Northern Tier Sports Report
DANVILLE — “Can you believe it,” a Canton player yelled after their overtime win against Old Forge. The answer would be, yes, it’s safe to say, the Warrior faithful do believe.

There’s no doubting now if this team has what it takes to go all the way - not after beating the top ranked team in the state three weeks in a row - and not after rallying from a 14-0 deficit to start the fourth quarter to win 20-14 in OT in the PIAA, Class A quarterfinals Saturday.

“There were a lot of times we were hanging by a thread from that game being over,” said Canton coach Tyler Sechrist. “The kids just battled and fought, and did everything they could to give themselves a chance.”

The Warriors were out gained 328-233 by the Blue Devils, and while the flags were fairly even - Canton seven times for 37 yards, Old Forge six times for 50 - it was the six takeaways by the Warrior defense that evened the odds.

Five different Canton players picked off Blue Devil James Sobol, while they also recovered one fumble, and blocked two punt attempts. The Old Forge defense was stout enough to with stand a few of those miscues, but, eventually, the Warriors made them pay.

“Turnovers are huge,” said Sechrist. “I told the boys before the game, when you get to this level, whoever blocks better, whoever tackles better, whoever has less mental mistakes and less turnovers is going to win the game.”

They turned two of the turnovers directly into two touchdowns during regulation - one on a 4th-and-goal, 12-yard pass from Cooper Kitchen to Riley Parker, the other on a 3-yard Parker run - while a Weston Bellows interception on third-and-goal in overtime ended the Blue Devil possession, leading to Canton scoring two plays later on a Hayden Ward punch into the end zone from 8-yards out to get the win.

“It was the best feeling ever,” Ward said about sneaking through the line and diving into the end zone. “My leg got pulled, so I just stayed up on my one leg and dove in.”

It was a furious fourth quarter, as the two teams combined for five turnovers, plus two blocked punts on Old Forge. Canton stole the momentum from a Blue Devil team that looked stunned, as, to start the quarter, they were up 14-0 and marching down the field for what seemed to be the game sealing drive.

However, it was not to be.

“That was incredible,” said Canton’s Cooper Kitchen. “The fans behind us were incredible, and the heart on this team, and the character that we showed - to never give up. Down 14, with seven minutes left, and to come back and stick together, it’s insane.”

Parker led the team on the ground, but never really got going, with 55 yards on 18 carries. He had just one carry over 10 yards.

Ward finished with 39 yards on six carries, while Kitchen had nine yards rushing on five rushes, and Bellows added seven yards on the ground with five carries. Hudson Ward (two carries, six yards) and Michael Davis (two carries, five yards) also chipped in.

Outside of two longs runs - a 20-yarder from Ward and a 15-yarder from Kitchen - the Warriors struggled to get much of a ground game going in the first half, as Parker was held to just 16 yards.

“We had a hard time getting to the linebackers and hitting the holes,” Kitchen explained. “At halftime we kind of adjusted some stuff. We tried what we thought would work, and we got some big plays out of it.”

Kitchen made some big throws out of the pocket - his touchdown pass to Parker was perfect, and had to be with two Blue Devil defenders closing in - as he finished 5-for-10 for 112 yards.

He spread the ball around, hitting five different receivers. Ward had the 71-yard catch, with Bellows (17-yards), Parker (12-yards) and Davis (12-yards) also getting good gains on their receptions.

On the other side, Sobol chewed up a lot of yards for Old Forge. He ran for 99 yards on 20 carries, while also throwing for 187 yards on 15-for-37, with the two touchdowns but the five picks. While he didn’t break any big runs - just one for over 20 yards - the Warriors struggled to bring him down behind the line of scrimmage, as he had just two carries for negative yards.

“He was a different style runner,” Parker said of the 230 pound quarterback. “Big guy, ran hard, but we know we hit low. And that’s what we focus on doing.”

Sobol also found five different receivers, with Mario Samony (seven catches, 98 yards, one touchdown) his top target. Ethan Tallo had three catches for 38 yards, while Casey Holzman had two receptions for 18 yards and a score.

