YORK TWP. — A couple of huge plays changed momentum for Keystone on Friday night. And they kept alive its title hopes.
The Wildcats rallied for a 15-14 win, coming from 11 points down in the final 7:59 to stay in the hunt for the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division title. They play Black River next Friday, and the winner takes the title.
Buckeye (3-6, 3-3) appeared to have the game wrapped up nice and tight when Rick Monroe
(13 carries, 71 yards) plunged in from a yard out to put the Bucks up 14-3 with 7:59 remaining.
The Wildcats (5-4, 4-2) failed to convert on three previous red zone trips, looked inconsistent for most of the game and struggled to put plays together as Buckeye ground its way to a late lead.
The Buckeye defense, keyed by junior defensive tackle John Maslanka (four tackles for loss, 1½ sacks, blocked punt), had bent a few times but never broke and dominated the Keystone offense for most of the night.
After Monroe’s touchdown, Keystone made its first big play when Denny Szalai scooped up the ensuing kickoff and raced 76 yards down the sideline to the 9-yard line.
“That really turned the whole thing around,” Keystone coach Rob Clarico said.
After an incomplete pass and a run for a loss of 1 by Greg Howard, Keystone finally found its way to the end zone when Howard (17 carries, 77 yards) raced around the right side for a 10-yard touchdown.
The 2-point conversion pass failed, but Keystone was within 14-9.
Buckeye still appeared to be in full control on the following possession as a 28-yard pass from Alex Green (3-for-14 passing, 55 yards, TD, INT) to Monroe on third-and-8 kept the drive alive as the Bucks seemed poised to run out the clock.
But disaster for Buckeye and fortune for Keystone struck three plays later. Green had trouble with a snap and Wildcats safety C.J. Conrad, who also had an interception, pounced on the loose ball at the Keystone 45.
“We have been putting too much pressure on the defense at times,” Buckeye coach Rick Shuler said. “We’ve got the ball with three minutes to go and you’re in the driver’s seat. You just need to keep possession and punt it if you must, but we let it squirt away from us.”
What happened next was a wild finish that saw Keystone convert two fourth downs and overcome a third-and-25 on the winning drive.
Wildcats quarterback Marcus Gunter (13-for-34, 151 yards) had an 11-yard completion for a first down wiped out by a holding penalty that moved the ball back to their 44.
On the next play Gunter found a wide-open Pierce Young (four catches, 46 yards) for 21 yards on third-and-25, then hit Conrad (eight catches, 101 yards) for 6 yards on fourth-and-4 to keep the drive alive.
“We can count on him and that’s the best thing,” Clarico said of Conrad. “Even with two people on him, we’re still going to go to him because he is a big-time player and he’s going to make plays.”
Gunter hit Pierce again, this time for 20 yards to set up Keystone with a first-and-goal at the 9.
Keystone again faced a critical fourth down from the 4. With everyone expecting a pass and Gunter dropping back, it all came down to one play. Gunter, unable to find anyone open and facing pressure, used his legs and sprinted to the left corner for the win.
“I had two hitches on the outside and C.J. and Pierce running slants on the inside,” Gunter said. “They had C.J. doubled. I looked left and saw the middle linebacker spying me and saw a gap and I took off and beat him to the corner of the end zone.”
“I just tried to do my one-eleventh out there,” Conrad said. “Sometimes I got carried away and tried to do too much and that’s when they scored. I tried to just do my one-eleventh in the second half and it helped.”