BERLIN, Pa – By six weeks, the Windber High School football team had gotten used to finishing games without the roster starters for much of the second half.
But not like Friday night.
The Ramblers had several key playmakers sitting or standing on the sidelines at the Snyder of Berlin Complex in the second half of an undefeated WestPAC reunion at Berlin Brothersvalley.
This time around, injuries – mostly severe cramps, according to Windber coach Matt Grohal – have put the Ramblers’ roster on hold.
Windber (7-0) dug deep into the roster, and Ramblers players dug even deeper to fend off another Berlin blue-collar effort (6-1) in a 20-6 win.
“I told our guys it was the product of not playing more than a quarter and a half of football in all those weeks,” Grohal said. “We needed this. We needed it badly.
“We are just not conditioned. We condition and we can run gassers until the cows come home. But until you do it in a play situation.… We needed this.
Berlin coach Doug Paul said his team also made progress against a tough opponent playing in front of a huge crowd dressed in blue – the dominant color of both schools’ uniforms.
“I’m super proud of our guys,” said Paul. “Lots of things out of our control here tonight. I told them if you play 48 minutes with everything you have, I will be proud of you.
Windber took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter as mainstay John Shuster caught a screen pass and ran 22 yards for the game’s first touchdown with 9:08 left in the first quarter.
Shuster added an 11-yard touchdown to top a 12-game record with 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
Shuster gained 95 yards on 18 carries, but didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter after aggravating an injury that bothered him late last season. Windber lost quarterback Aiden Gray in the final play of the third quarter and veteran playmaker Dylan Tomlinson also left in the second half.
“Our young guys are stepping up,” Grohal said. “We had freshmen and sophomores who stepped up because they played that role all year (playing in one-sided wins). They made parts when we needed them.
“We have ‘fragmented’ an offense. We were down from four or five starters at one point. In a way, we came out of here with a victory. We’re just lucky.
Berlin punished the Ramblers in a hard-hitting contest. The Mountaineers advanced to a 4-yard line from Windber midway through the third quarter, but lost the ball on a fumble.
After a Ramblers punt on the drive that followed, Berlin took over at 40, but missed the ball on the first play.
“We were inside the 5 on two occasions and we didn’t score,” said Paul. “We had the revenue and a mystery penalty that sustains us (in the fourth quarter). We had chances. That’s all you can ask for in a game like this.
Mountaineers created their own revenue – and points – at the start of the fourth quarter.
Carson Harding intercepted a pass from junior quarterback Ethan Brady on the fourth and -15 and returned it for 87 yards for a touchdown. The Mountaineers misinterpreted the snap on the kick attempt and failed on an impromptu run, establishing a score of 14-6 with 10:03 to go.
“We’ve been telling them all week, ‘You have to get some depth,’” Paul said. “They like to throw this tight cross. He got deeper and it hit him right in the chest. We had some great downstream blockages and the guys took off to chase it.
“It’s a great high school football game and a great high school football team there (on the sidelines of Windber).”
Windber senior back Nick Dom finished with 73 yards on 10 carries, including 59 rushing yards in the fourth quarter. Dom scored on a 16-yard run to make it 20-6 with 3:55 to go.
“The line did a really good job blocking and opening holes,” Dom said. “The younger ones did a very good job coming in and taking the place of the injured children. We just need to correct some mistakes.
Ramblers senior Keith Charney made four catches for 60 yards and had an interception in the end zone to stop a goal threat in Berlin with 2:28 left.
Mountaineers sophomore quarterback Pace Prosser (14 of 30, 177 yards) had just hit a 52-yard pass to Will Latuch inside the 10, but a 15-yard penalty brought the ball back to the 21 three. games before Charney’s choice.
“I saw he was spinning and I just jumped him up and caught up with him,” Charney said.
“A lot of executives stepped in to the group,” Charney added when asked how Windber reacted to adversity.
Mike Mastovich is a sports journalist and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on twitter @ Masty81.