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McDowell shows no mercy in convincing victory over Lancaster Catholic

Written by: on Saturday, September 15th, 2012. Follow Josh Funk on Twitter.


ALTOONA, Pa. – If you’d take a look at Erie McDowell’s final team rushing statistics from its 2011 season, you wouldn’t see James Conner’s name in the No. 1, 2, or 3 slot. And not even the fourth. The now 6’2, 230-pound senior and Pitt recruit was fifth, with 267 yards and three touchdowns.

“I had a different role last year,” Conner said. “Greg Garmon (an Iowa recruit) was on the team and I was asked to be more of a blocker. We looked to Greg last year to spark us when we needed a big play – the guys were like, “C’mon, Greg.’ Now, my teammates are the ones looking to me to be that guy.”

But Conner did more than spark McDowell Saturday afternoon. He was on fire.

McDowell (2-1) got 248 yards rushing and three long touchdown runs from Conner and rolled to an impressive average of more than 10 yards per carry against defending PIAA “AA” champion Lancaster Catholic for a 49-20 victory at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona, snapping the Crusaders’ 18-game winning streak in the process.

The Trojans, in fact, invoked the PIAA’s mercy rule with a Dylan Ukasik touchdown just three seconds into the fourth quarter – a rarity in games featuring Lancaster Catholic on the short end of such margins. It was the Crusaders’ first mercy rule loss since 2003, when Columbia defeated Catholic, 48-0.

In PIAA mercy rule games, the game is played with a running clock when a team builds a lead of 35 points or more in the second half. If the losing team scores to bring the margin within 35 points, it does not stop the running clock.

McDowell entered the fray the state’s overall leader in rushing yardage per game, averaging 426.5 yards per and led by a three-headed monster backfield of quarterback Sean Gallagher, Khyre Drayer and Conner. Catholic, bent on shutting down the Trojans’ midline running game, left their flanks vulnerable.

“Lancaster Catholic was very cognisent of staying in their gaps and stuffing the run up the middle,” said McDowell head coach Mark Soboleski. “But we’re the No. 1 rushing team in the state because every week, it’s a different guy for us. Today, it was Conner and Tyree (Spearman).”

Conner’s scoring runs – of 73 yards on the Trojans’ second play from scrimmage, 92 yards in the second quarter and 68 yards to put the exclamation mark on McDowell’s day – moved him to seven for the season and six in his last two games. Spearman, who entered the game with negative rushing yardage, became McDowell’s fourth 100-yard rusher for the 2012 campaign with 134 yards on just five carries and two long touchdown runs spanning 46 and 45 yards.

McDowell finished with 465 yards rushing on 42 carries.

On his first touchdown run, and several times throughout the game, Conner showed an impressive stiff-arm which kept Crusader defenders at bay and even further limit good looks to tackle him.

“I don’t know where I learned that move,” Conner admitted. “But with my long arms, I can use that to my advantage and then hope my speed is good enough to get me to the next level.”

“Conner is unbelievable,” Soboleski said. “We (as a staff) asked him to be more of an upright runner this season and more downhill, because when he gets going, he’s unstoppable.”

On the opposite sideline, the Crusaders, who rode the coattails of senior running back and career 4,100-yard rusher Roman Clay to a 2-0 record, never could quite get their ground game working. Averaging better than 300 yards per game on the ground, McDowell limited Clay to just 63 yards on 19 carries. As a team, Catholic managed 34 yards rushing on 23 carries.

Catholic was able to pull within 14-7 of McDowell in the second quarter when Sean Titus hauled in a 68-yard scoring pass from starter Aaron Springer. Titus also scored the Crusaders’ second touchdown on a 9-yard pass in the fourth quarter from Evan Purvis and finished with nine catches for 232 yards in the game. Between Springer and Purvis, Catholic passes for 286 yards.

“It was nice for us to get the passing game going,” Titus said. “We knew they’d be keying on stuffing the box and trying to stop Roman and that the pass would be there for us. But missed opportunities hurt us.”

One of those missed opportunities which loomed large came in the first half. Down 21-7, LC had recovered a muffed McDowell punt and appeared to be in business. Just two plays later, Springer threw a floating pass which was intercepted by the Trojans’ Devontae Newby, and, two plays after that, Spearman notched his 46-yard touchdown run to make it a 28-7 game.

Special teams also weren’t friendly to Catholic this day – the Crusaders had three punts which didn’t travel further than 21 yards in the game. McDowell, meanwhile, did not punt in the game. Kicker Ethan Stark bombed seven touchbacks, converted all six extra points attempts he faced and missed a 48-yard field goal attempt.

Clay said the loss for the Crusaders was one that would serve as a “real wake-up call.”

“All good things have to come to an end at some point,” Clay said of LC’s 18-game winning streak. “(This game) was a good learning lesson and much needed for us. We have to go back to practice and work hard and focus (the rest of the way).”

NOTES: Catholic and McDowell will face each other again next season in Altoona in a Saturday afternoon game. LC served as the “home” team Saturday and McDowell will “host” next season…..Conner, through three games, has run for 539 yards and seven touchdowns on only 30 carries…..Drayer, limited to 32 yards on 13 carries, did not play in the second half of the game, but was not injured. “We wanted to start getting guys out, and I put in another senior who we wanted to get some work,” Soboleski said……Lancaster Catholic head coach Bruce Harbach politely declined to comment on the game outside of the Crusaders’ locker room…….Purvis started the second half at quarterback, and completed 10 of 11 passes for 168 yards. Springer was 6-of-12 in the first half…….Eight of McDowell’s 50 offensive plays went for 20 yards or greater.

Lancaster Catholic 0 7 0 13 – 20
Erie McDowell     7 21 7 14 – 49

1st quarter
E – James Conner 73 run (Ethan Stark kick)
2nd quarter
E – Khyre Drayer 3 run (Stark kick)
L – Sean Titus 68 pass from Aaron Springer (Evan Purvis kick)
E – Conner 92 run (Stark kick)
E – Tyree Spearman 46 run (Stark kick)
3rd quarter
E – Spearman 45 run (Stark kick)
4th quarter
E – Dylan Ukasik 2 run (Stark kick)
L – Titus 9 pass from Purvis (Purvis kick)
E – Conner 68 run (Zac Dellecurti kick)
L – Harrison Heise 17 pass from Purvis (PAT failed)

Team statistics
  EM  LC
Rushes-yds 42-465  23-34
Passing  4-8-0 16-23-1
Passing yds 63 286
Total offense 528 320
First downs 16 12
Penalties 5-40 3-31
Turnovers 1 1

Individual statistics
RUSHING: McDowell: Conner 8-248 3 TD; Spearman 5-134 2 TD; Drayer 13-32 TD; Sean Gallagher 8-11; Ukasik 6-21 TD; Todrick Arrington 3-13. Lancaster Catholic: Roman Clay 19-63; Aaron Springer 3-minus-25; Carmelo Cruz 1-minus-4.
PASSING: McDowell: Gallagher 4-8-0-63. Lancaster Catholic: Purvis 10-11-0-168 2 TD; Springer 6-12-1-118 TD.
RECEIVING: McDowell: Eric Iavarone 2-47; Conner 1-11; Spearman 1-5. Lancaster Catholic: Titus 9-232 2 TD; Heise 2-26 TD; Charles Scarff 2-14; Rafael Mateo-Mota 1-11; Kurt Kessler 1-7; Clay 1-minus-4

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