As the ball hung high in the air, seemingly in slow motion, Adam Warehime closed in and the Spring Grove fans prepared to celebrate the Rockets' third interception of the first half.
But that celebration never came to be.
The ball ricocheted off Warehime's hands, back into the air and into the hands of Northeastern wide receiver David Ankney, who saw a clear path to the end zone. A celebration instead began behind the Bobcats sideline, as Ankney crossed the goal line for a 56-yard touchdown to give the Bobcats a 20-point lead late in the first half.
"I knew I didn't have a chance to make the play, so I started creeping back for either if it got picked or got tipped back," Ankney said. "It just came toward me."
The peculiar play epitomized the entire game between these YAIAA Division I opponents, as everything seemed to break right for Northeastern, while Spring Grove failed to capitalize on opportunities in the Bobcats' 30-0 win.
Warehime — who played with a broken forearm — did intercept a pass earlier in the game, and his teammate Blake King picked off Northeastern quarterback Shannon Valenti twice, but Spring Grove couldn't pick up a first down after any of those turnovers. The Bobcats (7-1, 4-1) allowed the Rockets (4-4, 3-2) to amass just four first downs the entire game, and three of them came on their first drive.
"We were really stressing to be a more physical team and the kids just did a great job of it tonight," Northeastern coach Joe Scepanski said of his defense. "These guys had a good week of practice, they worked hard all week and were able to come out and execute well."
When the defense put the ball back in the hands of the Bobcats' offense, they took advantage with big plays. All four of Northeastern's touchdowns came from 20 yards or longer, including two long passes from a Valenti to Ankney. First was a 73-yard touchdown pass over the middle on Northeastern's first drive, followed by the circus catch off Warehime's hands in the second quarter.
"The first half, I thought we played extremely well on defense, except on third downs," Spring Grove coach Kyle Sprenkle said of the big plays his team gave up. "We needed to get off the field and we didn't."
Northeastern running back Chris Whack, who rushed for 99 yards on nine carries, supplied the other big scoring plays. He ran for a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter and added a 49-yard score early in the third.
The Bobcats now head into another road clash against a team with one division loss, visiting South Western (6-2, 4-1) next Friday.
"It's really big, we needed momentum going into the South Western game," Ankney said. "We're looking forward to them and we're just trying to get rolling and keep momentum going all the way into the playoffs."
Ne — David Ankney 73 pass from Shannon Valenti (Cameron Artman kick), 9:18
Ne — Chris Whack 20 run (kick blocked), 6:13.
Ne — Ankney 56 pass from Valenti (Artman kick), 2:57.
Ne — Whack 43 run (Artman kick), 10:45.
Ne — Artman 28 field goal, 7:35.
NeSGFirst downs134Rushes-yards46-16924-50Passing4-7-38-20-1Passing yards16339Total yards33289Punts3-28.339-33.33Fumbles-lost3-03-3Penalties-yards1-50-0
Rushing — Ne, Anu Johnson 18-38, Chris Whack 9-99, Shannon Valenti 10-14, Michael Cooper 3-11, Fred Muhlbah 2-6, Taemar Willis 1-3, Blake Einsig 1-(-5), Wyatt Hughes 1-5, Alex Seafort 1-(-2). SG, Nick Erickson 15-45, Jake Messersmith 3-(-8), Ryan Daugherty 2-3, AJ Fridinger 2-1, Theo Johnson 2-9.
Passing — Ne, Valenti 4-7-3-163. SG, Messersmith 8-20-1-39.
Receiving — Ne, David Ankney 3-140, Johnson 1-23. SG, Connor Reed 1-12, Nick Erickson 2-11, LJ Chisholm 2-4, Adam Warehime 1-2, Brady Stein 1-5, Daugherty 1-5.