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Canton Warriors Win Overtime Thriller to Advance in State Football Playoffs

Written by: on Saturday, November 27th, 2021. Follow Matt Beltz on Twitter.


DANVILLE – Canton was very nearly dead in the water on a few different occasions in the second half. Trailing by two touchdowns, the undefeated Warriors had Old Forge on the doorstep of taking a three-score lead twice in the second half. But, both times, the Blue Devils were turned away by Canton’s defense.

The second of those stops began a wild fourth quarter that saw a combined five turnovers and two blocked punts by the Warriors, all of which resulted in Canton scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the game.

The Warriors then took away another turnover from Old Forge in overtime before Hayden Ward scored the game-winning touchdown on Canton’s overtime possession as the Warriors rallied back from a two-score deficit midway through the fourth quarter to defeat Old Forge 20-14 and advance to the state semifinals next week.

“There were a couple of times when we were hanging by a thread, but this is a special bunch of kids, they don’t give up, they play until the end no matter what and they hung in there and keep battling,” said Canton coach Tyler Sechrist. “We didn’t play that well in the first half, so we told them at halftime they needed to step it up and they just kept playing, and good things happen when you keep playing.”

“You feel like everything is going your way and then you have some uncharacteristic situations happen and before we knew it, we had some more breakdowns,” said Old Forge coach Michael Schuback. “It’s always tough to be the last team standing. We’ve been there, so you have to put things in perspective. We made mistakes like we did last week, and we were fortunate to get out of it last week, but we weren’t fortunate today. We had too many mistakes to overcome and the turnovers really cost us.”

The win not only keeps the Warriors unbeaten on the season at 13-0, but also puts them in just their second-ever state semifinal. Canton also advanced to the state semifinals in 1990, which was also the last time the Warriors won a District 4 championship, but that was under an old format in which the champion automatically was placed into the semifinal. Canton lost to eventual state champion Marian Catholic that year. This marks the furthest the Warriors have advanced under the current state playoff format, and Canton will face Bishop Guilfoyle next weekend.

“This is huge for the program. The community’s support was been unbelievable,” said Sechrist.

It didn’t look like Canton’s season would be continuing after Saturday until the Warriors got some life about midway through the fourth quarter. Old Forge put together a 16-play drive that took 7:20 off the clock and chewed up over half the third quarter and nearly the first minute of the fourth. But that drive didn’t end with a Blue Devil score, as James Sobol was picked off by Austin Allen at the Canton 6-yard line on a 4th-and-11 play.

That was the first of three interceptions thrown by Sobol in the fourth quarter. Old Forge’s other two possessions in the final quarter ended with blocked punts, and for the game, the Blue Devils committed six turnovers to two for Canton. The Warriors lost a fumble on their subsequent drive following Allen’s interception, but Sobol tossed another pick on the first play of the Blue Devils’ ensuing drive, this one caught by Ward to set up Canton at the Old Forge 22.

Canton, which had trouble running the ball between the tackles throughout the first half, moved it to the Old Forge 7, with a big 71-yard pickup on a reception by Ward on a seam route accounting for a big chunk of that. But, they were then hit with their fourth pre-snap penalty of the game, a false start, that pushed the Warriors back to their own 12, where they eventually faced a 4th-and-12. Cooper Kitchen found Riley Parker on a fade route in the back corner of the end zone to get the Warriors on the board with 7:03 remaining in regulation.

“That play (the 71-yard reception) was one we had in our pocket that we haven’t had to use yet. Hayden does a divide and splits it up the middle, they missed the coverage,” said Sechrist. “We were waiting for the right moment and today was the time.”

The Blue Devils then went three-and-out on their ensuing possession, and their punt was blocked by Ward and recovered by Brenen Taylor and returned to the Old Forge 3. One play later, Parker was seemingly stuffed at the line of scrimmage, but he bounced off the contact and went around it and into the end zone, which after the PAT tied the game 14-14 with 5:33 remaining in the game.

“They spread you out on the punts – they had four of five guys out wide on the punts,” said Sechrist. “I knew we needed something big to happen in the second half and I told Hayden, if we could get through on the right side, if you can find a place to get in there, let’s block a couple and he did. We saw a little bit of that in the first half with how slow they were getting the punts off and the timing. We saw it and adjusted.”

Ward blocked a second punt after the Blue Devils went three-and-out again, and Gage Pepper recovered that one at the Old Forge 11, but the Warriors lost a fumble on a 3rd-and-6 play, giving it back to the Blue Devils at their own 8 with 1:53 remaining.

Old Forge managed to advance to the Canton 41 before Sobol was picked off again, this time by Parker at the Canton 16, effectively sending the game to overtime.

Canton won the coin toss and elected to go on defense, giving the ball to Old Forge first. Sobol was dropped for a six-yard loss on first down, and after an incompletion on second down, he threw his fifth interception of the game on third down, was Weston Bellows hauled it in at the back of the end zone.

