JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The Westmont Hilltop community came out to celebrate the grand opening of the new Price Field with the first nighttime home game in school district history.
But another kind of electric moment could have given the Hilltoppers the edge on Friday night against visiting Central Cambria.
“I told the kids in the locker room it was the best thing that ever happened to us, this delay,” Westmont Hilltop coach Pat Barron said after his team’s 21-19 win ahead of around 3,000 followers. “We had some nerves at the start. Credit to children. They were awesome. They fought.
“We faced adversity, injuries, bumps and bruises. They just kept fighting.
Central Cambria, led by first-year Red Devils head coach Don Fyfe, ran for 80 yards and scored on Elijah Villarrial’s 3-yard run at 7:38 of the first quarter to lead 6-0.
The Red Devils defense stopped Westmont Hilltop on downs and then the offense moved to the Hilltoppers 36-yard line, when the game was delayed after lightning was spotted in the area. Play was stopped at 7:16 p.m. and resumed at 7:57 p.m.
“We talked about getting the ball back, going down and scoring,” Fyfe said. “It went perfectly because they turned the ball over and we scored again. Lightning came and we sat there for 50 minutes.
“That’s no excuse, but it certainly didn’t help. We had them on the ropes and I think maybe we could have finished them off a bit. But, it happens. Life happens, sometimes.
After the delay, Central Cambria’s Grady Snyder used a second effort to score on a 9-yard run. The conversion fell through, giving the Red Devils a 12-0 lead with 1:42 left in the first quarter.
“Basically everything was on the same page,” said Westmont senior running back/defensive back Gavin Hockenberry, who carried 25 times for 174 yards and three touchdowns. “We were a little fragile at the start. We were missing a few key blocks, but just like Coach Barron says, it’s an easy fit.
“We made it happen,” Hockenberry said. “Our guys buckled up, up front and cleared the way for the running backs in the backfield. We did the work, working from chain to chain. It was a great way to open up the pricing field.
The opening quarter ended as Central Cambria recovered a fumble from Westmont Hilltop at the 39. But the Hilltoppers’ Sean Wilkes intercepted a pass in the end zone.
Westmont Hilltop followed with an 80-yard drive that was helped by a 15-yard penalty from Central Cambria as the Hilltoppers faced a fourth-and-8 of their 34.
Hockenberry had rushes for 15 and 22 yards, second for a touchdown with 5:05 left in the half. Landon Glover’s extra kick put Westmont up 12-7.
Central Cambria appeared to respond via Brady Sheehan’s 70-yard pass to Ben Ream for a touchdown that was nullified by a 5-yard illegal man penalty on the ground.
“They were moving guys everywhere, hitting where we weren’t,” Barron said of the Red Devils. “(Senior quarterback) Brady Sheehan did a really good job. We tried to pressure him a bit, but they scattered you so much that it really limits what you can do. Coach Fyfe did a great job and coached a great game.
Easton Ragno’s interception allowed Westmont to take possession of the Red Devils 45-yard line almost midway through the third quarter. Hockenberry broke a 23-yard run to set up his own touchdown dash from 13 yards. Glover’s extra point put the Hilltoppers ahead 14-12 with 5:02 remaining.
Hockenberry broke through a mass of defenders on a 16-yard touchdown run with 9:36 left in the game. Glover’s kick gave the Hilltoppers a 21-12 advantage.
“It was just a chore. I knew we had to get some first downs,” Hockenberry said. “Huge runs for us, breaking tackles to get big first downs. Great props to everyone. It’s a great team win.”
Villarrial ran 35 yards to trigger Central Cambria, and a Hilltoppers face mask penalty added another 15 yards. Villarrial added a run from 18 yards and scored from 7 yards. Jonathan Wess kicked in the extra point to bring the Red Devils to 21-19 with 7:17 to go.
Villarrial gained 111 yards and had two touchdowns on 11 carries. Sheehan completed 13 of 18 passes for 147 yards with two interceptions.
“Brady has played really well for not playing last year,” Fyfe said of the freshman starter who returned to the Devils roster this season. “He played well. I think the whole team played well.
“My first game with them, I couldn’t be more proud of them. We lost 21-12 and could have taken it, but we practiced together and put pressure on them at the end of the game.
Westmont took the ball with 7:17 remaining and gained 51 rushing yards while collecting four first downs, two each by Valente and Hockenberry, to miss time.
“Watching the kids after the game with the student section celebrate on the new pitch, that’s what it’s all about, the community,” Barron said. “The way the community came out and supported us, it felt dark for a while, and they continued to support us. I can’t thank them enough for coming to support us. »