By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
After a near flawless effort last week against Berkshire, the Pymatuning Valley Lakers needed to be a model of efficiency against a tough Cardinal team.
On the first play of the game, a lost fumble, the Lakers put themselves into a mistake-prone hole they were unable to fully escape as they dropped a 36-20 non-conference battle to the Huskies.
PV had established a tough running game last week, but on the first play of this game, while attempting to take a pitchout to the left side, the Laker ball carrier lost control. A pair of Huskies swarmed to it, and Cardinal needed just six plays to navigate the 36 yards for the first score of the game.
After a punt on the next possession for PV (1-1), Cardinal started from their own 6-yard line. Ten plays later, including a pair of Laker penalties, Clark Thurling scored the first of his two touchdowns, the Huskies added their second two-point conversion of the night, and PV looked shellshocked.
Two minutes into the second quarter, a 1-yard PV punt set up a drive from the Laker 30, and Thurling tallied on the first play around left end to start what appeared to be a blowout.
“After losing last week, 19-15, with four fumbles and two picks,” Cardinal coach Eric Cardinal said, “we worked hard this week on taking care of the ball better. We stressed how important it was to make a big turnaround in that area if we are to win games. We turned it over a couple times tonight, too, but they didn’t hurt like last week.
“In another perspective, we knew (PV) has some good skilled players, so we wanted to contain them as much as we could. You never stop them, but if you can limit what they do, you can win.”
The Lakers unleashed a solid ground game last week without needing to pass. It was different in this game, and the Lakers did have some success. At the same time, mistakes such as fumbles — losing three of four — and a pair of interceptions kept the hosts from coming all the way back.
A solid second half closed the gap, but after a 55-yard run by Quintin Ratliff in the third period cut the gap to 29-20 with 7:03 left to play, Cardinal fielded a short kickoff at their own 49 and went the distance in just eight running plays to account for the final score.
“Turnovers really hurt us tonight,” Laker coach Neal Croston said. “Those fumbles early set us back on our heels a little, but we fought hard to get back into the game in the second half. I think we may have gotten tired toward the end. We made some good plays tonight against a good team, but we also made too many mistakes. There are two basic things you have to do. Stopping the run is one, and you can’t turn the ball over.”
In an even game statistically, with PV leading total yardage, 283-276, seven penalties and the four lost turnovers proved to be the difference.
Clark Thurling gained 109 yards on 18 carries for Cardinal and Cody Purpura added 59 yards on 14 tries.
Ratliff led the solid Laker ground game with 104 yards on nine carries. J.T. Willis, battling shoulder problems, added 79 yards on 13 carries, but was not effective in the middle portion of the game as Cardinal controlled the ball behind their experienced linemen.
The Lakers did have some success passing this week, completing seven for 117 yards. Nick Holt caught four for 90 yards.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.