Falcon Knights open season in style
Union/A-C Valley dominant in 37-7 season-opening win over Brockway
By Ryan S. Pugh
CLARION NEWS Sports
If there has been one constant in the year 2020 it's the unknown and the Pennsylvania high school football season has been no exception but the Union/A-C Valley football team wants one thing known...the Falcon Knights might be pretty good.
Union/A-C Valley showed how good by putting together a 37-7 road win over Brockway in the season opener for both teams Friday night (Sept. 11).
The Falcon Knights' Tanner Merwin was the catalyst for the offense in his first career start at quarterback. Merwin ran for two scores and threw for a touchdown.
For Merwin, just getting back on the field after the summer of questions was enough.
"It is awesome," Merwin said about the win. "We didn't know if we were going to have a season so to get out here and get this win is awesome."
Merwin finished with 73 rushing yards and two TDs while completing five of 12 passes for 61 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
What shouldn't be overlooked is the Falcon Knights' stifling defense which held Brockway to minus-36 yards rushing. The key disruptive force for Union/A-C Valley was nose tackle Mike Card. Card was able to break into the Rovers' backfield on multiple occasions altering Brockway's point of attack.
"We're really excited about this kid as a sophomore," Union/A-C Valley head coach Brad Dittman said referring to Card. "He is a force."
The Falcon Knights (1-0 overall) went three-and-out on their first drive forcing a Kyler Culbertson punt. Culbertson's punt bounced off of Brockway return man Tanner Morelli's hands and Union/A-C Valley's Skyler Roxbury pounced on the loose ball at the Brockway 40.
The Falcon Knights capitalized on the miscue quickly. On the first play after the turnover, Merwin fired a 20-yard strike to Caden Rainey. Merwin took care of the rest of the drive with his legs putting together three rushes for 20 yards including an 11-yard touchdown scamper.
Merwin's touchdown run came on a zone-read play where he faked a handoff then took off toward the end zone.
"The zone read was there," Merwin said. "Brockway was biting (on the fake)."
Merwin's two-point conversion pass was deflected by a Brockway defender but the Falcon Knights' Gaven Bowser caught the ball lying flat on his back in the end zone to complete the conversion giving Union/A-C Valley an 8-0 lead with 7:20 remaining in the opening frame.
The Rovers put pressure on the Falcon Knights' defense on the ensuing possession. Brockway quarterback Conner Ford completed a 35-yard pass to Morelli which put the Rovers at the Falcon Knight 25. Later in the drive, a targeting penalty on the Falcon Knights' Eli Penny gave the Rovers a first-and-goal at the Union/A-C Valley 5. But the Falcon Knights didn't buckle as Union/A-C Valley stopped Conner Ryckman for a 1-yard loss on first down. Ford's second down pass fell incomplete. On third down, Card sacked Ford for a 10-yard loss. Ford's fourth down pass fell incomplete handing the Golden Knights possession at the Falcon Knight 16.
It looked like the Falcon Knights were going to put together a positive drive after the turnover when Merwin connected with Karter Vogle for an apparent 10-yard gain but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty and Union/A-C Valley punted two plays later.
A holding penalty wiped out a 33-yard touchdown run by Loren Way. Another holding penalty later in the Rover drive forced Brockway to punt from its own 37 after it started the drive at the Union/A-C Valley 38.
During the punt, Brockway was flagged for a personal foul and the Falcon Knights began the ensuing drive on their own 48.
Penalties were an issue for the Rovers all night as Brockway was flagged 12 times for 117 yards. Moreover, the Rovers were whistled for five personal foul penalties.
The Falcon Knights capitalized on the short field putting together a nine-play drive which was capped by a highlight reel end zone grab by Vogle for a 19-yard touchdown.
Vogel stretched out and caught Merwin's pass before crashing to the ground.
"It was just amazing to help my team out," Vogle said about his touchdown catch.
Culbertson had two rushes on the drive for 19 yards.
Culbertson finished with 27 yards rushing on four carries.
Merwin connected with Rainey for the two-point conversion stretching the Union/A-C Valley lead to 16-0 with 4:53 left in the half.
Rainey had 61 total yards of offense (31 receiving, 30 rushing) for the Falcon Knights
The Falcon Knights forced a three-and-out on the following River possession and Union/A-C Valley got the ball back at its own 35 with 2:13 remaining in the half.
Two plays after the punt, Merwin ran a quarterback option over the right side of the offensive line. Merwin got to the line of scrimmage, broke left found some daylight and outraced the Brockway defense for a 59-yard touchdown.
There were two times on the scoring run where it looked like a rover defender would tackle Merwin from behind but Merwin escaped both tackles and made it to the end zone.
"In previous years, I was always getting caught on plays like that," Merwin said. "It was finally nice to run one in."
Colton Murray drilled the extra-point making the Union/A-C Valley lead 23-0 with 1:27 left until halftime.
