RURAL VALLEY — Blairsville fell victim to a simple formula of turnovers and penalties in a 13-6 loss to host West Shamokin in a District 6 Heritage Conference football game last Friday.
No other combination will negate a yardage advantage more effectively than that one. Blairsville outgained West Shamokin, 266-184, with tailback Sincere McFarlin rushing for 115 yards and quarterback Zak Artley passing for 152.
Blairsville’s edge in yardage should have translated to more scoring and a fourth straight loss to open the season for West Shamokin. But the Wolves avoided their worst start since 2014 (0-4) because Blairsville committed three holding penalties for 33 yards that put them behind the chains each time, Artley threw interceptions on Blairsville’s last two possessions and McFarlin’s fumbling issues continued.
“We’re telling him after every play to get (the ball) up, and he’s not,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said. “He has a tendency to run like he’s running a sprint, and that’s not what a running back has to do.
“He has to have it high and tight and protect the ball. It’s just not happening. It’s something he has to work on.”
McFarlin, who had lost three possessions in the previous two games, lost two fumbles in the first half and muffed a kickoff return that was recovered by West Shamokin at the Blairsville 17. The Wolves couldn’t capitalize, thanks to the first of two interceptions by Bobcats defensive back Hank Skirboll.
That turnover didn’t hurt Blairsville nearly as much as McFarlin’s first two giveaways.
Blairsville enjoyed excellent field position to start the game after the Wolves fumbled away the opening kickoff at their 46, but the Bobcats were stopped at the West Shamokin 4 on downs after 13 plays. The Bobcats started again at the Wolves’ 30 after a strong defensive stand, but McFarlin fumbled after gaining 15 yards on the first play.
Finally, after another strong defensive series, the Bobcats began again at their own 49 and put together a 10-play scoring drive. Quarterback Zak Artley capped it with a three-yard touchdown pass to slot receiver Isaac Witmer, who reached back to pull the ball in with his right hand to make the catch.
McFarlin fumbled again on Blairsville’s next possession. This time, the Wolves took advantage of the short field with a five-play, 26-yard drive, capped on a two-yard dive by Logan McClafferty. Ezeck Olinger’s kick gave West Shamokin a 7-6 lead with 5:19 left in the second quarter.
“When you turn the ball over five times in a game, you’re not going to win,” Rick Artley said. “But for our defense to give up only 13 points is unbelievable.
“We created some turnovers after we had turned the ball over in our own end. Hank had a couple of interceptions. We did some great things defensively, but offensively, you can’t win turning the ball over five times.”
A holding call wiped out a first down on a McFarlin run early in the third quarter, and another hold put Blairsville behind the chains late in the quarter and it led to a fourth-and-five situation at the West Shamokin 45 to begin the last quarter.
Rather than punt and try to pin West Shamokin deep in its own end, coach Artley opted to go for the first down. But Zak Artley’s pass for McFarlin was too high and possession changed on downs.
“Our defense had done such as nice job, and we had stopped them all night long,” Rick Artley said. “Maybe we could have changed the field position a little bit, but our punting game hasn’t been that great on average. We did have the wind, so we might have got a little extra out of it, but I just felt confident in our defense (if we didn’t pick up the first down).”
The defense couldn’t stop the Wolves this time. West Shamokin turned to McClafferty for eight straight carries to gain 42 yards, and freshman Dylan Wolfe then gained eight on a jet sweep. The Wolves went back to McClafferty on the next four snaps and he took it over the right side on a one-yard dive, giving West Shamokin the 13-6 lead with 5:44 remaining.
Blairsville ran just four plays in its last two possessions and both ended with West Shamokin picks. The Wolves began the game with the worst turnover ratio in the conference at minus-seven and improved it to minus-five.
McClafferty rushed for 98 yards, but he needed 30 carries to do it, as the Wolves gained just 3.2 yards per offensive play.
Blairsville gained 5.0 yards per play, thanks in part to Blairsville sophomore Cage Kinney. Kinney made his varsity debut after not dressing for the first three games, and it was impressive, with two catches for 93 yards. He should figure into Blairsville’s offensive plans prominently going forward.