Warren plays like different team in second half of Saturday romp
FRANKLIN — The stroll from the far sideline at Franklin Field to the locker room inside Franklin Area High School takes several minutes to navigate. But after struggling through the first half of Saturday night’s Region 8 football game — one of the worst 24 minutes that Warren head coach Mark Morelli could recall in his four years at the helm — the Dragons were probably not in any hurry to get there anyways.
After all, the Dragons hadn’t scored a point in six quarters — they were shut out by Conneaut, 28-0, in the season opener — and now the visitors trailed Franklin, 6-0, at intermission of Game 2. Unless play improved immediately, Warren would be staring at its second loss in five days.
A tongue lashing was imminent.
As Yogi Berra once said: “It’s getting late early.”
Senior captains James Swanson and Micah Passmore certainly understood what that meant, so they took it upon themselves to deliver a message to their teammates.
“There was a lot of emotion from James and Micah,” Morelli said. “Basically, they told the guys to play up to their capabilities and do their jobs. … (The team) probably responded better (listening to Swanson and Passmore) than they did (listening) to the coaches.”
The peer pressure worked.
In fact, after Warren’s first-half drives ended in punt, interception and turnover on downs, the Dragons blitzed the Knights after the break, scoring touchdowns on five of their seven possessions and left Venango County with a 35-12 victory.
Not surprisingly, the guys leading the charge were Swanson and Passmore.
Despite battling an illness and occasional leg cramps, Swanson turned in a monumental game, rushing for, unofficially, 256 yards on just 12 carries and catching three passes for 79 yards. His three TDs came on runs of 34 and 55 yards, and a 19-yard reception from Alex Borger on a half-back option. He also had a 71-yard scamper in the first half.
Meanwhile, Passmore rushed for, unofficially, 59 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown, and completed 6 of 14 passes for 84 yards. He was picked off once. Freshman running back Tommy Nyquist provided the fifth TD of the second half with a 1-yard dive in the final minute.
“You could see the difference when you have Micah and James in the game,” Morelli said, “and then you get some blocking, desire and determination, like they’ve been coached.
Defensively, Warren held up well after giving up a touchdown on Franklin’s first possession of the game. It’s biggest stand came with the Knights sitting pretty with a first-and-goal at the Dragons’ 4-yard line.
The next four plays went for 0, 1, 2 and 0 yards, the last stop coming courtesy of senior Brent Young and junior Easton Hultberg.
On the very next offensive snap, Swanson ripped off a 71-yard run. The Warren drive didn’t end up with points — Passmore was picked off in the end zone — but field position was flipped and the Dragons dodged a potential two-TD hole.
“Franklin came out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Morelli said.
It took two quarters for Warren to find that energy and enthusiasm, but once that happened, thanks to a not-so-subtle “encouragement” from Passmore and Swanson, the Dragons were able to overcome a boatload of penalties to win, thanks to 35 second-half points.
By the way, do you know what numerals the quarterback-running back tandem wear on the front and back of their respective jerseys?
3 and 5.
On a warm and moonlight night, the numbers didn’t lie.
NOTES: Warren senior Alex Zeigler was successful on three point-after tries; and senior Cedric Arline caught a 2-point conversion pass from sophomore Carter Pascuzzi. … The Dragons’ Ben White, a junior, returned the second-half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, but the score was negated by penalty. … Franklin’s touchdowns came on a 1-yard run by senior quarterback Aaron Burkhardt in the first quarter and 35-yard pass from sophomore Hunter Marsteller to freshman Cole Buckley in the fourth quarter. … Warren (1-1) will entertain Oil City in its home opener on Friday. Oil City, which defeated Franklin, 68-6, two weeks ago, improved to 3-0 by knocking off Conneaut (1-1), 28-13, Saturday night. … Franklin (1-2) travels to Meadville (3-0) on Friday.
Warren 0 0 21 14 — 35
Franklin 6 0 0 6 — 12
Fra–Burkhardt 1 run (kick fail)
War–Passmore 7 run (Arline pass from Pascuzzi)
War–Swanson 19 pass from Borger (Zeigler kick)
War–Swanson 34 run (kick fail)
Fra–Buckley 35 pass from Marsteller (kick fail)
War–Swanson 55 run (Zeiger kick)
War–Nyquist 1 run (Zeigler kick)