LAGRANGE — Keystone needed a couple of early mistakes to get going.
After coughing up two fumbles on its first two possessions Friday, Keystone played flawless football the rest of the way and routed Monroeville 51-6 in non-conference action.
An 82-yard punt return by C.J. Conrad got the Wildcats going toward the end of the first quarter. The return by the 6-foot-5 Kentucky commit woke up the crowd, and was followed by a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Denny Szalai.
“We needed a spark,” said Conrad, who finished with seven catches for 92 yards. “Once we got the spark, we were full steam ahead. We started a little slow. It’s the first game, we were pretty sloppy.”
Keystone (1-0) scored its second touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. Ryan Tobicash caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Szalai, catching the defense off guard. Conrad caught the 2-point conversion from Kobe Whalen and the Wildcats led 14-0.
Monroeville (0-1) fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Keystone went back to work. After a 30-yard touchdown pass to Conrad was called back due to holding, the Wildcats used the same play as Szalai hit Conrad for a 40-yard score on the next play.
Tyler Polen, who fumbled on his first two carries of the game, made up for the mistakes with a 44-yard touchdown run before halftime to make it 29-0.
“I wasn’t prepared in the beginning of the game,” Polen said. “C.J. and all the guys believe in me. They told me ‘let’s come back, we all believe in you, Tyler.’
“The first fumble was a miscommunication between me and Denny. Mistakes are going to happen. The second one, I was trying to transition the ball and I should’ve just kept two hands on the ball.”
Polen scored again in the third quarter on a 1-yard run to make it 36-0.
“It was just a sigh of relief after I scored,” added Polen, who finished with 110 yards on 13 carries – and most importantly – no more fumbles. “I said to myself, ‘OK, Tyler, we’re getting it going, just keep it going.’”
Szalai was efficient from his quarterback position, going 11-for-14 with 156 yards and a pair of TDs. Second-string quarterback Trey Minnich also scored on a 45-yard run before connecting with freshman Jack Corraini for a 38-yard touchdown. He finished 3-for-3 with 66 yards.
“We spent the whole offseason talking about how to respond to adversity,” Keystone coach Rob Clarico said. “We told them there was going to be some adversity through the season and we got a bit of that right from the beginning of the game.
“When things were going bad, some doubts started to creep in, but once we got the lead, everyone started breathing easier and playing a little more free. C.J.’s play allowed everyone to loosen up a little bit.”
Contact Steve Walker at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.