The Warriors, needing just a field goal to win it, instead punched it in the end zone as Ward took a handoff on second down, and after initially running into a wall at the line of scrimmage, kept his feet and under him and scampered into the end zone, diving for the goal line to end the game and give Canton their first and only lead of the game.

“The two runs we scored on, they have a tough defense but what a great second effort by our kids, both Hayden and Riley broke through some tackles to score,” said Sechrist. “We put the pressure on Old Forge, dialed up a few different things that we hadn’t shown earlier, gave them some different looks so they couldn’t stand back there and throw it.”

For as good of a fourth quarter and overtime that the Warriors had, it wasn’t easy going for the first three and a half quarters for Canton. Equally, despite being picked off four times in the fourth quarter and overtime, Sobol had a good game for the Blue Devils up to that point and largely led Old Forge to that two-score lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Sobol led Old Forge on the ground with 108 yards on 21 carries, as Canton had trouble bringing the 230-pound quarterback down at times. Sobol completed three passes for 56 yards on Old Forge’s second drive of the game, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Casey Holzman in the front of the end zone to put the Blue Devils up 6-0 with 1:34 left in the first quarter.

Sobol was picked off on Old Forge’s next drive by Pepper deep in Blue Devil territory, giving Canton the ball at the Old Forge 9-yard line early in the second quarter. But the Blue Devils came up with a stop, forcing a fourth-down incomplete pass after the Warriors committed a false start at the 3.

Old Forge’s subsequent drive took 5:16 off the clock despite moving the ball just 21 total yards. They punted and gave the Warriors the ball at the Old Forge 43. Canton advanced it down to the Old Forge 23, but a pair of pre-snap penalties pushed them back 10 yards and Canton turned it over on downs, giving it to Old Forge at their own 33.

The Blue Devils converted a third down and a fourth-down play to move the ball past midfield with under a minute to play in the half, and Sobol then found Mario Samony for a 45-yard touchdown reception after Canton’s defender fell down following Samony’s catch, giving the Blue Devils a 14-0 lead with just :13 left in the half, a potential backbreaker for Canton, as Old Forge also would get the ball to begin the third quarter.

But, after two big gains of 30 and 13 yards on runs by Sobol on Old Forge’s first two plays of the second half, Holzman had the ball punched out at the Canton 20-yard line, giving the Warriors life after they recovered it. Although Canton didn’t end up scoring on its ensuing drive, punting from their own 40, that stop proved to be crucial, as did their subsequent stop following Old Forge’s aforementioned long drive that was stopped by Allen’s interception at the Canton 6.

“They were moving that ball pretty well coming into the third quarter but then we got the fumble and once we got momentum, our kids just kept playing,” said Sechrist. “We challenged our linemen in the second half. At this level, you’re playing good teams with good linemen, and if we were going to win, we needed to be able to run the ball some.

“It was a very up and down and emotional game and I told the kids before the game that we’d have to weather the storm. Championship teams – it isn’t always going to go right, the ball isn’t always going to bounce your way against this good of a competition, and you just need to hang in there and give yourself another chance.”

NOTE: Canton’s 13th win of the season is a new record for a team from the Northern Tier League, breaking the previous record of 12 held by several teams.

Canton 20, Old Forge 14 OT
Old Forge (11-1)     6    8    0    0    0 – 14
Canton (13-0)         0    0    0   14   6 – 20

1:34 – (OF) Casey Holzman 16-yard pass from James Sobol (kick failed), 8-69, 3:23

:13 – (OF) Mario Samony 45-yard pass from James Sobol (Spindler run), 10-67, 2:06

7:03 – (C) Riley Parker 12-yard pass from Cooper Kitchen (Ferguson kick), 6-83, 2:33
5:33 – (C) Riley Parker 3-yard run (Ferguson kick), 1-3, :07

(C) Hayden Ward 8-yard run, 2-10

                                          OF                          C

First downs                       20                           10

Rushes-net yards           35-147                   40-122

Passing yardage              192                         112

Passing                        15-37-2-5                5-10-1-0

Fumbles-lost                    3-1                          3-2

Penalties-yards               6-45                        8-49

RUSHING — Old Forge: James Sobol (21-108), Josh Spindler (7-37), Casey Holzman (4-16), John Greenfield (2-(-18)), Hezekiah Deitz (1-4); Canton: Riley Parker (18-51-1), Hayden Ward (8-43-1), Cooper Kitchen (6-12), Weston Bellows (4-7), Michael Davis (2-5), Hudson Ward (2-4)

PASSING — Old Forge: James Sobol (15-36-192-2-5), TEAM (0-1-0-0-0); Canton: Cooper Kitchen (5-10-112-1-0)

RECEIVING — Old Forge: Mario Samony (8-104-1), Ethan Tallo (2-30), Casey Holzman (2-18-1), Josh Spindler (1-19), Nick Novak (1-13), Andrew Bartnikowski (1-8); Canton: Hayden Ward (1-71), Weston Bellows (1-17), Riley Parker (1-12-1), Michael Davis (1-12), Austin Allen (1-0)

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