HOLLIDAYSBURG — Rarely does a game changer happen so early in a football game, but this one took place on Saturday night in Blairsville’s 50-20 loss against Williamsburg in the first round of the District 6 Class 1A playoffs at Hollidaysburg Area’s Tiger Stadium.
Williamsburg celebrated its first District 6 playoff victory since 1989 behind three touchdown passes and two touchdown runs by quarterback Lambert Palmer.
“Our record (4-3) is kind of deceiving,” said Williamsburg coach Ryan Hileman. “Two of our losses were to state-ranked teams and the other was to the second-ranked team in double A. These kids have played well the last few games and really pulled it together. We wanted to come out and play physical football and set the tone, and we did that.”
Blairsville’s season ended after seven games (2-5), the earliest close to a Blairsville season in many decades, as the Bobcats opted to pick up no additional games.
In a way, the game ended very early for the Bobcats as well.
Though Blairsville was never out of this one until minutes into the third quarter, the game seemed to hinge on the fourth play from scrimmage during the first possession of the game. On fourth-down-and-one from the 39, the give went to running back Tyler Clark but defensive lineman Isaac Witmer met him before the 40 and was joined by a number of other defenders. Clark appeared to be a half yard short, but officials spotted the ball on the 40 and didn’t measure.
“That first drive, I’m not going to lie, I’d love to see the film,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said. “I feel like on fourth-and-one, we had them stopped. I will 100% say that. That could change the game around a little bit. We get the ball on their 39. I watched the official run out there. He was definitely inside the mark, but then they walked out and marked it on the line. So that’s a game-changer early on.
“But from then on, you still have to make plays, and they made a lot more plays than we did. And they were more physical than us throughout the whole game.”
Six plays later, Palmer plunged over the goal line from two yards out to score the first points. What might have been an early turnover on downs, leaving Blairsville with great field position, allowed Williamsburg to draw first blood instead, and Blairsville never recovered.
To Williamsburg’s credit, the Blue Pirates dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Blairsville struggled to bottle up Williamsburg’s running game, which piled up 215 yards, and the Bobcats couldn’t recreate the dynamic mix of rushing and passing that worked so well the week before at West Shamokin. While quarterback Zak Artley completed 17 of 30 passes for 267 yards, it was mostly in catch-up mode, as Blairsville was held to minus-20 yards on the ground.
“They definitely were more physical than we were and they man-handled us at the line of scrimmage,” Rick Artley said. “That was the difference. They controlled the line of scrimmage and when that happens, you’re going to lose the game.”
Blairsville also lost defensive back Isiah Lawson in the first quarter with an apparent knee injury. Lawson was lauded by Rick Artley for his best defensive performance of the season at West Shamokin, so his loss certainly didn’t help Blairsville’s situation.
Williamsburg scored the first 22 points, including another touchdown dive by Palmer of 4 yards on the Blue Pirates’ second possession. Tyler Clark added another short touchdown run of 4 yards to put Blairsville in a three-score hole in the second quarter before the Bobcats finally answered with a touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the first half. Devon Witmer scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 3-yard pass from Zak Artley to cut Williamsburg’s lead to 22-7 just before halftime.
The Bobcats took a little momentum into the locker room and the knowledge that they would get the ball to open the second half, but the Blue Pirates moved quickly to end any further Blairsville hopes of a comeback in the third quarter.
Blairsville opened the second half with a yard loss on the first play, then two incompletions. After a punt, Williamsburg took over on its own 42 and Jahmarea Wansley caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Palmer three plays. The three-play drive included a 30-yard run by Wes McCall in which he ran to his left, then reversed his direction and took the play 30 yards up the opposite sideline.
Bad turned to worse when Blairsville fumbled deep in its own territory on the next series, the third of four Blairsville turnovers, and the Blue Pirates wasted no time hitting Wansley on a 12-yard touchdown pass on the next play. The Bobcats trailed, 34-7, less than three minutes into the quarter.
Witmer caught a 60-yard touchdown pass later in the third quarter, but it was quickly answered with a 74-yard kickoff return by McCall.
Palmer completed 9 of 11 passes for 119 yards, giving the Blue Pirates 334 total yards of offense.
Williamsburg earned a place in the Class 1A quarterfinals at Homer-Center on Friday night.
Rick Artley said it wasn’t a hard decision to end the season at Hollidaysburg, though other teams in the Heritage Conference that are no longer in playoff contention are playing at least one more week, such as West Shamokin taking on Saltsburg and United playing Conemaugh Township.
“It really wasn’t, because we wanted to play for something,” Rick Artley said. “I don’t want to go play a game just to play. Just like Isiah getting hurt early, which definitely threw us for a little loop on offense and defense, well, who is to say it’s not somebody else next week for a meaningless game. If we hadn’t have won last week (at West Shamokin) and we were just finishing the schedule, yeah, I’d do it. But now that we were in the playoffs and got knocked out ... my son’s a quarterback, I’d hate to see him or Devin or somebody else blow out a knee or something for a game that doesn’t mean anything. ... I didn’t want them to have the mindset in their heads that there would be another game (that had no meaning). I wanted them knowing that if this was it, this was it.”
Williamsburg 50 Blairsville 20