By Dan Walk
September 29, 2012 7:00 a.m. RUSSELL —
In back-to-back weeks against two of the best teams in Region 2, Eisenhower has put itself in a great position to win the conference just two years after finishing 0-10.
Senior John Pascuzzi rushed for 337 yards on 34 carries, and the Knights never played from behind during a 38-16 victory over Cochranton during a crucial Region 2 game on Friday night in Russell.
Both teams entered the contest with just one overall loss, but the Knights were undefeated at 3-0 in the conference following a final-second 26-25 victory last week over Mercyhurst Prep, which was previously unbeaten in the league. Cochranton, however, couldn’t keep things that close after falling behind 14-0 just 10 minutes into the game.
Pascuzzi, who scored three touchdowns and gained nearly 10 yards per attempt, found the end zone on Eisenhower’s first two drives. Sandwiched between those two scores was a lost fumble by Cochranton quarterback Chad Eisenhooth on the Cardinals’ second play from scrimmage.
“They wanted it from the jump,” Cochranton head coach Nathan Liberty said. “That was the difference. We couldn’t get it rolling. Too many mistakes.”
First-half interceptions by A.J. Nageotte and Austin Andrews kept the Cardinals in the game. After Nageotte’s pick, Cochranton (3-2, 2-2 Region 2) drove the ball 60 yards on 10 plays, finally ending in a touchdown on Eisenhooth’s 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal.
Back came the Knights (4-1, 4-0 Region 2), who, thanks to a 36-yard run by Pascuzzi, were inside the red zone just two minutes later. But an interception by Andrews in the end zone stopped the Knights’ momentum.
Down 14-8, Cochranton took a big chance with 2:23 left in the half on fourth-and-two at its own 28-yard line. A halfback pass by Andrews fell incomplete, and on Eisenhower’s ensuing drive, quarterback Aaron Lundmark completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Alex Johnson as time expired.
In the blink of an eye, Cochranton’s halftime deficit went from 14-8 to 21-8. And Eisenhower had the momentum going into the break.
Cochranton was on point to start the third quarter. Eisenhooth ran for 12 yards then completed 4-of-5 passes for 22 more yards. But on fourth-and-six from the 11-yard line, a one-yard completion to Garrett Adams led to a turnover on downs.
Eisenhower then went on to score 10 straight points to put the contest out of Cochranton’s reach.
Another big run by Pascuzzi led to Nathan O’Brien’s 27-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Down 24-6 with just 11 minutes left, the Cardinals tried some trickery but were unsuccessful.
On third-and-eight at Cochranton’s 48, receiver Shawn Woolstrum came in motion and took a handful from Eisenhooth. Woolstrum’s pass down the field was intercepted by O’Brien before the Knights put the game away with an 80-yard drive that resulted in Johnson’s 20-yard touchdown rush with four minutes left.
“They played a good game,” Liberty said. “My hat’s off to Eisenhower. These guys (the Cardinals) have to realize how to play a full game. We’re not a bad football team when we play a full game.”
Pascuzzi was a game-breaker for the Knights. He had six runs of 20 yards or more, including TD scores of 1, 22 and 27 yards. After Cochranton turned the ball over on downs at the 10-yard line during its first drive of the third quarter, Pascuzzi ripped off a 56-yard carry that quickly shifted the field position in Eisenhower’s favor.
“Blockers were insanely good,” Pascuzzi said. “I’m thankful for them. Without them, nothing (would have been gained). Those were good holes. I hope to see them next week too.”
Cochranton, meanwhile, was limited to 216 yards, including just 68 yards on 18 carries. Andrews, the Cardinals’ leading tailback, didn’t get a second-half carry after gaining 16 yards on seven attempts in the first half.
“We just played really disciplined,” Eisenhower head coach James Penley said. “That was our big thing. We knew coming in that they run 100 different formations. Instead of worrying about what the plays were, you worry about where your alignments are per formation and then you play disciplined. You don’t play out of position.”
As the only team with a perfect record in the region, Eisenhower is in control of the conference. But Penley isn’t about to start taking a conference championship for granted. The Knights next face Cambridge Springs for homecoming and Eisenhower’s third consecutive home game.
“For us, we have to worry about Cambridge Springs,” Penley said. “This whole team of guys was on a team that was 0-10 two years ago. We know what it’s like to be down on the bottom. We’re not about to start getting a big ego.
“It feels great, but we know a team can jump up and beat us. And we’re not going to let that happen.”
Meanwhile, dropping to 2-2 in the conference doesn’t change Cochranton’s hopes for this season.
“Our goal is playoffs,” Liberty said. “Eyes in the sky, see what happens.”