The Eisenhower Knights holed their ticket to the District 10 Class 1A championship game by beating the Cambridge Springs Blue Devils 25-20 Saturday night at War Memorial Field.
Fans were still entering the facility as the teams took the field. It was the largest crowd ever at War Memorial Field with 1,141 tickets sold as of 4 p.m. Saturday, according to Warren Area High School athletic director Jeff White.
The 10-0 Knights started against the 8-3 Blue Devils, but Cambridge Springs wasn’t intimidated by the undefeated Knights and drove 60 yards on to score on second quarterback Morgan Applebee’s 6-yard touchdown run. A successful PAT kick made it 7-0 in less than four minutes.
It was a defensive fight as both teams were stopped on dismounts before the Knights drove 50 yards. Junior fullback Tucker Lindell scored the first of his two touchdowns on the night on a 1-yard dive into the end zone. Cole Kellogg’s PAT kick was good and the score was tied at 7-7, with 10:22 remaining in the second quarter.
The Knights’ Kris Bunk pulled out a Blue Devils fumble on the ensuing drive, but the Knights failed to capitalize and were forced to their only punt of the game. The Blue Devils took over and went 14-7 on a 17-yard pass from Applebee to Preston Gorton followed by a PAT kick with just 1:18 left in the half.
The Knights got the kickoff in the second half, but junior quarterback Shawn Pascuzzi threw the Blue Devils only his second interception of the season.
Bunk, who was a one-man wrecking crew in the game with three tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks, came up to Applebee and tripped him on third down with a 6-yard loss, forcing the Blue Devils to to punt on fourth-and -11.
The Knights took over and drove to the Blue Devils’ 12-yard line. Lindell then took a pass from Pascuzzi and scored to make it 14-13.
Knights head coach Jim Penley opted for a 2-point conversion attempt. The first run was good, but a penalty on Eisenhower forced another attempt from the 20-yard line. Pascuzzi’s pass attempt to Bunk failed, leaving the Knights a point in the third quarter with 49 seconds remaining.
The Blue Devils took over and Applebee faced Gorton again, this time from 44 yards for a touchdown. The PAT kick was good to put the Blue Devils 20-13 with 9:59 in the game.
It was time for the Knights to do what they do best: run Bauer behind his line and smack the Blue Devils in the heart. Bauer and the Knights ran the ball 57 yards to the 10-yard line before Bauer ran behind senior linemen Mike Vanatta, Caleb Penley and Conner Younger and scored on a 5:50 run in the game.
Once again, Penley decided to give his team a 20-19 lead. Bauer was stopped in his attempt when a Blue Devils lineman came through the right flank and stopped him.
Younger, also a Knights kicker, dropped the ball perfectly at the 28-yard line. The Knights defense jumped at the opportunity, stopping the Blue Devils on downs to take over at 3:30 into the game on their own 40 yard line.
While most teams flew in the air to move the ball, Penley chose to trust his line and workhorse Bauer.
“We let the ball run, that’s what we do, that’s what this team does. Now yes the clock is moving, yes we still had time out but their defense is also looking to the past.” Coach Penley said. “Maybe they were a bit on their heels. If things go downhill, maybe we can make a big game. Also, I have absolute confidence in my team’s blocking and my running backs carrying the football.”
Penley didn’t have to wait long for his line to open a hole that sprang from Bauer, who took it behind the left side of his line and went outside before slamming down two Blue Devils defenders for a 58-yard touchdown run on the second place shook off .
Bauer ended up rushing for 210 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns. The 2-point attempt was stopped by the Blue Devils, leaving the Knights 25-19 with 2:39 in the game.
Cambridge Springs blew up to move down but it was the Knights’ Garrett Jensen who had the biggest catch of the game as he intercepted Applebee’s pass at 1:38 left.
After a first down run by Bauer, the Knights were able to let the clock run out.
“I’m just so proud of this team. This victory was an absolute team effort. Obviously Benji had a great game, but it was also Pascuzzi and Lindell who added 132 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns.” Coach Penley said. “Once again our attacking team played a great game. I can’t say enough about the work they did to open up holes for these guys.
“And on defense, I thought Bunk and Senior Jeremyah Aiken had great games, as did all of the linebackers.” Coach Penley added. “Aside from a couple of big games, we kept them in check. Garrett Jensen has been just great for us as he has been all season.”
The Knights will play Reynolds in the District 10 Championship Game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Edinboro University.
“Of course it’s huge to play in the district title game, because that’s our goal every year,” Coach Penley said. “We know there are no guarantees and anyone can win, and you also know you’re going to be playing one of the best teams in the state because you always have to be playing the best team from Mercer County.”