By Tom Williams
Nursing a six-point lead with its opponent 80 yards from the end zone, the Girard High football team was poised to capture its first regional championship.
Norwayne quarterback Adam Wallace had other ideas in Saturday’s Division IV, Region 13 championship game at Green’s Infocision Field.
Aided by a 15-yard penalty, Wallace marched the Bobcats into the lead on just five plays, giving Norwayne a 33-32 victory and its first regional championship.
With 1:02 remaining, Wallace found Bobcats wide receiver Brady Berger alone near the sideline for a 30-yard touchdown. Heath Gerber’s extra-point kick was the margin of victory after a wild second half that featured six lead changes
“Our kids kept on fighting back,” Girard coach Nick Cochran said. “A couple of bad plays late in the game, second-and one, you’ve got to get, you can’t lose yards and that’s my fault. I called a bad one.”
Cochran was referring to Girard’s next-to-last possession. Nursing a 32-26 lead, the Indians lost 6 yards when quarterback Dan Graziano was caught on the run. A false start penalty moved the ball back another 5 yards. Kicker David Meigs missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt with 2:02 remaining.
“He was kicking 50-yarders with the wind before the game,” Cochran said. “When you put people in front of you, it’s different.”
Trailing 14-10 at halftime, the Indians (11-2) went ahead when Graziano, who was making his first start on defense, intercepted a Wallace pass and returned it 79 yards.
Nine plays later, the Bobcats (12-1) tied the game on Wallace’s 1-yard run.
Early in the fourth quarter, Graziano connected with Branden Byrd for a 48-yard touchdown pass and 24-20 lead.
But on the next offensive play, Wallace threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Kaleb Harris. The extra-point kick was deflected.
The Indians responded with a seven-play, 59-yard drive capped by Ahmad Eggleston’s second touchdown — a 1-yard run — and Graziano’s conversion pass to Nick Malvasi gave the Indians a six-point edge with 6:33 to go.
Adding to the Indians’ momentum was Graziano recovering a Wallace fumble four plays later to set up the final Meigs field-goal attempt.
“Penalties, that’s what hurt early on,” said Cochran, referring to 12 penalties for 95 yards.
Cochran said he’s not sure what prompted the 15-yard personal foul on the Bobcats’ final drive.
Wallace said the Bobcats didn’t panic.
“There was still plenty of time left on the clock,” the senior said. “We never quit.”
Berger said he was supposed to “stop then go” for his route on the winning touchdown.
“My defender fell for my first move,” Berger said. “After that, I pretty much knew I had it open in the end zone.”
Graziano completed 10 of 23 passes for 171 yards. Byrd caught seven of them for 126 yards.
Eggleston rushed 26 times for 147 yards. His other touchdown was 2-yarder just 3:04 into the game.
Wallace completed 12 of 21 passes for 202 yards. He also rushed 23 times for 110 yards.
“Wallace, he’s pretty good but I wouldn’t change anything,” Cochran said. “I would take [Graziano] every day over him to do it all. You could see that — first week on defense and he has an interception for a touchdown.”