CARMICHAELS – Maybe the best part of Friday night’s first-round playoff game between Fort Cherry and Carmichaels was the totally unexpected way it unfolded.
Fort Cherry (9-1), which tied for first place in the Black Hills Conference and came in with one of the top scoring teams in the WPIAL, was held without a point in the second half and turned the ball over either on fourth-down failures or a fumble on four of its last five possessions.
And the Rangers still won the game.
A crucial stop on Carmichaels’ two-point conversion paved the way for Fort Cherry to take a thrilling 13-12 victory over the Mikes and set up a rematch with Clairton in next week’s WPIAL quarterfinals.
Clairton defeated Fort Cherry, 36-28, earlier this season, the Rangers’ lone loss.
“Nobody expected this, a defensive battle,” said Fort Cherry coach Jim Shiel. “The ball moved up and down the field, but there were a lot of mistakes. I have to give Carmichaels credit. We’ve been big in the second half (scoring points). My hat’s off to Carmichaels.”
The Mikes had the only touchdown in the second half on a 2-yard run by tailback Brennen McMinn with 3:44 to play. That cut Fort Cherry’s lead to one-point, 13-12.
Fort Cherry called timeout, then Carmichaels followed, as both coaching staffs tried to match what the other was doing on the field.
Finally, the handoff went to Brennen McMinn, and Fort Cherry stopped him just shy of the goal line.
“We put an extra back in the game, and we thought we would be better off running the ball,” said Carmichaels head coach Ryan Krull. “It looked like a hole was there, but it closed up quickly. I thought he might have gotten in.”
Fort Cherry’s Koltan Kobrys had a memorable night, and it wasn’t just because he passed 2,000 yards rushing for the season. The senior needed 118 coming in and got 204 on 21 carries. He also had a fumble recovery, an interception, completed a halfback-option pass and scored the first touchdown of the game on a pass reception.
“I was definitely thinking about (2,000),” said Kobrys, who unofficially has 2,086 yards rushing. “Carmichaels is a lot better team than I thought. I was just happy we won, and anything I can do to help the team win is great.”
Matt Heslin completed 7 of 16 passes for 92 yards for the Rangers.
Carmichaels’ senior Brandon Lawless completed 17 of 40 passes for 180 yards but was intercepted three times. Tyler Aeschbacher, another senior, finished with 9 catches for 81 yards, and returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
“I am so proud of the effort,” said Krull. “Our kids played their tails off. I don’t believe in moral victories. We came in expecting to win the game.
The first half was ragged and poorly played as the two teams combined for 14 penalties and 108 yards. Kobrys had 95 yards on 12 carries but 68 came on two long runs. Heslin seemed a bit off, possibly because leading receiver Alex Babirad did not play because of a concussion sustained last week. Heslin was 6 of 13 for 85 yards at halftime.
Kobrys hurt Carmichaels, but not with his legs. He did it with his hands, catching a 40-yard pass from Heslin to give the Rangers a 7-0 lead 8:23 before halftime.
Before Rangers’ fans had a chance to finish celebrating, Aeschbacher hauled in the kickoff and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown. Aeschbacher missed the extra-point attempt so Fort Cherry held a one-point lead, 7-6.
The Rangers drove once more before halftime, putting together a seven-play, 72-yard drive that ended when Heslin took the snap, rolled down the right side of the line and leaped in from two yards out. Anthony Kampian’s kick for the extra-point was wide right.
Fort Cherry used a 44-yard run by Kobrys in the first quarter to give the Rangers a first down at the Carmichaels’ 11-yard line. The drive stalled and Kampian’s 23-yard field goal hit the left upright with 4:39 left in the quarter.