Penn Cambria pulls away late to defeat Central

·5 min read

Sep. 10—CRESSON — Nearly a foot taller, Garrett Harrold's never going to be mistaken for Harry Houdini, but Penn Cambria's senior quarterback turned in a play at the end of the first half that would make even the greatest escape artist proud.

Harrold's magic had the home crowd and defending Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference champion Central under his spell, and Penn Cambria rode the wave. The Panthers scored four of the last five touchdowns of the game to come back and move to 3-0 this season while avenging its loss in last year's District 6 Class 3A championship game, 42-28, in high school football on Friday night.

"We lost to them twice last year and we marked this on our calendar. We knew this was going to be a dogfight, but we were able to come out on top," Harrold said.

Harrold had 333 yards in total offense — 216 passing and 117 rushing — throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more. Meanwhile, Zach Grove sent Panther fans away happy from Penn Cambria's home opener by rushing for 105 of his game-high 124 yards on the ground in the second half and scoring the only touchdowns of the fourth quarter on jaunts of 7 and 33 yards to make the difference.

"It's crazy. We had this game circled. We came in with a lot of energy," Grove said. "This shows the league that we're here to play."

In the postgame scrum with his teammates, Harrold called it a statement win. His coach, Nick Felus, told his Panthers that overcoming Central all-state quarterback Jeff Hoenstine's 289 yards and four passing touchdowns to beat the 2021 state semifinalists was the biggest win the program has had in a long time, even preceding his taking the reins of his alma mater four years ago.

"Our guys stepped up," Felus said.

"When our guys needed to make a play, our receivers made big catch after big catch. They were blocking downfield. It was an unbelievable team effort."

For as huge a game as the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Harrold had, one play was decisive.

Trying to help his Panthers keep pace with the Scarlet Dragons and Hoenstine, Harrold dropped back to pass on fourth and 10 in the final minute of the second quarter. He didn't see the Scarlet Dragon pass rusher line him up from behind as he scanned for a receiver.

Harrold was hit — hard — but shrugged it off, composed himself quickly and heaved a 35-yard touchdown to Luke Shuagis, who finally lost his coverage.

"I could definitely feel him coming behind me. I was just trying to use my instincts to try to keep the play alive," Harrold said. "I saw Luke go downfield and we were able to make something happen."

Shuagis is a senior like Harrold, and they've been teammates for years.

"That's just him, making all the plays" said Shuagis, who also had a 43-yard catch. "Some of the stuff still wows me.

"He's so good."

Felus thought Harrold bypassed who he should have thrown to on the play but had no other complaints with the result.

"If you could sum him up in one play," Felus said, "that's it."

Penn Cambria never trailed after that, taking the opening drive of the second half 70 yards, culminating on Harrold's 34-yard scoring bolt.

Central coach Dave Baker, a master of developing defenses, was left impressed. The Scarlet Dragons dipped to 1-2.

"Their quarterback is a great player. Other than that (it's an even game)," Baker said. "We just could not tackle him.

"We couldn't get him down, and he ends up throwing (a touchdown). That was the play of the game."

Penn Cambria outrushed Central 241-64 and wore down the Dragons with their versatility as the game progressed. Fittingly, two Panther senior linemen, Andy Wyland and Mason Raymond, were celebrating their birthdays.

"When we play as a team like that, we conquer," Wyland said. "We had to smack them in the mouth and keep on them."

Hoenstine had 215 yards and three touchdowns through the air over the first quarter, hitting 11 of his first 13 passes. Harrold was just as impressive, completing his first 12 throws and finishing the first half with 251 yards in total offense, throwing two TDs and rushing for a third.

Central took a 21-14 edge when Hoenstine found Shalen Yingling all alone in the middle of the end zone just 1:24 into the second quarter. The Dragons then had a chance to put a little separation between themselves and the Panthers after Kaden Fisher stopped Harrold for just a yard gain on fourth and 2 at the Central 35.

Central, though, couldn't capitalize. Penn Cambria converted a pair of third downs before Harrold's pass to Shuagis made it a tie at halftime.

The teams entered the second quarter tied at 14-14 after already combining for 320 yards. Harrold's two-point pass to Vinny Chirdon evened the score to follow his 27-yard scoring sprint with the read option.

That answered the second of Lingenfelter's touchdown receptions, a 70-yarder on which he broke free of Penn Cambria defender Carter McDermott around midfield and had no one between him and the end zone. Earlier, Lingenfelter made a diving catch for a 10-yard touchdown that opened the scoring.