Johnstown coach Tony Penna Jr. probably couldn’t have scripted a better finish to the Trojans’ 20-17 victory over LHAC rival Westmont Hilltop on Friday.
It almost played out like, well, a movie.
The Johnstown and Westmont programs and their fans put forth a great cooperative effort to pay homage to the Tom Cruise motion picture “All the Right Moves,” which was filmed in Johnstown in 1983.
Social and conventional media embraced the story and word quickly spread about the commemorative event. The Associated Press picked up the local newspaper story and distributed it across the country, which led to articles in publications ranging from the New York Daily News to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and beyond.
Approximately 4,500 fans converged on Trojan Stadium to watch a football game, and maybe recapture a bit of their movie past.
The Trojans and Hilltoppers made the trip worthwhile with a workmanlike effort.
“It ended up becoming a lot bigger than even we thought,” Johnstown coach Penna. said. “You just had to embrace it. The community was excited. The school was excited and they’re kids. I wanted to let them enjoy it.
“I told them when 3 o’clock comes, we’re going to think about football.”
Johnstown wore Ampipe Bulldogs black-and-gold uniforms similar to those Cruise’s character Stef Djordjevic sported in “All the Right Moves.” Westmont Hilltop took on the identity of Walnut Heights, wearing white and red jerseys.
The public address announcer referred to the teams as Ampipe and Walnut Heights. Fans got into the spirit by wearing commemorative T-shirts.
“It was a great crowd,” Westmont coach Pat Barron said.
“Our team did a great job of focusing on the game. But as far as the atmosphere and the crowd, it was awesome. That’s what Friday nights are supposed to be like.”
Johnstown (2-1) scored 14 second-half points and kept Westmont (0-3) off the board while overcoming an 11-point deficit.
“They came out and put two more (touchdowns) on the board,” said Johnstown junior quarterback Deion Moore, who rushed for 146 yards and passed for 29.
“We came out after halftime and told ourselves we need to buckle down. If they put one more in, we’re in trouble. We buckled down and did what we had to do.”
Moore combined speed and some nifty moves to spark the Trojans’ opening drive. He ran 53 yards and after a facemask penalty was added to the play, Johnstown was at the 13.
Brody LoBoi’s touchdown pass to Kareem Gibson was negated by an illegal shift, but Moore later ran 21 yards for a touchdown and 6-0 lead.
Westmont answered with Sam Curry’s 54-yard kickoff return. The Hilltop single wing produced big yardage on the ground, including Lukas Kleinmeyer’s 28-yard dash to the 2-yard line that set up quarterback Liam Moran’s touchdown. Mitch Causer’s extra-point gave Westmont a 7-6 advantage.
Westmont ran 12 consecutive plays on its next drive, which was capped by a 1-yard touchdown by Moran that made it 14-6 with 38 seconds left in the opening quarter.
“We just had a unique formation where we got numbers to one side and we felt good about it,” Barron said.
“We had success running the ball pretty much all night. We were taking 4, 6 yards a clip. We couldn’t score in the second half. They did a nice job of coming back and breaking a few big runs and that was the difference in the ball game.”
Curry gained 193 yards on 37 carries. Hilltop rushed for 252 yards and had no passing yards.
“It’s a tough offense to stop,” Penna said of the single wing. “I played against it when I coached at Ferndale against Windber. They’re toe to toe, and you’ve really got to stay home. We’re young. Our defensive coaches did a phenomenal job at halftime. Coach (Neil) Cobaugh adjusted.”
Johnstown’s Moore ran 30 yards on the next play from scrimmage but Hilltop’s Curry forced a fumble and Cody Sabo recovered.
Later in the first half, Johnstown advanced to the Westmont 21 before the drive stalled on downs.
The Hilltoppers then moved 73 yards in 11 plays that ate up 5:17 of game clock. Causer booted a 23-yard field goal with :11 left in the half, setting a 17-6 score.
“Great game plan by the Westmont coaches,” Penna said.
The Trojans stopped an early Westmont drive and got back into the game after Moore’s 29-yard run and junior Jayvon Braxton’s 51-yard touchdown burst made it 17-12 at 7:13 of the third.
Gibson, a sophomore, ran for 25 yards and caught a Moore pass for 29 yards to set up Braxton’s 2-yard touchdown to put Johnstown in front with 2:25 left in the third.
Moore’s two-point conversion run set a 20-17 score.
“You have to grow up fast in situations like this,” Penna said of his underclassmen. “We said we weren’t going to be denied.
“We were calm at halftime. I’ve got great leaders on this team and a great coaching staff. We put our heads together and good things happened in the second half.”
Barron saw some positives but said Hilltop isn’t in it for moral victories.
“We’re looking for the ‘W’, ” Barron said. “When you’re sitting at 0-3, you’re fighting an uphill battle. We’ve got to get that first one.
“I thought we had a nice effort. The defense played much, much better and kept us in the game.”