The Falcon Knights outgained the Rovers 177 to 60 in the first half. Moreover, Union/A-C Valley held a 116 yard to minus-2 yard rushing advantage.
It looked like the Falcon Knights squelched the Rovers' opening drive five plays into the half as Vogle picked off a Ford pass. However, Union/A-C Valley was flagged for roughing the passer so Brockway retained possession.
Ford connected with Austin Schmader on a screen pass that went for 25 yards. But the Rovers couldn't capitalize on the long gainer as Vogle picked off a Ford pass in the end zone for a touchback.
Vogle made the interception with a Brockway receiver draped over his back.
The Falcon Knights weren't able to capitalize on the turnover and were forced to punt after a three-and-out.
The teams traded punts the remainder of the quarter as Union/A-C Valley took its 23-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Falcon Knight offense went into a lull in the third frame as the team lost three yards rushing and didn't complete a pass.
"In that third quarter, our offense went flat," Dittman said. "We couldn't get anything going, couldn't get anything rolling, couldn't get anything accomplished. We need to work on that because we need to be up for all four quarters."
On Brockway's first possession of the fourth quarter, Falcon Knights' sophomore Bailey Crissman made an acrobatic interception of Ford along the sideline giving Union/A-C Valley possession at the Rover 19.
"That interception was just a great athletic play," Dittman said.
It looked like the Falcon Knights capitalized on the turnover four plays later when Merwin threw a pass to that the Falcon Knights' Roxbury and the Rovers' Ben Glasl fought for in the end zone. The officials conferenced and decided Glasl had made the interception snuffing out the Union/A-C Valley drive.
The interception didn't matter in the long run for the Falcon Knights as one play after the turnover, Union/A-C Valley's Eli Penny intercepted a swing pass by Ford and galloped 15 yards for the touchdown.
Murray added the extra-point extending the Union/A-C Valley lead to 30-0 with 9:21 left in regulation.
The Falcon Knight defense was stifling in the second half holding the Rovers to 13 total yards. Union/A-C Valley held Brockway to minus-34 yards rushing in the final two frames.
Union/A-C Valley added its final score with 3:07 remaining in regulation when backup quarterback Crissman plowed into the end zone from two yards out.
Murray added the PAT extending the Union/A-C Valley lead to 37-0. Murray had to kick the extra-point from five yards farther back as the Falcon Knights were flagged for a false start.
On the ensuing kickoff, Brockway's Morelli picked up the kick at the Rover 20 chugged for an 80-yard kick returner touchdown. Lewis Painter knocked the extra-point through the uprights to set the 37-7 final.
"Last year we lost to Coudersport right off the bat so I feel like this win gives us more momentum going into the season," Vogle said. "We got Keystone and we owe them one so we just have to practice harder next week and take this momentum forward."
Union/A-C Valley travels to face Keystone on Friday.
"Keystone came to our school last year and beat us pretty handily on homecoming," Dittman said. "We definitely want a chance to prove that we are better than that."
UNION/A-C VALLEY 37 , BROCKWAY 7
U/A-C 8- 15- 0 -14 37
Brockway 0- 0- 0 - 7 7
U/A-C- Tanner Merwin 11 run (Gaven Bowser pass from Merwin), 7:20
U/A-C- Karter Vogle 19 pass from Merwin (Caden Rainey pass from Merwin), 4:53
U/A-C- Merwin 59 run (Colton Murray kick), 1:27
U/A-C- Eli Penny 15 interception return (Murray kick), 9:14
U/A-C- Bailey Crissman 2 run (Murray kick), 3:07
B- Tanner Morelli 80 kickoff return (Lewis Painter kick), 2:49
TEAM TOTALS (Union/A-C Valley; Brockway)
First Downs: 10; 6
Rushes-Yards: 32-185; 24-(-36)
Passing Yards: 61; 109
Comp-Att-Int: 5-12-1; 10-18-3
Total Yards: 246;73
Penalties-Yards: 6-50; 12-117
Rushing Union/A-C Valley, Tanner Merwin 7-73, Kylar Culbertson 4-27, Eli Penny 8-6, Caden Rainey 3-30, Gaven Bowser 5-35, Bailey Crissman 3-16, Team 2-(-2). Brockway, Conner Ryckman 6-12, Conner Ford 7-(-16), Ezra Swanson 4-7, Loren Way 4-(-24), Ben Glasl 1-(-6), Team 2-(-9).
Passing Union/A-C Valley, Tanner Merwin 5-12-1 61. Brockway, Conner Ford 10-18-3 109.
Receiving Union/A-C Valley, Caden Rainey 2-31, Karter Vogle 1-19, Bailey Crissman 1-5, Gaven Bowser 1-6. Brockway, Austin Schmader 3-38, Tanner Morelli 2-45, Ben Glasl 2-22, Ezra Swanson 1-10, Jalen Kosko 1-4, Loren Way 1-(-10).