On the ground Josh Spindler was effective in limited action, carrying the ball seven times for 37 yards, while, as a team, they had 141 rush yards.

The Warrior’s defense bent a few times, but only really broke once, on Old Forge’s long touchdown pass before the half. Other than that, they frustrated the Blue Devils, especially in the second half, as Old Forge struggled to finish off drives they scored on last week against Williams Valley.

“We just stayed in zone coverage, and our linemen got after them,” Hayden Ward said. “(They) put pressure on their quarterback, that helped a lot.”

Both teams went three-and-out on their opening drives as they felt each other out.

On Canton’s second drive a 20-yard run by Ward after taking an option pitch from Kitchen saw the Warriors get out to midfield. Three plays later Kitchen his Bellows on a 17-yard screen play to get down to the Old Forge 35-yard line, but the drive fizzled out there as Canton would turn it over on downs.

It was Old Forge’s to show what they could do, beginning on the ground, as Sobol used two runs - one for eight yards, the other for five - to get their own 43-yard line.

They then went to the air as Sobol hit Spindler on a 19-yard screen play to get to the Canton 37-yard line. On the next play Sobol found Samony for a 21-yard gain down the sideline to the 16. That set up Sobol’s 16-yard scoring pass to Holzman two plays later to put the Blue Devils up. 

The point after was no good, but it was Old Forge 6-0 with 1:34 left in the first quarter.

Canton’s ensuing drive was 3-and-out, but the Blue Devils didn’t fare much better with the ball, as, on their second play from scrimmage, Canton’s Caiden Williams hit Sobol as he threw, with the ball landing in the arms of Pepper for the first interception of the game. He returned it to the Blue Devil 9-yard line, giving Canton their best field position of the day.

They couldn’t do anything with it, though, as three runs got them down to the 3-yard line, but a false start backed them up for a 4th-and-8. Canton went to the air but Kitchen’s deep corner pass was over the head of Bellows, and Old Forge took over on downs.

Sobol managed to get the Blue Devils out of the shadow of their own goal-line, thanks to three runs for 19-yards sandwiched around an 8-yard pass to Andrew Bartnikowski.

Set up at their own 30-yard line, a false start followed by a holding forced them into a first-and-24, and they never recovered, ultimately punting it away.

Canton’s ensuing drive began with a 15-yard run from Kitchen on an option play down to the Old Forge 28-yard line. A 5-yard Ward run made it 2nd-and-5 from the 23, but back to back plays that went nowhere saw Canton once again on fourth down.

Back to back penalties backed them up to the 33-yard line, and a 4th-and-15. They went to the air, but Kitchen’s pass was incomplete, giving Old Forge the ball at their own 33.

The Blue Devils began to chip away down field. After two short runs Sobol then had three straight completions to Samony to get to midfield. The quarterback would then keep the drive alive with a 4th-and-1 3-yard dive, but the clock was winding down, with under a minute to play.

After two straight incompletions, it was third-and-10 from the Canton 45 with 20 seconds to go. Sobol rolled out right, then passed back left to hit Samony, who was wide open. Samony made one defender miss, then sprinted to the end zone for the 45-yard touchdown with 13.7 seconds left to play in the half.

Spindler punched in the 2-point conversion and it was 14-0 Blue Devils at the break.

The Warriors were down last week at the half, 14-13 to Steelton-Highspire, but this time it was different. They had just three first downs during the first 24 minutes of play, and seemed unable to break through the Blue Devil defense.

“We didn’t play our best half, so we challenged them at halftime,” said Sechrist. 

“We were a little bit embarrassed with how we played in that first half,” remarked Parker. “We got each other fired up in the locker room, and came out with a mission.”

Old Forge got the ball coming out of the half, and looked in business as Sobol had back to back runs of 24 and 13 yards, but they fumbled it away on their third play from scrimmage with Allen falling on it.

