COCHRANTON — “It’s just a feeling that I haven’t had since last year. I’ve been waiting on it and finally got it done,” said Cochranton junior Jon Gallo, who was the offensive star of the Cardinals’ 46-24 victory over Saegertown Friday night in Region 2 football action.
Cochranton (1-5, 1-2 Region 2) snapped a six-game losing streak behind Gallo’s four-touchdown night and more than 300 yards passing by sophomore quarterback Wyatt Barzak.
Friday was the first time Barzak was able to get behind center since he was injured early in Week 2, according to Cochranton head coach Joel Murray. Barzak responded by throwing for 335 yards and completing 24 of 40 pass attempts.
The Cardinals ran the ball just a few times during the first three quarters while Barzak piled up 327 yards through the air.
“I’ve been pretty frustrated with our run game,” Murray said. “So we committed to the pass tonight and said we’re going to pass until they stop us. Why bang your head off the wall when you have a good quarterback?”
Neither team scored during the first quarter, but the Cardinals started to move the ball early in the second. Barzak connected with Stephen Martinec for 15 yards before lofting the ball over Saegertown’s defense down the right sideline and into the arms of Gallo for the first touchdown of the game, a 30-yarder.
It was 8-0 for a while before Saegertown (0-6, 0-3), which struggled mightily to move the ball all half, suddenly flashed a big-play offense. Freshman Henry Shaffer completed a 42-yard pass to Kadin McClure before Jacob Reisinger scored from 40 yards out on the ground.
Cochranton responded with a 51-yard drive of its own that was capped off by a 28-yard touchdown catch by Gallo that was reminiscent of Cochranton’s first TD.
Gallo said he played running back and quarterback earlier in the season and was weary of playing out wide on Friday. It all worked out pretty well in the end.
“Good job, coach,” Gallo said of Murray’s decision to play Gallo at wide receiver.
“I know he (Barzak) was itching (to play quarterback),” Murray said, “so I said, ‘Hey, let’s just put our guys out wide and just throw them the ball.’ And it worked.”
A 20-yard pass from Shaffer to senior Robbie Brown was followed by a penalty each way, including a roughing the passer penalty on Cochranton that knocked Shaffer out of the game.
In came Tariq Barnes, who, with two seconds left in the half, scrambled his way to a 40-yard touchdown that took the teams to halftime with Cochranton up 16-12.
“We were losing to Saegertown last year at halftime,” Murray said. “We knew we were going to get their best because this is their shot to win a game too.”
The Cardinals started to pull away thanks to a 16-0 third quarter. A safety on a botched punt snap was followed by a 48-yard touchdown pass by Barzak to Kendrick Hostetler, who caught the third-and-10 pass short of the first down across the middle before running about 40 yards for the score.
Gallo’s third touchdown of the night came from five yards out a few plays after he caught a 26-yard pass.
Cochranton’s lead grew to 40-12 early in the fourth quarter when Gallo found the end zone for a final time on a 13-yard run.
Twice facing the possibility of a mercy rule running clock, Saegertown responded with a touchdown.
The Panthers scored on another big play — this time a 35-yard touchdown pass from Barnes to Keenan Schaaf — to make it 40-18.
Barzak then threw another touchdown pass — an eight-yarder to Andrew McDonough — before Barnes’ second TD run of the night — a 12-yarder — with 3:07 remaining in the game.
Saegertown dropped its 35th consecutive game, but the Panthers scored their most points since September 2017.
“They play hard for that coach, and they never give up,” Murray said. “I tried to drill all week, ‘Don’t you dare take Saegertown lightly because they’ll smack you in the mouth.’ They have some feisty kids over there.”
Murray hopes Friday’s victory will lead to a strong finish for the Cardinals — a finish that will convince him to enter his team in the playoffs.
“I think it’s more important how we respond to this win — get the next three out of four like we made the deal last year,” said Murray, with the first of those potential three represented by Friday night’s win. “If they do that we’ll play a playoff game.”