DAVIDSVILLE – The first time under the Friday night lights might be an intimidating experience for many freshman football players, but that was definitely not the case for Windber running back John Shuster in Friday’s season opener at Conemaugh Township.
Shuster played with the poise of a seasoned veteran in a stellar debut by rushing for 223 yards and four touchdowns as the Ramblers overwhelmed the Indians 52-6.
“The guys up front worked hard,” Shuster said. “They made the holes, and it made it easy to run. This was just a great win to start the year.”
Shuster’s performance paced a Ramblers offense that generated 391 of 450 total yards on the ground.
“Our offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, and we were able to control the ball and time of possession,” said Windber coach Matt Grohal.
Defensively, the Ramblers limited Conemaugh Township to 181 net yards and forced a pair of turnovers.
“Our defensive coaches had a great game plan,” Grohal said. “We knew they were going to come out in the spread, and we were able to keep them in check and almost pitch a shutout. This was a total team effort.”
Conemaugh Township coach Tony Penna Jr.’s first game at the helm of the Indians was a baptism of fire for him and his new program.
“We struggled running the ball and stopping the run,” Penna said.
“Windber did a great job, hats off to them, but we have to be better in all phases of the game and that’s on me as the head coach.”
Jackson Byer completed 13 of 28 passes for 114 yards and the Indians’ lone touchdown.
“We moved the ball, but not consistently,” Penna said. “We got a little predictable throwing, and left our defense out there too much.”
Windber struck quickly, as a 54-yard bomb from Aiden Gray to Evan Custer on the Ramblers’ initial play from scrimmage sparked a 95-yard drive capped off by Shuster’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Dylan Tomlinson ran in for the conversion to make it 8-0 at the 6:38 mark.
After a three-and-out by Conemaugh Township, Windber moved 48 yards in nine plays as Tomlinson’s 3-yard scoring run and the first of six Custer extra points extended the lead to 15-0 heading into the second quarter.
An errant punt snap by the Indians sailed out of the end zone for a Rambler safety to open the second, and on the ensuing series Shuster punched it in from 5 yards out.
Conemaugh Township responded with their best offensive series of the night as Byer hit Brady Kist in stride for a 28-yard score to pull within 24-6 with 6:36 left in the half. However, Windber then chewed up 13 plays and 68 yards before Shuster’s third touchdown produced a commanding 25-point halftime advantage.
The Ramblers continued to control the ball and the clock for most of the second half. Shuster’s 2-yard run climaxed a 14-play drive that consumed much of the third quarter.
Tomlinson, who finished with 91 yards, added a 23-yard touchdown in the fourth before James Shearman’s 64-yard dash down the sideline completed the Ramblers’ scoring in the final minutes.
Windber hosts Ferndale next Friday night, while the Indians travel to Berlin Brothersvalley.