Former Blairsville running back Trevon “Sincere” McFarlin haunted his old team on Friday.
The Bobcats stumbled through a difficult first half against intra-district rival Saltsburg, and McFarlin helped the Trojans to a 32-6 victory against Blairsville at Ernie Widmar Field.
Without injured quarterback Zak Artley, the Bobcats resolved to run the ball more, but that was no secret to the Trojans. Saltsburg held Blairsville to just 10 rushing yards on 13 attempts in the first half.
The Trojans, on the other hand, experienced no problems running the ball on Blairsville, with McFarlin, the former Bobcat, rushing for 200 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries before halftime. He mostly ran to the outside and beat Blairsville defenders to the corner. As a team, Saltsburg amassed 269 rushing yards on 26 touches in the first half.
Blairsville coach Rick Artley used a bare-knuckle football expression to explain Saltsburg’s 25-6 halftime lead.
“They punched us in the mouth early and we didn’t react,” he said. “We didn’t adjust to their power-I. They had not run it (in the first two games), and they came out and ran it. We weren’t able to stop it and they’re bigger than we are up front. They just controlled the line of scrimmage.
“As a team, I think we did pretty well in the second half. We just played the line of scrimmage a little better. I think our ends played better in the second half. Honestly, our linebackers played behind them. There were times when our ends were getting walled, but we didn’t fill like we needed to at the linebacker position. I thought we did a much better job of that in the second half. I just think we got punched in the mouth and weren’t ready to go early. They had more intensity.”
McFarlin gained only 18 more yards on eight attempts in the second half. Quarterback Braden Staats, another former Bobcat, made no pass attempts in the game, so Saltsburg’s 56 rushing yards were all the Trojans could muster in the third and fourth quarters.
“They started playing physical,” Saltsburg coach Mike Leasure said. “Their linebackers started playing more downhill. They shut us down. They did a good job defensively.”
McFarlin’s domination of the first half started early. He ran around the right side for a 34-yard gain to the Blairsville 24 on the second play from scrimmage and also made gains of nine and 10 yards before punching in Saltsburg’s first score on a 4-yard dive.
McFarlin took off another run of 35 yards to start Saltsburg’s second possession, then added runs of nine and 16 yards to set up Gino Bartolini’s 8-yard touchdown.
A shanked punt by Devon Witmer, his second of the quarter, gave Saltsburg excellent field position at the Blairsville 21, and McFarlin covered 17 of those yards, including a 5-yard score to put Saltsburg up, 19-0, with 45 seconds still on the clock in the first quarter.
The Bobcats were reeling, but they found a spark by going back to their reputation. They went back to the air, as Isiah Lawson threw his first varsity touchdown pass to slot receiver Hank Skirboll on a middle seam route that went 67 yards just before the end of the quarter.
Blairsville scored, but it was a difficult first quarter. Saltsburg lost more yardage in penalties (50 yards) than Blairsville gained on offense before the Skirboll touchdown (15 yards).
Bartolini added a 23-yard touchdown run shortly into the second quarter, again set up with a long run by McFarlin of 22 yards. McFarlin hit the 200-yard mark with a 33-yard gainer on Saltsburg’s next series.
Bartolini made it three touchdowns with a 4-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.
Witmer took over at quarterback after Lawson injured his hip early in the second half and he did most of the rushing, gaining 32 yards on 10 carries. Blairsville managed only 47 yards of offense in the second half.
Lawson completed 4 of 6 passes for 124 yards in the first half, while Witmer completed 3 of 10 for just 20 yards. But until Zak Artley returns, the Bobcats must figure out how to make the running game work.
“I mean, we’re behind the eight-ball right now without Zak,” Rick Artley said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
As late as Thursday, Rick Artley reported that his son Zak had started light workouts but was far from being cleared to play. He will likely miss next Friday’s trip to United.
Saltsburg 32 Blairsville 6