NORTH EAST — The Titusville Rockets needed the region game at North East Friday to be a tale of two halves when they found themselves in a 14-0 hole at halftime.
Luckily for them, it was as quarterback Garrett Knapp’s two-point conversion in the overtime frame that capped the comeback and vaulted the Brown and Gold over the host Grape Pickers, 28-27, in the first Region 6 game for both squads.
The sophomore signal executed a quick fake to freeze the NE defense just enough to get across the line and move THS to 2-0 on the season (1-0 R-6).
He put them in position a play before on a one-yard run, but it was Charlie Nicholson again awakening the ground game with two touchdowns, as Titusville for the second-straight week posted a strong third quarter, like it did a week ago against Saegertown.
The senior running back was a workhorse rushing for 229 yards on 43 carries. He broke two tackles putting THS on the board on a 21-yard run at the 8:11 mark in the third that trimmed the NE lead to 14-6.
He again made Grape Picker tacklers miss on his 10-yard scoring plunge that brought THS to within two (14-12) with 3:08 remaining in the third.
“The third quarter was ours, and we needed it to be,” said Titusville’s elated coach Bryan Baldwin. “We began to wear them down. We were able to do this because of the way we practice.”
That running game allowed THS to run 45 plays in the second half, while NE ran just 17. It also kept the Brown and Gold defense fresh, as the pounding took some toll on the host team as the game went on.
Titusville’s defense forced NE into two-straight three-and-outs to open the third frame, while the locals scored each time they touched the ball in that canto that set them up for the comeback.
However, NE took little time building back its lead following Titusvillle’s second score, putting the Brown and Gold again in the position of playing catch-up.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, ‘Pickers quarterback Keyen Shrelka hit Dylan Sayers on an in-pattern, with the NE senior darting through an opening in the middle of the THS secondary for the TD.
That play put the hosts up by eight (20-12), with a great chance to make it a two-score game if NE could convert a successful point-after.
That additional point was elusive for NE, as it missed its only PAT of the evening. In the first half, the ‘Pickers missed on a field goal. Those misfires turned out to be huge for THS, and the Brown and Gold went back to the resurgent ground game, methodically crossing midfield as the game entered the fourth canto.
With the Rockets running game clicking, NE bit on a nice fake by Knapp, who then tucked the ball away quickly before throwing a scoring strike to a wide-open Isaac Jackson from 29 yards out. That touchdown put the Brown and Gold in a position to tie with a successful two-point conversion.
This time, Hunter TItus hauled in the aerial from Knapp, and with 10:09 left to play, it was any team’s ball game, with things knotted at 20-all.
North East stumbled with penalties in both halves and ended with 100 penalty yards. But, it was a crucial illegal motion penalty with just over four minutes left that arguably hurt the hosts the most.
That miscue negated a long run that looked to set the hosts up deep in THS territory. THS took advantage, forcing a punt, but couldn’t muster a score before the end of regulation to force overtime.
In the extra frame, NE started on offense, got little on the ground and faced a third-and-goal from the 7-yard line. The THS defense nearly forced a sack, but Shrelka made a fine move to elude the rush just enough to throw to an open Sayers, who found an opening in the back of the end zone.
That score put NE ahead again, and it was its last as the only lead THS had the entire game came on Knapp’s last-play heroics.
“This was totally a team win as we got a lot of contributions,” said Baldwin.
Junior Danny Jones picked up a key first down, keeping the NE defense on the field in the third when Nicholson got a spell. Logan Nosko’s pancake block spurred Nicholson’s 25-yard burst before his second TD, while Landon Palma almost got another return taking a first-half kickoff 85 yards only to see THS turn the ball back to NE on downs.
Titusville opens 2-0 for the first time since the 2016 season, and looks to make it 3-0 with a non-league game at Cochranton, Friday.
Titusville 28, North East 27, OT
Titusvillle 0 0 12 8 8—28
North East 7 7 6 0 7—27
NE — Keyen Shrelka 2-yard run. (Ethan Hammer kick), 5:47.
NE — Carter Sabik 2-yard run. (Hammer kick), 8:45.
T — Charlie Nicholson 21-yard run. (Kick blocked), 8:11.
T — Nicholson 10-yard run. (Run failed), 3:55.
NE — Dylan Sayers 65-yard pass from Shrelka. (kick failed), 3:00.
T — Isaac Jackson 29-yard pass from Garrett Knapp. (Knapp pass to Hunter Titus), 10:09.
NE — Sayers 7-yard pass from Shrelka. (Hammer kick).
T — Knapp 1-yard run. (Knapp run).
PASSING — T, Knapp 5-15, 86 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs. NE, Shrelka 8-15, 137 yards, 2 TDs.
RUSHING — T, Nicholson 43-229, Danny Jones 4-16, Landon Palma 2-(-3), Knapp 4-(3). NE, Carter Swabik 11-40, Sayers 7-14, Shrelka 4-26.
RECEIVING — T, Palma 3-37, Jackson 1-29, Nicholson 1-20. NE, Sayers 4-101, Austin Craig 2-24, Casey Burch 1-17.