Ferndale got the best of Conemaugh Valley Saturday afternoon in a matchup of previously winless WestPAC squads, as a strong finish allowed the visiting Yellow Jackets to come away with a 20-12 victory.
The contest was a defensive battle for the better part of three quarters before a wild final period that saw the lead change hands twice and featured several big plays on both sides. Conemaugh Valley’s Nick Heltzel caught his second long touchdown pass of the day, a 66-yard reception from Noah Heltzel, to put the Blue Jays (0-4) on top for the first time at 12-7 with 7:10 left in the game.
However, Ferndale (1-3) struck back quickly on its next offensive snap as Tajahi Thomas broke several tackles on a 59-yard bolt before being dragged down at the Blue Jay 4. Three plays later, quarterback Loghan Furfari scored his second touchdown of the game on a three-yard keeper, and Thomas added the PAT to make it 14-12.
The Blue Jays appeared poised for another rally, as a second-down play near midfield looked to pick up a first down in Yellow Jacket territory. However, Ferndale’s Noah Korenoski stripped the ball, and Justin Mitchell snared the resulting fumble. Mitchell took it the distance for a 55-yard touchdown return, but the extra point attempt failed, keeping it a one-possession game at 20-12 with 2:22 left and leaving the Blue Jays a glimmer of hope.
Ferndale’s defense then sealed the outcome by stopping Conemaugh Valley on downs in the final minute of play.
“It’s never easy to win here,” said Ferndale coach Shawn Furfari. “It doesn’t matter if CV is 0-50, they come to play against Ferndale. We did a good job of stopping the run, even though they caught us sleeping a couple of times with the long pass when we bit on the run.”
The Yellow Jacket defense forced three turnovers, two of which were converted into points, although Conemaugh Valley outgained Ferndale 258-243 in total yardage. All but 18 of Ferndale’s yards came on the ground, with Thomas picking up a game-high 125 yards on 10 carries.
“At times we didn’t focus or execute on offense, but the kids stayed positive and kept plugging away,” Coach Furfari said.
“We were fatigued,” said Conemaugh Valley coach Matt Kent. “We’re down to 15 people, and it’s tough to play four quarters without getting worn down. We were playing good football, got the lead, and then had a defensive mistake and ran out of steam. Hats off to the kids for the effort, they left it all out there on the field.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Blue Jay defense came up big with a goal-line stand when Loghan Furfari was stuffed on a fourth-and-goal quarterback sneak at the 1 at the 9:43 mark.
But Ferndale’s defense returned the favor three plays later with a fumble recovery at the Conemaugh Valley 10. The Yellow Jackets capitalized when Loghan Furfari took it in from three yards out, and Thomas’s PAT made it 7-0 with 7:24 left in the half.
Ferndale again forced a Blue Jay turnover in the final minute of the half when a fumble halted a Conemaugh Valley drive at the Yellow Jacket 33.
That seven-point margin held until late in the third. Ferndale controlled the ball for most of the quarter on a 14-play drive before being stopped on downs at the Blue Jay 19. Conemaugh Valley then got on the board as halfback Logan Kent took a third-down pitch and then threw deep to Nick Heltzel for a 68-yard score in the final seconds of the period. The two-point conversion failed, setting the stage for the dramatic fourth quarter.
Conemaugh Valley travels to Meyersdale on Friday, while Ferndale hosts North Star next Saturday.