Canton took over at their own 14-yard line, but still couldn’t find much of a ground game. A pass interference call on third down got them a fresh set of sticks out at the 33. Two plays later Hudson Ward fumbled the ball, but Hayden Ward landed on it for a 6-yard gain, which set up a Parker 1-yard run to get another first down at their own 42-yard line.

That’s as far as they got, though, as one third and long Kitchen was sacked, forcing Canton to punt.

Old Forge took over at their 28-yard line midway through the third quarter, and went on a 16-play drive down inside the Canton red zone. They began the possession with seven straight runs for 38 yards down to the Warrior 34-yard line. 

After an incompletion they used a 6-yard Sobol run to get to the 29. Back to back false start calls backed them back up to the 33, making it 2nd-and-20, but Sobol hit Samony for a 17-yard gain to get to the 16. Sobol then pounded his way three yards for a new set of downs.

Old Forge would get inside the 10, but a 5-yard loss by Holzman on a sweep made it third-and-long. Even as they switched fields with the fourth quarter upon them, Sobol’s third down pass was incomplete, followed by his fourth down pass intercepted by Allen for his second takeaway of the game.

The Warriors took over at their own 6-yard line, with a Parker 14-yard on the second play from scrimmage getting them out to the 24. Two plays later, though, Canton coughed up the ball, with Old Forge falling on it.

They didn’t have it long, though, as on the first play from scrimmage Sobol’s pass was tipped and picked off by Hayden Ward.

Deep in their own end at the 22-yard line and with time ticking off Canton needed a big play. They appeared to get it with a hook and ladder, but it was called back on an illegal shift.

No matter, two plays later came the spark they were looking for. On 2nd-and-15 Kitchen hit Hayden Ward deep down field, and he caught it in stride. Holzman would catch up to him, but not before a 71-yard gain down to the Old Forge 12 yard line.

“That’s been a great play that we’ve had in our pocket, and we were just waiting for the right time to use it, and we were running out of time to use it, so we thought it was time to bring it out,” said Sechrist. 

Kitchen had a feeling it work.

“We knew that they would key on Weston,” he explained. “If we sent him over the middle of the field, the safety would follow, and (Hayden) was wide open, just like we drew it up.”

Old Forge recovered, though, holding Canton to short yardage gains on the next two plays, followed by a Warrior false start pushing them back. On third down Kitchen’s pass was incomplete, setting up a do or die situation for the Warriors.

That’s when they went for another big pass play, this time to Parker in the deep right corner of the end zone. He was well covered, but the ball was well placed, with Parker going up for it, then getting both feet down in the corner of the end zone for the score.

“Cooper threw a perfect ball, and I just did my job,” said Parker.

Ferguson’s point after was good, and it was 14-7 with 7:03 left to play.

If the big pass was the start of the momentum change, then the touchdown saw it go all the way to Canton’s side.

“Once we got that first score I knew we were back in it,” said Hayden Ward.

Old Forge’s ensuing drive ended with two short runs, and an incomplete pass as they were forced to punt.

That’s when things got really interesting, as on the punt attempt the pocket collapsed. Williams pushed his blocker into the punter, who wasn’t able to get a foot on the ball.

It rolled around on the ground with Brenen Taylor picking it up and taking to the 3-yard line.

It only took Canton one play to score, with Parker using a strong second effort to punch into the end zone. Ferguson’s kick was good, and in just 90 seconds it went from 14-0, to 14-14, with 5:33 left to play in regulation.

Things went from bad to worse for the Blue Devils, as their ensuing drive went 3-and-out, thanks to a 17-yard loss on third down as Sobol, under heavy pressure, tried to lateral it to Angelo Fumanti. The ball bounced around before Fumanti picked up, but he was tackled immediately.

This punt was straight up blocked by Hayden Ward, as he was untouched and had a textbook dive over the kick.

“I knew the punter took a little bit to get the punt off, and they didn’t have any guys back there, so I knew, if I got back there fast enough, I would get it,” said Ward.

Canton took over on the 11-yard line of Old Forge, but fumbled it away on third down.

The Blue Devils were then able to get some pass offense going with Sobol completing five of his next six passes to go from the 8-yard line to the Canton 46. 

