WINDBER – John Shuster rushed for 177 yards and four touchdowns, and teammate Aaron Willis returned two interceptions for touchdowns as the Windber Ramblers dominated the Conemaugh Township Indians 50-7 to open the season Saturday night at Windber Stadium.
“Offensively, we know we are good, and we kind of imposed our will on them tonight,” said Windber head coach Matt Grohal. “Shuster has worked tirelessly this offseason, and he is a much better runner than he was a year ago. He is a once-in-a-decade kid and I am glad he is on our team.”
Shuster credited his guys up front. “They made big holes and I need to make some second level misses, and I tried to work on my breakaway speed this year and that seems to have helped me," he said.
Conemaugh Township’s Ethan Black returned the opening kickoff 48 yards to set the Indians up at the Windber 45-yard line. The Indians could not move the ball on the opening series and then a bad snap on the punt attempt set the Ramblers up at the Indians 24-yard line.
It took only two plays for the Ramblers to find pay dirt, when Aaron Willis took the jet sweep off the left side 24 yards to the house. A John Shuster run on the two-point conversion gave Windber an 8-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
The Indians came back on their next possession. After another long return by Black they leaned on the back of Seth Rosey who carried the ball four times on the drive, punching it in from four yards out to cut the lead to one after the Jackson Byer extra point made it 8-7.
The Indians tried an onside kick, but the Ramblers recovered to set the offense up near midfield.
Windber marched the ball down the field on seven plays and capped it off with a John Shuster 5-yard run, and added the two point conversion on a fake extra point attempt. Aiden Gray found a wide open Ethan Brady to stretch the Ramblers' lead to 16-7 with 4:47 left in the opening quarter.
Conemaugh Township began to move the ball, and the Indians began the second quarter with the ball at the Indians 14-yard line. But the Ramblers defense stood tall and forced an incomplete pass on fourth down.
The Windber offensive line continued to dominate the line of scrimmage and Shuster benefitted – scoring from 39 yards out to stretch the Ramblers' lead to 23-7 with 8:42 left in the half.
Disaster struck for the Indians on their next possession as a Tanner Shirley pass sailed high and into the arms of Windber’s Aaron Willis at the Windber 35-yard line and he returned it 65 yards for the score, making it 30-7 Windber near the midpoint of the quarter.
“I just was just sitting back there and I saw the ball coming to me, and made a few guys miss and was able to take it back for the score,” Willis said. “After the PIAA ruled me ineligible last year, I was excited to get back out there with my brothers, and I wanted to prove that I was a good football player and just do what I do.”
After the Indians went three and out, the ball went back over to the Windber offense and once again the offensive line paved the way for the Rambler running attack.
Shuster made several defenders miss on a toss from 18 yards out and the lead was 36-7 after the Indians blocked the extra-point attempt.
The Indians made a change at quarterback, going to junior Jackson Byer, and he completed his first few passes to begin a march down the field for the Indians. However, a pass off the hands of his receiver bounced into the hands of Willis who, for the second time in the quarter, returned it for a score and the Ramblers' lead was 43-7 with 1:56 left in the half.
Conemaugh Township was unable to move the ball on the final possession of the half, and after the Ramblers took a knee it was running clock time for the second half.
Windber gave the starters one last series to start the third quarter and it was Shuster adding 38 more yards to give him 177 for the night, and he capped it off with a 1-yard run for his fourth touchdown of the game to make it 50-7 with 9:34 left in the quarter.
Both teams cleared the benches for the remainder of the game to give the younger players some needed experience and Windber’s defense didn’t allow another score to set the final.
“It got away from us early,” Indians head coach Tony Penna Jr. said. “You can not give them any big plays, and with the size of their line they can dominate. The right side of their line really dominated tonight, but our guys played hard.”