Above, Pittston Area halfback Marc Romanczuk, right, stiff-arms Berwick defender Matt Cashman in WVC Class 3A football at Crispin Field in Berwick on Friday night. Below left, PA quarterback Anthony Schwab throws a pass for a completion. Below right, Patriots running back Justin Wilk sprints past a Berwick defender.photos by BILL TARUTIS
Pittston Area wide receiver Jordan Houseman, left, hauls in a pass as Berwick’s Matt Cashman defends Friday night in Berwick. BILL TARUTIS/FOR THE SUNDAY DISPATCHBILL TARUTIS
Traditionally Berwick’s Crispin Field is a tough place to play. Most high school football teams are happy to escape with a respectable loss. Not Pittston Area.
The Patriots had a chance to turn a cheek to tradition, and held a lead midway through the fourth quarter on Friday night. But the pesky Bulldogs refused to go away as they persevered for a 42-31 victory sending the Patriots packing to its sixth straight loss of the season.
The game was an emotional roller coaster for the Patriots right from the coin toss. The Bulldogs scored a touchdown on their first drive. However, the 7-play, 68-yard drive which eventually ended in a five yard touchdown for Berwick star running back Jeremy Freeman did not dampen the spirits of the Patriots.
Instead, Pittston Area did something about it and they did so in a big way.
Quarterback Anthony Schwab may not be known as a threat to throw the deep ball, but he proved his critics wrong when he found star wideout Jordan Houseman for a 71-yard touchdown on the Patriots very first play from scrimmage. Houseman caught the ball around the Berwick 35-yard line and took it the house from there. It was far from an easy touchdown, as Houseman needed a brilliant stutter step to evade the final Berwick defender. Chris Musto drilled the PAT and the score was knotted at 7-7 at the 8:57 mark of the first quarter.
Neither team struck again in the first quarter, but the offenses heated up in the second.
It was the Patriots who struck first in the second quarter as a 21-yard jaunt by junior halfback Justin Wilk, set up first-and-goal. Schwab capped off the drive by lowering his head and driving across the plane for the 1-yard score. Musto added the PAT and the Patriots were ahead 14-7 with 11:14 remaining in the opening half.
Berwick came right back with a 1-yard quarterback keeper of their own. Jared Pierce found the end zone with 7:24 remaining in the half. The touchdown would not have been possible if the Dawgs had not converted on fourth-and-inches from the Patriots 14-yard line. Pierce faked the handoff to the fullback and took off to his right, before being brought down inside the 1. Berwick again added the PAT and the game was tied at 14-14.
The Patriots offense wasn’t done in the first half.
Houseman set up the Patriots with first-and-10 from their own 42-yard line after a 32-yard kick return. With their backs against the wall on third-and-12 from the 40, Schwab hit Houseman down the field for a 30-yard gain. They continued to go to the air as Schwab found Evan Hahn on a crossing route for 18 yards putting the Patriots in the red zone.
The air attack was working and they didn’t stop it in the first half as the drive was capped by a 13-yard touchdown connection between Schwab and Houseman. Schwab threw it up and Houseman went and got it in the back corner of the end zone on the fade route. Musto split the uprights with the PAT and the Patriots held a 21-14 lead with 4:36 remaining in the first half.
Late in the first half Schwab tried to go down the middle for a big gain, but was picked and the Dawgs took over first-and-10 from the Patriot 13. The pick proved to be costly as Pierce went in for a 5-yard touchdown just before halftime to send the teams to the locker room all square at 21-21.
The Bulldogs recaptured the lead in the third quarter when Freeman scored on a two-yard rush. They added the PAT and the score was 28-21 Berwick with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter.
The Patriots drove all the way to the Berwick 9-yard line on their next possession, but were unable to get in the endzone. Patriots Head Coach Mike Barrett opted to take the points and Musto did just that as he drilled the 24-yard field goal, tightening the Berwick lead to just 28-24 with 8:34 remaining in the game.
The Patriots needed the ball back and when Freeman fumbled, and the Pittston Area defenders pounced on the ball giving the Patriots first-and-10 from the Berwick 36-yard line. They then got even closer as Berwick head coach Gary Campbell was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct to give the Patriots first-and-10 from the Berwick 21.
Marc Romanczuk then broke loose for a 15-yard gain setting up first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, and two plays later, went up and over the line of scrimmage for a 1-yard touchdown. Musto added the PAT and the Patriots held their second lead of the game at 31-28 with 6:31 remaining in the game.
The clock would not tick fast enough for the Patriots as Freeman found the end zone yet again. This time, he scored on an 11-yard rush on first-and-10. The PAT was nearly blocked by the Patriots, but instead Berwick led 35-31 with 4:57 remaining in the game.
The Patriots began their next drive from their own 20. On the first play of the drive, Romanczuk broke loose for an 11-yard gain. However, on the next play Berwick defenders knocked the ball loose and recovered the fumble. Freeman broke loose again for a 31-yard touchdown to give the Bulldogs a two-score lead with just less than three minutes remaining in the game.
Schwab had his best game of the year through the air as he completed 12 of his 19 passes for 239 yards. Houseman caught four passes for 138 yards to lead the receivers and Romanczuk had 17 carries for 106 yards to lead the ground game.
The Patriots will host the Wyoming Valley West Spartans this Friday at Charley Trippi Stadium.