YORK — Down by 17 against Region 3-4A opponent York Comprehensive High Friday night, Catawba Ridge head coach Zac Lendyak said his team faced a “program-defining moment” heading out of the halftime break.
How his team approached the third quarter, he said, might determine how the Copperheads football program would be remembered.
Trailing 23-6, Lendyak’s Catawba Ridge team scored two quick touchdowns in the third quarter to pull within just three points of the hosts. But a scoreless fourth quarter doomed Catawba Ridge to a 39-20 road defeat, the Copperheads’ sixth straight loss of the year.
Still, Lendyak took heart from his team’s third-quarter fight.
“A lot of how we came out would be a program-defining moment,” Lendyak said. “Going through a long streak of losses, if you come out and lay an egg, that could change the course of what we’ve done in the past four and a half years. But if we can come out and play the way we can, whatever intensity and desire you have, bring it out. I feel like they did.”
York scored on each of its first four drives in the first half, including three unanswered touchdowns by senior Ayden Davis.
Catawba Ridge, now 1-6 and 0-2 in the region, opened the game with a promising run, moving slowly from its own 27 to the opposing 35, but kicker Camden Gifford was unable to convert a 45-yard field goal that fell just short of the crossbar.
Solid running by Davis, running back Javarus Guthrie, and quarterback Tayshon Freeman helped set the Cougars up with a field goal opportunity from 32 yards out late in the first quarter, and kicker Zayne Beardsley made no mistake.
Catawba Ridge quarterback DJ Latimer was picked off on the following Copperheads’ drive, with the defensive Cougar running from his own 45 to the Catawba Ridge 8 before he was brought down. Davis scored York’s first touchdown of the night from seven yards out just two plays later.
With another chance to reset, Catawba Ridge took over down 10-0, but Latimer fumbled, which quickly led to another York drive starting just outside the red zone. Davis was able to push his way into the end zone, this time from four yards out, to earn a 16-0 lead. The ensuing 2-point conversion failed.
Taking over with 11:02 left in the second quarter, Catawba Ridge’s offense finally settled down. Running back Brayden Wasik found room to run, and Latimer looked just as dangerous with his feet.
The quarterback led his team on a 15-play, 76-yard drive that erased six and a half minutes off the clock before Latimer ran in to score from just a yard away to cut the lead to 16-6. Catawba Ridge’s 2-point conversion, which would have cut the deficit to just 10, failed when Latimer couldn’t connect with his receiver.
Freeman tossed an 18-yard scoring catch to Davis on York’s next drive.
Catawba Ridge had one last chance to score with 2:30 left in the half, but Latimer was sacked for a long loss with less than a minute to go, and time ran out on the drive.
Lendyak said his team showed much more intensity after halftime.
“The intensity, the mental toughness, bouncing back the way you want to,” he said. “That’s what we’re working on all year.”
On Catawba Ridge’s second drive of the second half, Latimer and Wasik anchored an 11-play, 78-yard drive that lasted about four minutes, ending in a Latimer keeper from 3-yards out to cut the lead to 23-13.
Following a York punt, Catawba Ridge took advantage of their next chance by recovering at the York 35. It only took about 90 seconds before Latimer and Wasik converted a couple first downs, and Wasik scored from four yards out to make it 23-20 with 23.1 seconds left in the third quarter.
But the good fortune ended there. York sustained a 12-play, 64-yard drive that ate five minutes of game time before Guthrie scored from 14 yards out.
Latimer was sacked for a defensive safety on the ensuing Catawba Ridge drive to give the Cougars a 12-point lead midway through the final quarter.
Catawba Ridge had one last chance to score, taking the ball back on the 31. The Copperheads made it as far as the York 22, but Latimer was unable to connect with a receiver in the middle of the field on fourth and two.
York needed just a first down to ice the game, but Davis was able to cut to the sideline on a run and was able to turn a short gain into an 83-yard score (his fourth of the night) that pushed the lead to 39-20 and ended any hope of a Copperheads’ comeback.
“You’ve got to finish what you begin,” Lendyak said to his players in the postgame huddle. “You start to finish, that’s what you’ve got to do in life and in football, as well.”
Lendyak says the team has lost 13 two-way starters since the start of the season. Most recently, senior running back Ira Mister (collarbone) and senior linebacker Jackson Burger (ACL) both sustained injuries during last week’s home loss to South Pointe.
Catawba Ridge will travel to play at Lancaster to continue with their region schedule at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13.