by Jason Herd
For the Pharos-Tribune
Entering Friday night, Chris Ulerick’s Caston Comets football squad had been down. But an inspired performance in their home opener against Frontier proved that they certainly aren’t out.
A hungry Falcon squad made the long trip from Chalmers looking for their first win since Aug. 27, 2010, which came against South Newton. Since then, a once proud football program has fallen on hard times, losing its last 30 games entering Friday night.
New head coach Jamie Sailors may have the Falcons headed in the right direction, but the skid continues as Caston rallied for a 21-14 victory Friday night at the Crater.
After each team stalled on their opening drives, Frontier used a potent rushing attack to chew up seven minutes in the first period. Junior running back Hunter McCracken ripped off a 17-yard gain, which set up Brandon Gallinger’s 2-yard touchdown at the 1:03 mark.
A promising drive by Caston, including an 11-yard gain by senior Conner Martin, was erased by Falcon defensive back Austin Byrd. The senior picked off Comet quarterback Quentin Douglass at the Frontier 20 and raced 80 yards for the touchdown with 11:18 to play in the second.
To make things worse, the Comet rushing attack was again stymied, as Frontier defenders routinely invaded Caston’s backfield.
Despite the lack of protection, the Comets had their opportunities in the first half. McCracken muffed a punt return and senior Rex Smith recovered the fumble at the Frontier 30, only to promptly give the ball back after a three-and-out. Douglass gave the Comets another opportunity in Falcon territory when he returned a punt 38 yards to the Frontier 11. Frontier held and took a 14-0 lead into the locker room.
Dead and buried, uninspired and tired. If body language could speak, that would have summarized the young Comets in the first half, as a third straight loss was on the horizon. But that wasn’t what happened, not even close. The Comet offense came out blazing in the third quarter. Consecutive screen passes to junior Jake Kingery took Caston into Frontier territory at a frantic pace. A 22-yard reception by Martin followed by another big Kingery catch for 15 more put Caston at the 5. Martin punched it in the end zone with 10:26 left, giving the Comets new life. The senior finished with 66 yards on seven carries and a score.
A key defensive play occurred at the 6:52 mark of the third when sophomore Devin Minneman sacked Wireman and forced a fumble. Kingery recovered and the Comets were in business at the Frontier 35. Smith hauled in a 22-yard Douglass pass across the middle to the 1. Douglass tied the game at 14-14 two plays later with a touchdown.
“We just talked about heart in the locker room, which was something we lacked in the first half,” said Douglass.
He finished with 108 yards through the air and a score. After a first half with virtually no defensive stops, the Comets stepped up and had several in the second. The biggest of all took place at the 5:29 mark, when Minneman and fellow sophomore Trey Young dropped Wireman on fourth-and-goal at the 2.
Brimming with confidence at this point, the Comet offense put together their most impressive drive of the season at the most crucial point of the game. Abusing the Falcon defensive right side, a myriad of power sweeps by Martin and Kingery quickly took Caston down to the Frontier 8 as the clock ticked inside 2:00 to go. Freshman Brandon Piotrowski bolted into the end zone to give the Comets their first and final lead with 1:25 to play.
“We got some great blocks on the edge by Brayton [Jellison] and Dustin [Offenberger] in that last drive,” Martin said. “We really wanted to win our home opener.”
Ulerick added, “We could have easily folded up, but the boys finally started playing like varsity football players and I’m pleased with the effort.”