The first quarter couldn’t have gone much better for Penns Valley.
The Rams had stopped Central on the game’s first series and they followed with a time-consuming, 90-yard touchdown drive.
But then, Noah Benton took over at quarterback for the Scarlet Dragons.
Benton led three consecutive touchdown drives in the first half and finished with three touchdown passes to lead Central to a 41-12 triumph Friday night.
Benton shares the quarterbacking duties with Mike Mock, who started the game behind center. The two have alternated all season for the Dragons (3-1).
“We’re going to do it the way we do it,” said Central coach Dave Baker, who lets offensive coordinator A.J. Hoenstine choose how the two alternate. “It’s what he wants to do. It’s the kind of plays we want to run and the kind of plays we think we can run. With Mock, he’s a good runner and we can run the option with him. With Benton, we’re going to throw the ball more down the field. You’re basically looking at those things.
“They both can pass and they both can run. It’s the kind of plays we want to run.”
Penns Valley coach Martin Tobias said facing two quarterbacks can be a tough task.
“Any time you prepare for an opponent who gives you a lot of diversity, it really stretches the time that you are able to focus in practice on any one aspect,” Tobias said. “I don’t think that’s what necessarily what hampered us tonight as much as Central came out and played a whale of a ballgame. They’re a good, physical, fast team and they beat us.”
The Rams (1-3) did the whipping for a quarter.
After halting Central’s initial drive, they began a 15-play, 90-yard march that ate up most of the quarter. Ben Alexander’s 42-yard toss keyed the drive and Alexander’s nine-yard run on fourth-and-2 from the 15 keyed the drive. Alexander’s six-yard run gave the Rams a 6-0 lead with exactly one minute left in the quarter.
“We had some momentum,” Tobias said. “That was nice, but like I said, Central is a real good ball team. They really play hard and they’re a physical team.”
Baker said the Rams’ drive got his team’s attention.
“I thought we played pretty well from then,” Baker said. “I thought that was a good thing to have happen — to get behind and play from behind and have to do it without going in at halftime.”
Benton entered the game in the middle of the Dragons’ next drive and made an impact with his legs with a 16-yard scramble for first down. Alex Hoenstine had a 32-yard run in the drive and capped it with a two-yard run as Central took the lead for good at 7-6 with 9:49 left in the half.
Following a pickoff of Alexander, Benton needed just one play. He lofted a beautiful 59-yard strike that hit Justin Helsel in stride down the right sideline to make the score 14-6.
The Dragons’ next possession covered 57 yards in just four plays. Benton fired a perfect back shoulder throw to Alex Hoenstine in the left corner to make it 21-6 with 3:46 remaining in the half.
Penn Valley had a chance to get closer at the half. The Rams drove to the 10 with 12.4 seconds left, but on fourth-and-2, Wyatt Sharp was stopped for no gain.
“We still had a timeout left,” Tobias said. “... We wanted to get a first down. We didn’t.”
The Rams hurt themselves to start the second half. A high snap on a punt led to a 23-yard loss and gave the Dragons just 18 yards to go.
On third down, Hoenstine took a handoff on a jet sweep and looked to throw, but with no receivers open he cut back to the left and found a wide open lane to the end zone to make it 28-6.
“At that point we were still down, but at least there was a glimmer of hope,” Tobias said. “I think that put them over the top. It was the nail in the coffin, so to speak.”
Benton and Mock added a couple more nails. Benton fired a 20-yard touchdown pass to John Michael Knepp, and Mock scrambled before finding Helsel in the right corner of the end zone to give the Dragons a 41-6 lead and start the running clock with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
Both teams substituted liberally in the final quarter with Penn Valley doing the only scoring damage. Chase Collison took a screen pass from Andrew Tobias, broke a tackle and rumbled 53 yards for the game’s final score.
Benton finished 5-for-6 for 115 yards. Alex Hoenstine led the Dragon ground attack with 89 yards on 10 carries.
Sharp had 62 yards on 15 carries and Alexander added 57 on 11 carries to pace the Rams.
“I’m glad that they played hard,” said Tobias, whose team plays at Huntingdon next Friday. “I felt that they tried to match Central in a play-for-play standpoint and we just weren’t able to do it.”