KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The snow and ice was the 12th man.
Karns City welcomed the slippery field conditions and the biting cold against top-ranked Farrell in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals Friday night at Diehl Stadium.
For a while, the conditions flustered the Steelers. Anthony Stallworth, Farrell’s 2,000-yard back, was spinning his tires in the snow and clumps of ice that covered the field. Karns City’s defense was swarming and the Gremlins were very much going toe-to-toe with the heavy favorites.
But a 91-yard drive to start the second half put Karns City in a 10-point hole and an interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter by Farrell iced the game — no pun intended — as the Gremlins bowed out of the state playoffs with a 30-12 loss.
Still, Karns City coach Joe Sherwin was pleased with what he saw for the most part.
“I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys,” Sherwin said. “We fought ‘till the end. I just asked them to give everything they had and they did. I can’t ask anything more from that group.”
Karns City held Stallworth, who came into the game averaging 13.8 yards per carry, to just 35 yards on 11 attempts in the first two quarters.
Farrell’s lone first-half score came on a 33-yard strike from Trian Holden to Omar Stewart. Stallworth did run in the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 lead in the second quarter.
Karns City responded.
Micah Rupp reached up and snagged a pass from Eric Booher in double coverage and split the two defensive backs for a 39-yard catch and score. The 2-point conversion snap sailed over the head of Luke Garing in the “Hogs” Wildcat package and Karns City went into the half down 8-6.
It was right where the Gremlins wanted the Steelers.
“Micah’s catch was a big momentum-builder for us going in to halftime,” Sherwin said. “I thought Eric threw the ball very well tonight in these conditions.”
Booher was 8 of 19 for 103 yards and the touchdown.
But it was Farrell’s passing attack in those blustery, difficult conditions that swung the game.
Holden threw for 90 yards in the first half and Kabron Smith was 2 for 3 for 111 yards in the second half. His 27-yard hook-up with Stewart jumpstarted the 91-yard drive to start the third quarter.
That drive was capped by a 20-yard TD run by Stallworth, who had 61 yards rushing on that march. Stallworth ended up with 137 yards on 21 carries.
“That was one of those where we needed to come out and score and we did,” said Farrell coach Amp Pegues. “We punched the ball in. Give Karns City a lot of credit. A lot of teams would have folded and just said, ‘Eh, it’s over.’ But they battled back and they stayed in there.”
Farrell extended its lead to 22-6 on an 84-yard pass from Smith to Stewart.
Smith scrambled to his right, motioned for Stewart to go deep and hit the receiver in stride in the middle of the field. Stewart did the rest, sprinting away from Rupp and into the end zone of the score.
Stewart finished with five receptions for 160 yards.
“It was no surprise,” Pegues said. “They were giving up the slant and the deep middle. I have some quarterbacks who can really sling it and throw it around.”
Sherwin said he was surprised at the arm strength of the two Farrell quarterbacks who have been in a timeshare at the position this season.
“They had stronger arms than maybe what he saw on film,” Sherwin said. “They were on the money on a lot of throws.”
Karns City’s running game, so good all season, sputtered at times against Farrell’s big and athletic front. But the Gremlins were able to move piles on a scoring drive that leaked into the fourth quarter and was capped by a 7-yard TD run by Luke Cramer to cut the lead to 22-12.
The Gremlins’ two 1,000-yard running backs — Jayce Anderson and Garing — combined for 96 yards. Anderson finished with 59.
“Some of our runs we couldn’t get going tonight that we typically get going,” Sherwin said. “We had to throw the ball a lot more than we usually do, and you know, that kind of plays in their hands a little bit. It’s not our forte.”
Farrell put the game away on a 15-yard interception return for a touchdown by Dwight Gregory-Allen. Booher’s pass glanced off the hands of his intended receiver and right into the grasp of Gregory-Allen, who stumbled, steadied himself, and sprinted into the end zone for the backbreaker with a little more than four minutes remaining in the game.
Now Farrell (11-0) will move on to play Serra Catholic next week in the semifinals.
For Karns City (11-2), it’s the end to another successful season that included a District 9 Class 2A championship.
It’s also a difficult goodbye to a slew of impact seniors, which included the entire offensive line as well as Anderson and Garing.
“They’re a great group of seniors and great leaders for us,” Sherwin said. “We’re gonna miss those guys and it’s gonna be hard to replace them.”