A first-time starter, Central Mountain quarterback Travis Turchetta already has mastered the dramatic comeback drive.
And senior running back Von Walker never doubted the Wildcats would erase a 1-point deficit in the last 2:34 Friday at Millionaire Stadium.
"On the sideline I asked him if he was ready and he said, he's never been more ready. He was excited to get out there," Walker said. "When those words came out of his mouth I knew we were going to win this football game because he wasn't scared and none of us were."
Turchetta engineered a go-ahead, 78-yard scoring drive and ignited a stunning 20-point flurry over the game's final 91 seconds as Central Mountain rallied past Williamsport, 40-21 in its season opener. Walker put Central Mountain ahead 27-21 with 1:31 remaining on an 11-yard run before recovering a fumble and scoring from five yards out eight seconds later. Cole Renninger capped the eruption, returning an interception 42 yards as time expired.
"When we got to that point there were a lot of key players that made it happen," said Walker, who ran for 89 yards and was part of a stingy defense. "Travis has done an amazing job. On that drive that we scored the touchdown to go up, he really stepped it up and he was a leader."
Turchetta completed 10 of 12 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns to Renninger and Tyler Pavalko. He completed two passes for 53 yards on the go-ahead drive, sparking it with a 42-yard pass to Pavalko on the second play. Turchetta hit Renninger (7 catches, 87 yards) for 11 yards two plays later before Walker bounced outside and ran inside the right pylon for the go-ahead score on the next play.
"Travis played extraordinary for his first quarterback start," Renninger said. "I knew we were going to come back and get them. I knew that Williamsport has a great defense but I felt it. I felt like me and Pavalko were going to be able to get open and Von was going to be able to run and we just executed."
The way the game ended does not reveal how close it was. Williamsport scored 14 straight fourth-quarter points, turning a 13-point deficit into a 21-20 lead when Devin Miller ran in from two yards out, capping a nine-play drive, 35-yard drive. Sadiq Burkholder set that score up with a 25-yard punt return.
Special teams put Williamsport back in the game. Caleb Belle returned a kickoff 80 yards in the first-half's final 20 seconds, making it 17-7 and Miller returned another kickoff 83 yards for a score that made it 20-14 with 9:34 remaining. The Williamsport defense then forced a three-and-out, setting up what then was the go-ahead scoring drive.
"We're learning and as we go through this process of rebuilding and putting together a foundation we're going to do a lot better with this, but I was real proud of them because they came back in the fourth quarter," first-year Williamsport coach Kevin Choate said. "We went ahead by one so it's the old adage you're never dead until you're dead, but at the same time we just didn't put it to them right at the very end."
The Williamsport defense did not play bad, keeping the Millionaires in position to rally in the fourth quarter with several key stops. The Millionaires, though, lost four turnovers and had a punt blocked. Those turnovers led to 34 Central Mountain points and the Wildcats scored 17 first-half points on scoring drives of 29, 21 and 20 yards.
The Wildcats were even better, though, holding Williamsport to just 144 yards and allowing only one offensive touchdown. Following Walker's fourth-quarter touchdown, that defense put the game away. Central Mountain kicker Nick Noll purposely kicked out of bounds, but instead of getting the ball at the 40-yard line, Williamsport wisely opted to give Miller and Belle another chance at returning a kick. Noll, though, drilled the next kick 65 yards for a touchdown.
Following a procedure penalty, Williamsport had the ball at its 15-yard line. Drew Alexander then blew through the line, sacked Owen Lukens at the 5-yard line and forced the fumble that Walker scooped up and ran in for the clinching score. Alexander was a force all night and the nose guard made nine tackles, had a sack, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
"He's an animal," Walker said.
"He's a small nose guard but he's so fast and he's so strong," Renninger said. "He gets through there and messes things up."
Renninger and Pavalko were outstanding in coverage and Williamsport had only 23 passing yards. Pavalko set up the game's first score with an interception, while Tyler Cryder saved a second-quarter touchdown, making a brilliant open field tackle when it looked like Miller would bust open on a draw. Miller ran for 75 yards as a young offensive that includes two sophomores and a freshman started to jell in the fourth quarter.
"The kids are trying real hard and are working extremely hard and giving us everything they've got," Choate said. "We just going to have to continue to rebuild and build on it."