The next three passes, though, fell incomplete, with his 4th-and-10 heave picked off by Parker.

Starting at their 16-yard line, Canton then ran out the clock, content to take things into overtime.

In the extra period both teams start on the opponents 10-yard line and have four plays to score - either a touchdown or field goal. Whoever has more points after the extra period wins, if the game is still tied, they go again.

“Going into overtime, we said, ‘hey, the way our defense is playing, we want them to have the ball first, because we figured we’d stop them,” explained Sechrist.

The first play was a 6-yard loss on a Sobol run, where Parker broke his finger making the tackle - he would return by the end of the possession. That was followed by an incomplete pass. 

On third down Sobol was being pushed right by the pressure; he then threw back left but the ball sailed high and into the arms of Bellows, ending their possession.

“When it came down to overtime we knew we had it in us,” Parker said. “I made that first tackle there, pushed them back a little bit, and I just felt like we knew we could get it done.”

Canton’s possession began with a 2-yard run by Bellows. Then, on second and goal from the 8-yard line, Hayden Ward took the inside hand off. He appeared to get stuffed, but on a second effort slipped through the tiniest crack, dove for the end zone, and reached across the plane of the goal line to get the walk-off win.

It didn’t take long for the entire Canton sideline to surround Ward in the end zone as they cheered the fact that they will have at least one more game.

“We were down two touchdowns the first half, and we were arguing a little bit, but we finally got it together as a team,” Hayden Ward remarked. “We came together like we always do, and it just feels so great.”

It was deja-vu for the Blue Devils, who lost to Steelton-Highspire in last year’s state playoffs on the final play of the game as well.

“Once we got that big play, and got the momentum, we just rolled from there,” said Kitchen. “Getting that field position off those two, huge blocked punts set us up perfectly. We were able to capitalize.”

Canton will now play District VI champions Bishop Guilfoyle, who beat Juniata Valley 24-21 on Friday. The day, place and time for the state semifinal is to be determined.

After this one, though, don’t expect Canton to be worried about anybody.

“These kids are special,” said Sechrist. “They don’t quit, they’ll keep fighting. They’re going to give themselves a chance - it’s what happened today. They just never gave up.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Canton's Hayden Ward dives into the end zone for the game winning touchdown in overtime against Old Forge...PHOTOS BY LANCE LARCOM & CHRIS MANNING



Scoring Summary

First Quarter

O: James Sobol 16-yard pass to Casey Holzman (kick failed), 1:34

Second Quarter

O: James Sobol 45-yard pass to Mario Samony (Josh Spindler run), :13.7

Fourth Quarter

C: Cooper Kitchen 12-yard pass to Riley Parker (Bailey Ferguson kick), 7:03

C: Riley Parker 3-yard run (Bailey Ferguson kick), 5:33


C: Hayden Ward 8-yard run

Individual Stats

Old Forge


James Sobol 15-37-187-2-5


James Sobol 20-99, Josh Spindler 7-37, Casey Holzman 4-16, Hezekiah Deitz 1-4, John Greenfield 1-(-1), Angelo Fumanti 1-(-17), Andrew Bartnikowski 1-(-7)


Mario Samony 7-98-1, Ethan Tallo 3-38, Casey Holzman 2-18-1, Josh Spindler 1-19, Andrew Bartnikowski 1-8



Cooper Kitchen 5-10-112-1-0


Riley Parker 18-55-1, Hayden Ward 6-39-1, Cooper Kitchen 5-9, Weston Bellows 5-7, Hudson Ward 2-6, Michael Davis 2-5


Hayden Ward 1-71, Weston Bellows 1-17, Riley Parker 1-12-1, Michael Davis 1-12, Austin Allen 1-0

Team Stats

Old Forge Canton

Rushes/Yards 35/141 37/121

Passing Yards 187 112

First Downs 16 9

Penalties/Yards 6/50 7/37

Fumbles/Lost 3/2 2/2

Interceptions: Gage Pepper, Austin Allen, Hayden Ward, Riley Parker, Weston Bellows

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