By TY R. STATES
You couldn’t ask for any more from a rivalry game. “The Backyard Brawl” took place in Saxton this year as Tussey Mountain and Northern Bedford battled back and forth in a contest that the lead changed hands six times.
The Black Panthers used quick-striking big plays, while the Titans put together sustained drives with some long-gainers thrown in there. Tussey Mountain trailed 22-20 in the fourth quarter, but went on a 90-yard drive to take the lead, recovered a fumble, and scored again to win 32-22.
The Titans (4-0, 4-0 ICC) excelled at running the football, and at the same time Matthew Leonard picked apart the defense through the air. Tussey ran for 262 yards and all five touchdowns, while Leonard was on target 15 of 20 throws for 232 yards.
“Matt Leonard is an unbelievable kid. His composure is great. His leadership has been great. He was a hero tonight,” praised Tussey Mountain head coach Anthony Sottasante.
“Our kids made the plays when they had to. I am so proud of these kids. To be able to win a football game like this is incredible.”
Kaden Lucko battered the Panthers, running straight ahead with the football. He toted the pigskin 31 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
Jarred Sipes also had a pair of rushing touchdowns. In the air, Tyler Rhodes was Leonard’s main target, making seven catches for 135 yards.
Northern Bedford had touchdown passes of 54 and 62 yards, and a run of 55 yards for a score. The touchdown run was on the first play of the second half and accounted for over half of the team’s yardage the last two quarters. All of its 112 yards passing came in the first half.
“This was a game of opportunities. On fourth down when they needed it they got six and we couldn’t. They took advantage of opportunities and we didn’t,” Northern Bedford head coach Garry Black said.
The first quarter was scoreless and Tussey led 14-13 at halftime. A third-quarter field goal gave NBC a 22-20 lead.
In crunch time the Titans made the plays they needed in order to win the game. Northern Bedford stopped the Titans with an interception late in the third quarter.
The Panthers drove into the red zone and had a fourth and one at the 10. Dalton Smith was stopped for no gain and Tussey Mountain took over.
The Titans then moved 90 yards in five minutes to take the lead. It was a dominating drive with strong runs and big pass plays.
Leonard threw to Nicholas Brumbaugh for 20 yards, then Rhodes for a 44-yard gain. On fourth and six at the Northern 12, David Smith pulled down the pass for a seven-yard gain.
Two plays later Lucko powered into the end zone from three yards out. Tussey failed to convert on all its two-point plays in the game, so it led 26-22 with 6:19 to play.
Northern Bedford put itself in great position to come back and win this game. Cadin Ebersole ran the kickoff back 66 yards to the Tussey 20.
The Titans came up with another huge play, with Lucko recovering a fumble at the 23.
There were still six minutes to play so the locals had to do something with the football. They did, moving 77 yards in 4:10 to score again and put the game away.
Northern had Tussey in a second and 18 situation. Leonard threw to Rhodes on the right sideline. He then cut back across the field for a 55-yard gain.
Six straight running plays and the Titans were in the end zone again. Sipes took the pitch to the right and ran 10 yards for his second score of the game and a 32-22 advantage with 1:50 remaining.
The Panthers fumbled the kickoff and the Titans recovered again. Lucko carried twice before running the clock out for the victory.
“I thought it was going to turn into a shootout but our defense is big time,” Leonard remarked. “They really settled down for us when it mattered most. Our offensive line settled down and came to play in the second half.”
The Panthers had one first down in the opening quarter and just seven for the game. Tussey Mountain had the ball the last 4:03 of the first and another 3:12 in the second before scoring. They had two third down conversions and then Rhodes got a first down on a fake punt.
Leonard gained 20 yards when he kept the ball on the option play. Lucko carried five yards for the score.
On the first play after the kickoff, Northern then hit a 62-yard pass from Thad Leidy to Kyler States and the extra point gave it a 7-6 lead.
Tussey scored with 2:08 left in the half on a four-yard run by Sipes. The Panthers scored again on their next play with Leidy throwing 54 yards to Cadin Ebersole.
Dalton Smith ran 55 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the third quarter to put the Panthers up 19-14. David Smith went two yards for a touchdown and the Titans were up 20-19.
State kicked a 24-yard field goal to put Northern in front 22-20 late in the third quarter.
GAME NOTES: Tussey Mountain finished with 494 yards of total offense and Northern had 247 ... Sipes had 50 yards and two scores. Rhodes added 42 yards rushing ... Leidy was three of nine for 112 yards and two TDs ... Smith ran for 112 yards and a touchdown ... The Titans have now won two in a row against the Panthers but trail the all-time series 19-42-1 ... Tussey Mountain is at Williamsburg next Friday.