By Dom DiRienzo
Meadville coach Mike Feleppa told senior tailback Ryan Harkness to take the bounce. He did and with it he might have bounced the spirits of bruised and beleaguered Meadville football team.
Harkness scored his second touchdown of the game on the Bulldogs’ second play of overtime to lead Meadville to its first win of the season, 12-6, over Erie East at Bender Field Friday in the Bulldogs home opener.
“We knew the line was going to be packed in,” said Harkness, who finished with a game-high 105 yards on 17 carries. “I took the bounce. I took it outside. There was some nice blocking and the line held it together. This means a lot to get that first win under our belt. All the frustration’s gone.”
It has been a long time coming for the Bulldogs (1-2) who dropped their first two games in agonizing fashion, playing strong first halves only to see the games get away in the second half.
“A win heals a lot of wounds,” Feleppa said. “This feels pretty sweet. It was not a perfect game by any means. When we held them in the overtime, I knew it was just a matter of time.”
But it was a win. For a moment, it looked as if Meadville would follow the script it had in the first two games – playing a solid first half only to let the game unravel in the second half. East led 6-0 at halftime and opened the second half with a strong drive. But Meadville’s defense tightened and that drive fizzled.
Meadville’s opening drive started with some promise. The Bulldogs overcame back-to-back 5-yard penalties and drove to the Warriors’ 25-yard line, but the drive stalled there when the Bulldogs lost two yards on a fourth-and-6 play. The drive covered 55 yards, all on the ground, and took 5:52 off the clock, all of which were encouraging numbers, except for the one ones that mattered most – on the scoreboard.
“On the opening drive we were hitting on cylinders,” Feleppa said. “But after that opening drive we couldn’t get in a rhythm offensively.”
The next seven Meadville plays netted just five yards.
After Meadville’s opening possession, East drove back 73 yards to take a 6-0 lead. Quarterback Jarel Nelson hit Tavaray Carr for a 30-yard touchdown on a middle screen. Carr picked his way through the middle of the field to reach the end zone with 10:58 left in the first half.
Erie East (0-3) opened the second half with a great drive. Nelson connected on his first five passes to help move the Warriors from their own 37 to the Bulldogs’ 15. But Meadville’s defense tightened up, overcame a pass interference call that put the Warriors down to the 8-yard line but two incomplete passes and a tackle for a 1-yard loss by Louis Crawford helped stall that drive.
“Talk about a bend-but-don’t-break defense,” Feleppa said. “We gave up some plays.”
Erie East was inside the 15 three times counting the overtime and came away with zero points on those trips.
Meadville’s struggles on offense continued on its first series of the second half. Caleb Schweter broke off a 12-yard run, but netted just three yards on the next three plays. But the ’Dogs found their swagger in the fourth quarter. They put together a 73-yard drive of their own, powered by a 20-yard run by Harkness that took the ball down to the East 23-yard line. Harkness finished the drive with a 2-yard plunge, but the Bulldogs missed the kick, knotting the score at 6.
East did not look at all like the team that lost 35-0 to its cross town rival Central Tech last week.
“We didn’t even come out of the locker room last week,” East coach Leonard Ford said. “But the kids were focused this week. The game was there for us, and it’s frustrating that we could not take it. It will go in the win column for (Meadville), but I feel like it was a good game for us.”
Notes: East battled on despite losing three players to injury, including Nelson who left the game late in the third quarter and did not return. The Warriors had three players take snaps at quarterback in the final 13 minutes of the game including Nelson, who was listed at 5-foot-6, 140 pounds, and Sanchez, a sophomore who was listed at 5-8, 155 pounds. … This was the first overtime win of Feleppa’s career. It was also the first OT win Feleppa, who has been with the program as a player or coach since OT was instituted in the late 90s, could remember.