Ohio rallies to defeat Pennsylvania in Big-33 Classic
HERSHEY, Pa. – For three quarters of Saturday’s Big-33 game, the only hot stuff was coming courtesy of the air temperature.
In the final stanza, both the Pennsylvania and Ohio all-stars caught fire, trading big play after big play after big, momentum-swinging play. But it was the Buckeye State stars that emerged the victors.
Ohio used an 11-point fourth quarter, including the game-winning touchdown with 1:04 left in the game, to rally to defeat Pennsylvania 18-15 in the 53rd Big-33 Football Classic from a hot and humid Hersheypark Stadium.
The winning touchdown came courtesy of quarterback Mark Myers (Cleveland St. Ingatius), who hooked up with Christian Bryant (Cleveland Glenville) from 17 yards out on a lightning-quick 2-play, 75-yard drive with 64 seconds left on the clock. Last year, Ohio won in the final seconds, 38-31, on a short fullback trap run.
Myers (8-of-16, 127 yards, TD, 2 INT) was 2-of-2 for 70 yards on the drive. Pennsylvania was flagged for encroachment before Myers hit the winning scoring pass.
“Hopefully, in the future, Ohio gets it started earlier (in the game),” Myers said. “Players for both teams stepped it up in the fourth quarter. The second half was very exciting.
“But the first half,” Myers said, “was kind of boring.”
“Kind of boring” may have been a pretty severe understatement. Neither Ohio or Pennsylvania could get anything going in the first half. Passes sailed over their intended targets. Run after run after run, save for an Anthony Gonzalez (Bethlehem Liberty) 21-yard run in the first quarter, was stuffed.
By the time halftime rolled around, Pennsylvania held a 2-0 lead courtesy of a punt kicked out of the back of the end zone by Ohio’s Carey Spear (Mayfield) in the first quarter.
The first half stats weren’t pretty, and were indicative of strong defensive units. Both teams combined for only 11 completed passes in 40 attempts and threw three interceptions. In 22 combined carries, the ground games yielded a measly three yards.
Pennsylvania and Ohio both missed some big plays in the first half. Salath Williams (Bishop McDevitt) dropped a sure first down on a long pass in the first half. Ohio’s Myers was picked off in the first quarter in the red zone by Colby Way (State College Area), thwarting a Buckeye State scoring threat.
But for the horribly slow start, things suddenly woke up late in the third quarter and for the duration of the game.
Tyler Smith (Wilson Area), who started the game 3-of-13 for 33 yards, led Pennsylvania on an impressive scoring drive, hooking up with Alex Kenney (State College Area) on a 48-yard pass to extend PA’s lead to 9-0.
Two plays before the big pass, a horrible snap rolled past Smith and Pennsylvania lost 22 yards on the play. Smith’s touchdown pass came on a 3rd-and-25 situation, capped a drive in which he went 5-of-5 for 96 yards.
Ohio broke the shutout almost immediately. Verlon Reed (Marion Franklin) took a designed quarterback keeper 74 yards untouched, and Ohio was on the board, down 9-7, only 20 seconds after Pennsylvania’s touchdown.
Reed, who was named Ohio’s MVP, finished with 60 rushing yards and 55 passing yards on a 7-of-11 night.
“That (touchdown run) was my teammates helping me out,” Reed said. “I tried not to think about (being wide open on the scoring run), because then you start thinking and you can make a mistake or do something out of character. I just wanted to finish the run.”
Reed also played a key role in Ohio’s drive to its initial lead of the game. He completed passes of 7 and 19 yards and Prince-Tyson Gulley (Akron Garfield) broke off a 17-yard run before Pennsylvania muffed a punt at its own 13-yard line to help set up Spear’s go-ahead 33-yard field goal with 3:41 left in the game.
Ohio led at that juncture, 10-9, but Pennsylvania had a rally left in it.
Drew Carswell (Sto-Rox) hadn’t made a catch all game, but his first reception was a big one. With 1:30 left in the game, Gonzalez hit a wide open Carswell for a 65-yard touchdown to give Pennsylvania a 15-10 lead.
“It was a great game,” said Pennsylvania head coach Dick Beck (North Penn). “The kids competed the whole game. I wish we could have gotten started in the first half like we did in the fourth quarter.”
Ohio’s winning drive followed Pennsylvania’s big touchdown.
Smith (10-of-28, 167 yards, TD) hit a 34-yard pass to Jarrod West (Bethlehem Liberty) to midfield with under a minute left, but four consecutive incomplete passes ended the blue and gold’s hopes of a victory.
Ohio head coach Tom Pavlansky (Lakeview) couldn’t say enough positive things about his squad.
“I can’t say enough about my staff,” Pavlansky said. “I can’t say enough about the kids and their attitude (this week).”
Beck was apologetic about Pennsylvania’s loss.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t come out on the winning end,” Beck said. “But our kids didn’t quit, and I’m very proud of them.”
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