yards on just one play.
“I don’t think I have seen so many yellow flags in my entire life,” Soyster said. “That something I have to address and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The Mounties finally got their offense going in the fourth quarter, as Tanner Lamb hit Caleb Belinda for a 19-yard strike.
Lamb finished the game 8-of-12 with 162 yards and one touchdown.
The Warriors answered right back, as Smeal scored one final time to give West Branch a 30-14 lead with 9:32 to go.
When P-O felt West Branch was keying too much on Belinda, they moved Lamb out wide and brought in Jake Anderson.
Anderson and Belinda hooked up for a touchdown with 7:14 on the clock. The Mounties elected to kick the extra point, leaving them trailing 30-21.
P-O scored one final time with 1:34 to go when Lamb hauled in a pass from Anderson for a 23-yard touchdown. Boumerhi put the ball through for his fourth PAT of the game to cut the lead to 30-28.
The Mounties attempted an onside kick, but it was recovered by West Branch and they ran out the clock to seal their first victory over P-O since 1981.
Anderson finished the game 7-of-15 with 152 yards and two TDs.
“Jake is a great kid,” said Soyster. “He fights and shows tremendous heart. He’s such a throwback type of quarterback. It’s good to see the way he played. I’m happy for him. It was a bright spot.”
Philipsburg-Osceola returns to action on Friday, hosting Bald Eagle Area (0-1).