THE FINAL WORD: A COMEBACK FOR THE AGES ... MUCH MORE (2019-09-03)

This is my 31st year of covering high school sports in the area, and I’ve seen a few comebacks, but I’ve never seen anything quite like Sayre’s come-from-behind win over Towanda Friday night on the gridiron.

Towanda senior QB Tanner Kunkle gave the Redskin defense fits all game, spinning and bouncing off tackles, and ripping of chunks of yardage on nearly every carry.

After a Sayre turnover, Kunkle scored on a 41-yard run to give Towanda a seemingly insurmountable 34-16 lead with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter.

However, the remainder of the game would belong to sophomore QB Brayden Horton and the Redskins. On Sayre’s next possession, Horton would convert a pair of fourth-down plays, hitting senior wideout Ethan Miller for 9 yards on fourth-and-6, and running for 12 yards on fourth-and-2.

Horton capped the drive with a 2-yard TD run, and then hit senior Pat Casterline with a pass on the conversion to make it 34-24.

Kunkle went back to work on Towanda’s next possession with a 15-yard run on his first carry. After three more run plays, the Black Knights had another first down at the Sayre 33.

Then, Towanda went away from what had been working and tried to catch the Redskins off-guard with a pass play. At that point, senior outside linebacker Isaish Firestine blitzed untouched off the edge and hit Kunkle as he was delivering a pass, which fluttered into the hands of junior Elmer Stevens.

An illegal block on the return by Stevens moved the ball back to the Sayre 20. It took Sayre just five plays, including a 41-yard pass play from Horton to senior wideout Corbin Brown and a 35-yard TD run by Horton on the second play of the fourth quarter, to find paydirt.

Sophomore Nic Bentley split the uprights to make it 34-31 with 11:45 left in the game.

A miscommunications between the Towanda deep men on the ensuing kickoff allowed the ball to roll to the Towanda 5, where the Knights fell on it.

Kunkle and Jyshaire Robinson, who combined for 326 rushing yards (Kunkle 235 and Robinson 91) split carries as the Black Knights picked up three first downs and moved the ball to midfield before a holding call put them off-schedule and eventually forced a punt.

Towanda, which had been milking the 40-second clock for the entirety of the second half, did manage to take more than 7 minutes off the game clock, and Sayre took over at its 17 with 4:26 left in the game.

Fourteen plays later, including a fourth-down conversions and two 15-yard penalties against Towanda, Horton bulled into the end zone with 18.8 seconds remaining on fourth-and-goal at the 1, thanks to a push from a backfield that included 6-5, 290-pound “fullback” Zach Belles.

Horton only completed 11 of 32 passes and was victimized by a few drops, but those completions were for an average of 22 yards. He also ran for 119 yards and four TDs, including a dazzling 35-yard TD run.

Horton was a bit off-the-mark throwing the ball throughout the game, but he made plays down the stretch when it mattered most.

And, don’t overlook the contributions of the offensive line, and Firestine, the usual workhorse in the run game, who did a nice job blocking for Horton, as well as Miller, Brown, and senior wideout Zach Watkins, who all showed how dangerous they are in the open field.

Another aspect of the game that is to overlook is he kicking game. Bentley was 3-for-3 on extra points, and split the up rights on a 25-yard field goal, while Towanda missed its first two PAT kick attempts so badly, it went for two points the remainder of the game. The difference in the kicking game was the difference in the outcome.

This is a game the Sayre kids will never forget, and football fans will be talking about for years.

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Athens dropped to 0-2 on the season with a home loss to North Penn Friday night, and for the second time in as many week, early turnovers put the Wildcats in an early hole. Athens has committed five first-quarter turnovers in two games.

The Wildcats should get healthy this week at Cowanesque Valley, and then host Wyalusing in Week 4. After that, it’s back-to-back games against NTL powers Canton and Wellsboro.

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The Sayre boys soccer team opened its season over the weekend with a loss to Galeton, and a 5-5 draw against Northern Potter in the consolation game of the Galeton Tournament.

While an 0-1-1 start may not look like much, Sayre started 0-2 at last year’s Galeton tourney, and lost both games 7-3.

Junior Cody VanBenthuysen and sophomore Mason Hughey have proven the ability to find the net, and freshman Brayden Post looks like an exciting young player.

The Redskins will surely improve on last year’s one-win season. They may not qualify for the postseason, but they could prove dangerous for a lot of teams this year.

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The defending District 4, Class AAA champion Athens girls opened the season Saturday with a 5-0 win over defending Class A champ South Williamsport, then dropped a 6-1 decision to the hosts in the finals of the Montoursville Tournament.

The Lady Wildcats are young in a few positions, but have a wealth of experience back. They will only get better as the season progresses.

Athens opens the NTL season this afternoon when it hosts Troy, which is probably its biggest threat to another league title.

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The 2019 fall season shifts into high gear today. Get out and support one of the Valley teams.

The Final Word returns Wednesday.