CONNELLSVILLE — Greater Latrobe’s defense made its biggest play in the biggest moment of Friday’s game at Connellsville Area.
The Wildcats stopped any chances of a dramatic Falcons’ finish by pushing Connellsville Area running back Ky’ron Craggette out of bounds at the 1-yard line on the game’s final play to clinch a thrilling 29-26 WPIAL Class 5A Big East Conference road victory.
“When we needed to make plays, our defense came through,” Greater Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “It was a really good football game and I’m proud of the effort by these kids.”
Trailing by three points with four seconds left in the game, the Falcons had the ball at the Greater Latrobe 5-yard line on fourth down. Instead of kicking a field goal to tie the game, Connellsville Area coach Marko Thomas opted to go for the win.
“What did we have to lose?” Thomas said, noting that he felt confident that his group could punch it in on the last play of the game.
It wasn’t surprising that the game came down to the last play considering how evenly matched the teams were throughout four quarters.
Both teams ran the ball well and both teams made big plays on offense. In the end, Greater Latrobe made one more play than Connellsville Area.
“I second-guessed myself,” Thomas said, noting that he had another play called on the final play, but changed his mind after a timeout and getting the chance to see Greater Latrobe’s defensive setup. “I should have stuck with the play we had.”
On the final play, Craggette rolled to his right, but was heavily pursued by the Greater Latrobe defense. Craggette managed to push his way toward the goal line, but couldn’t break the line as the Wildcats swarmed him near the sideline before ultimately being able to celebrate the heart-stopping win.
For the Wildcats, it was an exhilarating victory, while the Falcons were left to deal with their second crushing home loss of the season. Connellsville Area also dropped a heartbreaking 36-35 decision to Kiski Area earlier this season. The Falcons led the Cavaliers for much of the game, and they were in front of the Wildcats for much of Friday’s contest.
In the first quarter Friday, Connellsville Area built a 13-0 lead when Jason McBride hauled in a 50-yard touchdown strike from Gage Gillott before Gillott found paydirt on a 47-yard run.
But before the quarter was over, Greater Latrobe got on the board as Dylan Gustafson scored on a 10-yard run. It was the start of a big night for Gustafson, who finished with 28 carries for 170 yards and three touchdowns.
John McHenry hit on a 32-yard field goal to pull the Wildcats to within 13-10, but Craggette scored the first of two rushing touchdowns on the night when he bulled in from four yards out to give the Falcons a 20-10 lead.
However, on the following kickoff, Greater Latrobe’s Kyle Brewer returned the kick all the way to the Connellsville Area 2-yard line before Gustafson finished it off with a short run.
“Our offensive line did a great job and Dylan did a great job of running the football,” Marucco said.
At the half, the Falcons were in front, 20-16.
In the second half, both teams turned to the ground attack, and each team was successful.
Gustafson scored on a nine-yard run in the third quarter to put Greater Latrobe in front, 22-20, but the Falcons countered with a 22-yard scoring run from Craggette as Connellsville Area leaped back in front, 26-22.
The Falcons (0-5, 0-3) maintained their four-point advantage into the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats (2-2, 1-1) put together a 16-play drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown run from Bobby Fetter.
The Wildcats had a three-point lead, but the game was far from over.
The Falcons took over and attempted a game-winning drive, but Greater Latrobe’s Kyle Brewer recovered a fumble with less than two minutes to play.
However, the Wildcats couldn’t seal the win as Connellsville Area stopped Latrobe on three consecutive plays and forced a punt.
Connellsville Area got the ball with less than a minute remaining and drove deep into Greater Latrobe’s end. Gillott made several fine throws to put the Falcons in position to win the game. For the game, Gillott completed eight passes for 150 yards.
But with the game on the line, the Falcons couldn’t get the final three feet they needed.
“Our effort was spectacular and we practiced well all week,” Thomas said. “It was a great game. This loss is on me.”
Greater Latrobe will visit conference foe Franklin Regional, 7 p.m. Friday, while Connellsville Area will try to regroup when it travels to Penn-Trafford in another conference matchup.
Greater Latrobe 29 Connellsville 26