After a first half that featured all offense, it was defense and special teams that gave Seneca Valley a 43-25 win Thursday night at Pine-Richland in a Class AAAA Northern Eight Conference matchup.
And the Raiders' Mike Smith was the man on the spot.
Trailing, 25-22, late in the third quarter, Seneca Valley had its drive stall on the Pine-Richland 27-yard line. Raiders coach Don Holl decided the time was right to take a gamble on a fake punt, and it worked perfectly. Upback Brad Hensler completed a 15-yard pass to Smith, a tight end, and Mason Dehart finished that 83-yard drive soon after with a 1-yard plunge to put Seneca Valley ahead, 29-25.
On Pine-Richland's ensuing series, Smith stripped quarterback Ben DiNucci and recovered the fumble, taking it 15 yards to the end zone to give the Raiders a 36-25 lead and the insurance they needed.
Not bad for a senior playing just his second football game since middle school.
"That's a couple of huge plays by a guy who just joined us," Holl said of Smith. "And you know what, those are the kind of plays it takes to turn things around."
Smith, who also plays basketball, said the emotional highs he felt after making the big plays were like nothing he has ever experienced -- but he never pictured himself in the limelight, either.
"I never, ever imagined playing like this," Smith said.
Holl wasn't sure about the fake punt but thought it was the right time in the game to take a chance.
"We needed to keep the ball, I thought, based on the way [the game was going]," he said. "They were doing some good things on offense and had us a little bit on our heels. Our defense maybe was getting a little tired, so I thought we needed to take a shot at hanging onto the ball.
"Those are feast or famine, and thankfully we feasted on it."
Pine-Richland turned the ball over on downs on its next possession, and Dehart put the final note on the game, rushing for a 33-yard touchdown. He finished with 78 yards on 15 carries and scored three touchdowns to help Seneca Valley (2-0) stay unbeaten. The Raiders routed conference foe Butler, 28-3, last week.
Thursday, Seneca Valley and the Rams traded blows in a first half that featured 40 points and five lead changes, as well as a field goal off the crossbar. But Pine-Richland's offense didn't produce any points in the second half.
"I think they adjusted to what we tried to do a little better [in the second half], but we still wanted to run the ball and really just didn't get it done," first-year Pine-Richland head coach Eric Kasperowicz said.
"We just have to play a complete game. We haven't played 48 minutes in a long time. We've been great in halves, just can't quite seem to finish. Were really killing ourselves in a lot of areas."
Rams running back Connor Slomka ran for 157 yards on 28 carries, but 121 of his yards came in the first half and he was unable to find the end zone a week after he scored five touchdowns in a 49-18 victory for Pine-Richland (1-1) in the opener against Fox Chapel.
Seneca Valley's Eric Mrkonja caught two first-half touchdown passes from T.J. Holl, who finished with 166 yards through the air.hsfootball
Nick Veronica: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @NickVeronica.