YORK TWP. — With Buckeye’s football team seemingly in control of its Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division game with Keystone on Friday, a couple huge plays changed momentum.
The Wildcats rallied for a 15-14 win, coming from 11 down in the final 7:59 to stay in the hunt for a conference title with a winner-take-all showdown with Black River looming.
Buckeye (3-6, 3-3) appeared to have the game wrapped up nice and tight when Rick Monroe (13 carries, 71 yards) plunged in from a yard out to put the Bucks up 14-3 with 7:59 remaining.
The Wildcats (5-4, 4-2) had failed to convert on three previous red zone trips as Buckeye ground its way to the late lead.
The Buckeye defense, keyed by junior tackle John Maslanka (4 tackles for loss, 1½ sacks, blocked punt) had bent a few times but never broke and dominated the Keystone offense for most of the game.
After Monroe’s touchdown, Keystone made its first big play when Denny Szalai scooped up the ensuing kickoff and raced 76 yards down the sideline to the 9.
“That kickoff return by Denny Szalai really turned the whole thing around,” Keystone coach Rob Clarico said.
After an incomplete pass and a loss of a yard by Greg Howard, Keystone finally found its way to the end zone when Howard (17 carries, 77 yards) raced around the right side for a 10-yard touchdown.
The two-point conversion pass failed, but Keystone pulled to within five points at 14-9.
Buckeye still appeared to be in full control on the following possession, as a big 28-yard pass from Alex Green (3-for-14, 55 yards, TD, INT) to Monroe on third-and-8 kept the drive alive.
That’s when disaster struck.
Three plays later, Green had trouble with a snap and safety C.J. Conrad, who earlier had an interception, pounced on the ball at the Keystone 45.
“We have been putting too much pressure on the defense at times,” Buckeye coach Rick Schuler said. “We’ve got the ball with 3 minutes to go and you’re in the driver’s seat. You just need to keep possession and punt it if you must, but we let it squirt away from us.”
What happened next was a wild finish that saw Keystone convert two fourth downs and overcome third-and-25 on the game-winning drive.
Quarterback Marcus Gunter (13-34, 151 yards) had an 11-yard completion for a first down wiped out by a holding penalty, moving the ball back to the Wildcats 44.
On the next play, Gunter found a wide-open Pierce Young (4 receptions, 46 yards) for 21 yards on third-and-25, then hit Conrad (8, 101) for 6 yards on fourth down to keep the drive alive.
“We can count on him, and that’s the best thing,” Clarico said of Conrad. “Even with two people on him, we’re still going to go to him because he is a big-time player and he’s going to make plays.
Gunter hit Pierce again — this time for 20 yards — to set up Keystone with a first and goal at the Buckeye 9.
Keystone again faced a critical fourth down, this time from the 4. With Gunter dropping back to pass, it all came down to one play. Unable to find anyone open, Gunter used his legs to stay alive and sprinted to the left corner of the end zone for the game-winning score with 21 seconds left.
“I saw the middle linebacker spying me,” Gunter said. “I saw a gap and I took off and beat him to the corner of the end zone.”
A desperation heave by Green to Alex Stanley was intercepted by Conrad at midfield and the Keystone comeback was sealed.
“I just tried to do my one-eleventh out there,” Conrad said. “Sometimes I got carried away and tried to do too much, and that’s when they scored. I tried to just do my one-eleventh in the second half and it helped.”
Contact Chad Grant at email@example.com.
Keystone 15, Buckeye 14
KEYSTONE 0 3 0 12 — 15
BUCKEYE 0 7 0 7 — 14
K — Turner Geisel 37 field goal, 2:25.
B — Alex Stanley 14 pass from Alex Green (Grauel kick), 0:39.
B — Rick Monroe 1 run (Grauel kick), 7:59.
K — Greg Howard 10 run (pass failed), 6:45.
K — Marcus Gunter 4 run (pass failed), 0:39.