Never mind that these two teams were a combined 1-9. They laid everything they had out on the Panther Valley Stadium turf Friday night in the annual Panthers-Marian Colts rivalry, the outcome not being decided until the final 30 seconds of play.
And, in a stunning outcome, Coach Frank Damian's Panthers gained their first victory of the campaign, a 24-21 triumph that early in the fourth quarter seemed unlikely, considering they were facing a nine-point deficit.
But high school football is a 48-minute game. And possessions don't end until fourth downs are exhausted. Much to the Panthers' delight, they used every second and every down to their advantage, overcame a 21-12 Marian lead, and shocked the Colts for the third time in as many seasons.
The tandem of Nick McArdle and Brock Mitchell were something to behold, McArdle rising to the occasion in an unanticipated second half singal-calling assignment in which he passed for two TDs and ran for another, including the game winner, and Mitchell being the "go-to" guy when the Panthers needed yards and scores.The 6-5 giant hauled in nine passes for 115 yards and two second half tallies.
The comeback was nothing short of sensational, aided by Marian mistakes and miscues. It started after Colt Paul Martin (22-132) scored on a 23-yard run with 10:37 left in the game and QB Corey Quick passed to Dominick Richards for the two-point conversion that gave Marian the 21-12 lead. "We didn't make the plays (on defense), and there were critical penalties, but we just couldn't get the stop we needed," said losing coach Stan Dakosty.
McArdle, a junior, subbed for PV starter Mike Weaver, who suffered an ankle injury. To boot, the Panthers lost their JV QB, Anthony German, to an injury in a JV game this week, which forced Damian to pull McArdle from his receiver position. He responded in dramatic fashion, going 8-16 for 96 yards.
"Nick's a gutsy kid. He knows the offense," said Damian. "He was our receiver all year, but he's a head coach's son and he knows what it takes to win."
McArdle engineered a 12-play, 75-yard Panther drive after Martin's TD, getting the Panthers within three, 21-18. In the series, he hit Mitchell twice for first downs on third down, and hooked up with tailback Josh Vega for a 23-yard gain on fourth-and-10. Three plays later, he tossed his first TD pass, a 20-yarder to Mitchell with 4:07 left to play.
The drive was aided by a Marian roughing-the-passer flag, but, more importantly, the Colts were flagged for interference on the TD, enabling the Panthers to kickoff from the Marian 45.
Pinned deep, the Colts got nowhere. After a three-and-out, the hosts took possession at the Colt 49 with 2:20 left to play.
McArdle passed nine yards to Mitchell, moving the ball to the 41. The junior QB then ripped off a 23-yard gain to the 18 with 1:30 on the board. Vega ran for five yards to the 13. On fourth-and-five, with the Colt defense keying on Mitchell, McArdle passed to Devon Dillard for a first down at the Marian 4 with :41 left. The QB then raced to the endzone, scoring with :31 on the board to claim the victory for his team.
"We doubled Mitchell, but he had a big-time game," Dakosty offered. "He's an athlete and make the plays. From our end, we were up nine in the fourth quarter. Whe you're in a position like that, you've got to learn how to finish. We didn't."
The game see-sawed back and forth, PV taking a 6-0 lead in the first stanza on a 27-yard TD run by Weaver. The Colts made it 7-6 when Anthony Damiano scored on a one-yarder with :37 left in the half. Marian increased the lead to 13-6 on the first possession of the second half, the tally coming on a Quick TD pass from 12 yards out to John Julian. PV roared back when McArdle passed three yards to Mitchell for a score. Marian then went 70 yards, Martin carrying the last 23 for a six-pointer with 10:37 on the board, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.