FOUNTAIN SPRINGS - In the first movie of the series, challenger, Rocky Balboa gets knocked down several times, but although he loses the fight to the champion, the audience stands and applauds the tenacity of the underdog.
Rocky's determination and perseverance can symbolize the Panther Valley football season and last night brought more evidence to support this idea in the Panthers' 48-21 loss to the North Schuylkill Spartans.
Down 14-0 in the first quarter due to a powerful Spartan running game which scored on eight and 10 play drives, the Panthers could have been mercy-ruled by the half. But Kyle Ferryman, who attained the 1000 yard rushing mark on his first carry of the night, led his team with 13 plays and 80 yards, finishing the drive by rolling far to his right and finding Jacob Suveg in the deep corner of the end zone to make it 14-7. Ironically, Ferryman has been spearheading the Panther attack all season with his legs, but in this game, he completed 10 passes, two of them for touchdowns.
The Spartans (6-3) then flexed their muscles again with Austin Hummel and Matt Smarkanic each running for touchdowns to rebuild North's lead to 14 points with just 3 minutes to go in the half.
Again, the Panthers fought back as Ferryman, who was seven-for-seven in second quarter passing, capped a 65-yard drive. With no time left on the final play of the half, Ferryman lobbed a pass over the Spartan secondary that was caught by a leaping Calergo Keo in the left corner of the end zone.
"Throwing the ball was definitely part of our game plan," said PV coach Lon Hazlet. "We had success too and if it weren't for a couple of miscues and a penalty call that I have never seen before, it might have been a different ball game."
The penalty call that Hazlet referred to occurred with just under five minutes to go in the half. The Spartans' Richard Zahodnick was stopped after a short gain, but pushing and shoving continued after the whistle. No flag was immediately thrown, but after the officials discussed the play together, a personal foul was called against the Panthers for leaving their feet to jump on the pile. Three plays later, North Schuylkill scored to increase their lead by two touchdowns.
Two PV miscues were very costly and kept the Panthers from closing in on the Spartan lead. First, the Panthers mishandled a reverse on a kickoff and North Schuylkill recovered the fumble on the Panther 14 yard line. Three plays later, Smarkanic's TD gave the Spartans a 28-7 lead with three minutes to go in the half.
"We just had a miscommunication on that attempted reverse," said Hazlet.
The second miscue happened just after the Panther defense stopped Spartan quarterback, Bobby Grigas on fourth down at the PV 11 yard line. On the ensuing Panther possession, Smarkanic intercepted a pass which set up a short scoring drive that put the game out of reach for Panther Valley.
"Our offensive line really blocked well tonight," said Spartan coach Wally Hall. "It was important that we keep the ball away from Ferryman and Nas."
Richard Nase gained 104 yards on the night giving him 907 for the seaso.
"They just had too much beef up front against our defense,," said Hazlet.
Yet just like the battered prizefighter, the Panthers, who had no shot to win, fought valiantly to the end by driving 80 yards for the game's final touchdown.