The Eisenhower Knights clinched their ticket to the Class 1A District 10 Championship Game by beating the Cambridge Springs Blue Devils 25-20 on Saturday night at War Memorial Field.
Fans were still entering the facility as the teams took to the pitch. According to Warren Area High School athletic director Jeff White, it was the largest crowd ever at War Memorial Field with 1,141 tickets sold as of 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Knights 10-0 kicked off the Blue Devils 8-3, but Cambridge Springs wasn’t intimidated by the undefeated Knights and ran 60 yards for a score on the quarterback’s 6-yard touchdown Morgan Applebee. A successful PAT kick made it 7-0 less than four minutes into the match.
It was a defensive battle as both teams were stopped before the Knights went 50 yards. Junior fullback Tucker Lindell scored the first of his two touchdowns on the night on a one-yard dive in the end zone. Cole Kellogg’s PAT kick was good and the score was tied at 7-7 with 10:22 left in the second quarter.
The Knights’ Kris Bunk recovered a Blue Devils fumble in ensuing practice, but the Knights couldn’t capitalize and were forced into their only punt of the game. The Blue Devils took over and took a 14-7 lead on a 17-yard pass from Applebee to Preston Gorton followed by a PAT kick with just 1:18 left in the half.
The Knights were kicked off the second half, but junior quarterback Shawn Pascuzzi threw only his second interception of the season for the Blue Devils.
Bunk, who was a one-man wrecking team in the game with three tackles for loss and two sacks from the quarterback, got to Applebee and knocked him down for a 6-yard loss on third down that forced the Blue Devils to kick fourth and -11.
The Knights took over and headed to the Blue Devils 12-yard line. Lindell then took a relay from Pascuzzi and scored to make it 14-13.
Knights head coach Jim Penley opted to go for a 2-point conversion. The initial run was good, but a penalty against Eisenhower forced another attempt from the 20-yard line. Pascuzzi’s pass attempt to Bunk failed, leaving the Knights down a point with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Blue Devils took over and Applebee joined Gorton again, this time 44 yards out for a touchdown. The PAT kick was good to give the Blue Devils a 20-13 lead with 9:59 left in the game.
It was time for the Knights to do what they do best: let Bauer run behind his line and slam into the hearts of the Blue Devils. Bauer and the Knights ran the ball 57 yards to the 10-yard line before Bauer raced past his senior linemen Mike Vanatta, Caleb Penley and Conner Younger, and scored on a run with 5:50 left in the game.
Once again, Penley decided to take the lead with his team trailing 20-19. Bauer was stopped on his attempt when a Blue Devils lineman ran through the right side and stopped him.
Younger, also the Knights kicker, dropped the ball perfectly on the 28-yard line. The Knights defense rose to the occasion and stopped the Blue Devils to take over on their own 40-yard line with 3:30 left in the game.
While most teams would take to the air to move the ball, Penley chose to trust his line and workhorse Bauer.
“We run the ball, that’s what we do, that’s what this team does. Now, yes, the clock is ticking, yes, we had time out, but also their defense is thinking about the past,” Coach Penley said. “Maybe they were sitting on their heels a bit. When we go down, maybe we can throw a big play. Also, I have absolute supreme confidence in my team’s blocking and my running backs are carrying the ball.
Penley wouldn’t have to wait long before his line opened up a hole that sprang from Bauer, who caught it behind the left side of his line and moved outside before shaking off two defenders from the Blue Devils for a 58-yard touchdown on second down. .
Bauer would finish with 210 rushing yards on 23 carries with a pair of touchdowns. The 2-point attempt was stopped by the Blue Devils, leaving the Knights leading 25-19 with 2:39 left in the game.
Cambridge Springs went through the air to move down, but it was the Knights’ Garrett Jensen who had the biggest catch of the game, intercepting Applebee’s pass with 1:38 left.
After a first down from Bauer, the Knights were able to miss the time limit.
“I’m so proud of this team. This win was a total team effort. Obviously Benji had a terrific game, but it was also Pascuzzi and Lindell who added 132 yards on 14 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Coach Penley said. “Our offensive line once again had an excellent game. I can’t say enough about the job they did opening holes for these guys.
“And on defense, I thought Bunk and senior Jeremyah Aiken had tremendous games, like all linebackers,” Coach Penley added. “Apart from a few big plays, we kept them under control. Garrett Jensen has just been huge for us, as he has been all season.
The Knights will face Reynolds in the District 10 Championship Game Saturday at 1 p.m. at Edinboro University.
“Obviously it’s huge to play in the district title game because that’s our goal every year,” Coach Penley said. “We know there are no guarantees that anyone can win, and you also know that you’re going to face one of the best teams in the state because you’ll always have to face the best team in Mercer County. .”