Penn Cambria concluded a week of surprises, distractions and uncertainty with a decisive performance on the field.
Unfortunately for Westmont Hilltop, the Panthers brought an attitude to Price Field on Saturday afternoon. This motivated group shrugged off the stunning news of coach Ernie Fetzer’s abrupt midweek resignation and resembled the unit many had picked to win the LHAC during the preseason.
Penn Cambria needed only 11 seconds to score the game’s first eight points and collected three touchdowns and 24 points in the opening 6 minutes, 15 seconds. By the time Westmont regrouped, the Panthers were on their way to a 46-8 victory that snapped a four-game losing streak and rekindled 6-AA playoff hopes.
“We had a lot to prove. We’re way better than our record shows,” said senior running back-linebacker Devin Lawhead, who was a force on both sides of the ball. “We had a tough week of practice. It was tough for everybody. We stuck together and we showed who we are today.”
Fetzer resigned as coach and athletic director on Wednesday after eight seasons with a 48-36 record at Penn Cambria. His top assistant, Tony Tomaselli, became interim head coach.
Tomaselli previously had the top job at Penn Cambria for six seasons from 1993-98.
“We had great senior leadership from our captains Devin Lawhead and Mack Behe,” Tomaselli said after Penn Cambria improved to 5-4. “They really got the team to stick together. Once we got to practice during the week, the focus was there. I have to credit my assistant coaches as well.”
Penn Cambria’s Jake Schwaderer returned the opening kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown. Behe caught Brendan Eckenrode’s two-point conversion pass for an 8-0 lead at 11:49.
“That was momentum. That got us going,” Lawhead said.
Westmont had the ball for only 1:25 before punting. Seven plays later, Lawhead scored on a 6-yard run. Nathan Przybys ran the conversion.
Przybys intercepted a pass to set up another Panthers scoring drive.
Eckenrode’s 33-yard pass to Behe was the big play of the drive capped by Behe’s 5-yard touchdown run. Lawhead’s conversion run made it 24-0 at 5:45 of the opening quarter.
“We stressed all week that we had to weather the storm early, and we didn’t do it,” Westmont coach Pat Barron said of his 1-8 squad.
“They took it to us in the first 8 minutes of the game and that put us in a huge hole that we never could climb out of.”
Westmont did manage an eight-play, 73-yard scoring drive. Liam Moran had passes of 16 yards to Collin Barron and 30 yards to Lukas Kleinmeyer. Moran ran 7 yards for the score and then passed to Collin Barron for the conversion at 2:54 of the first.
“The guys up front have worked hard all year and they put together a drive,” Barron said.
Lawhead stopped Westmont’s momentum with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter. Przybys ran the conversion.
“My hat is off to Devin Lawhead,” Tomaselli said. “We practiced against that all week. We were prepared for it. They were focused and that was an example of it.”
Behe closed the first-half scoring with a 5-yard touchdown run.
“Those guys have been unreal for a couple years now, and when you prepare for a team like that, you’ve got to contend with those guys,” Barron said of Behe and Lawhead. “I tip my hat to Tony, and we wish Ernie the best. They were the much better team today.”
Przybys scored on a 3-yard run late in the third quarter. Justin Fuller’s conversion run set the final as a running clock went into motion.
“We really practiced hard and the seniors took ownership of this team,” Tomaselli said. “Our leaders got the team ready to play.”
Lawhead rushed for 99 yards on 13 carries. Penn Cambria ran for 215 yards on 43 attempts. Eckenrode passed for 61 yards. Westmont’s Moran went 6 of 16 for 79 yards. Sam Curry ran for 41 of Westmont’s 77 rushing yards.
“It wasn’t as big of a transition as you’d think it was,” Lawhead said of the coaching change. “We’ve been around these guys all year. Coach Tomaselli and his staff did a great job. They kept us together. They got to us on a personal level and kept us together as a family.”
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