MUNCY - His ankle aching, Muncy quarterback Anthony Barberio opened his left hand and slammed the bench. Three plays into the year, Barberio's senior season looked like it might be over.
It was one of many things that went wrong early as Canton took an early lead and seemed poised to break things open. Instead, Eli Warnick led a game-changing touchdown drive, Maurice Brown made a series of big catches and Barberio returned in the second quarter to lead another scoring drive. When it appeared everything was going wrong, Muncy started doing everything right.
Barberio, his twisted left ankle heavily taped, and Warnick threw for a combined 140 yards, the defense was dominant and Tyler Wagner returned a game-clinching interception for a touchdown as Muncy defeated determined Canton, 28-10 in Friday's season opener at Scott McLean Field.
Tim Bassett of Canton hits a brick wall as he tries for a run in the third quarter. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"I got so scared. As soon as I felt the pain I thought it might be over and this is my senior year, but good things came," said Barberio who completed 5 of 6 passes after returning. "We're a team of heart. It's such a great feeling to be on a team like this."
"Nobody panicked. Our two scrimmages were near perfect and then we came out and it looked like the wheels were going to fall off, but then we started to regroup," Muncy coach Jay Drumheller said. "They really stepped it up. It's a good group."
After Barberio was injured, Canton quarterback John Bowman hit Chase Pepper with a 52-yard completion, igniting a long drive that led to a Brian Jannone field goal and a 3-0 Warrior lead. Into the storm entered Warnick and he combined with Brown to turn around everything.
Muncy countered with a 16-play, 69-yard touchdown drive. Warnick, who has played all over the field the last three seasons, completed five straight passes on third-and-long situations, the final four to Brown who looked like a man among boys at times. The final third-down completion was an 8-yard touchdown to Brown (5 catches, 69 yards), who caught the jump ball with a defender draped on him.
It was just the spark Muncy needed and it dominated the game from there, scoring 21 unanswered points. Warnick was brilliant in his relief role, completing 6 of 8 passes for 60 yards.
"All summer we've been saying we have to play through adversity," Warnick said. "I had to lead my team. I just had to let them know that everything was OK."
"Eli Warnick is one of the best backups in the area. He could be a starting quarterback for almost any other team," Brown said. "We knew Eli could step in right away when Anthony went down. He can play anywhere. He's a nice weapon to have."
Two series later, Barberio returned. On his second play back, he found Brown down the left sideline for a 31-yard gain that set up a first-and-goal. Brown made another terrific catch on a well-thrown ball against tight coverage. Two plays later, Barberio rolled out and hit fullback T.J. Moyle with a 7-yard touchdown, giving Muncy a 14-3 halftime lead.
And while the Muncy offense heated up, its defense constricted. After Canton started so strong, Muncy held it to 84 yards the rest of the night while containing a dangerous running attack. Defensive ends Sam Cutler and converted cornerback Alex Heitzman shined, constantly sealing the outside and not letting the quick Bowman break contain.
All the other aspects of Muncy's defense came together too as the line took over in the second half. Muncy sacked Bowman five times and never let him feel comfortable in the pocket. Scott Appleman and Brandon O'Connell combined for 3 1/2 sacks while Spencer Cotner, who played two offensive line positions, was fantastic up front.
Canton tried mounting a desperation drive in the game's final minute to make it a one-possession game, but Wagner quickly stifled it, returning his interception 27 yards for the score. The junior cornerback symbolized the team's resiliency, bouncing back after getting beat on that early long pass.
"Tyler Wagner was real down at halftime and I told him you have to keep sticking to it and you have to pick your head up and he got that pick 6. That was great," Warnick said. "We always have to keep sticking to it. We have to have all-out effort all the time."
Running back Dakota Nixon showed that, playing through leg cramps that plagued him during the second half and running for a game-high 88 yards. Nixon made it 21-3 when he exploded through a nice hole up the middle and went 52 yards for a third-quarter score.
"Nixon, I love that kid to death," Barberio said. "He has so much heart and it's so cool to be on a team with guys like this."
Canton made Muncy earn everything it did, playing tough but getting worn down. Connor Route and Tim Bassett were sensational on defense and Bassett ignited a late third-quarter drive that Noah Barnett capped with a 1-yard run to make it 21-10.
The Warriors nearly made it a one-score game early in the fourth quarter when an errant punt snap sent Muncy punter Kenny Koch racing more than 10 yards backward inside his own 10-yard line. What could have been a disaster, turned into a super play by Koch. He retrieved the ball and delivered a clutch kick as defenders sprinted toward him, sending it to the Canton 42-yard line. It was a net play of nearly 60 yards and Muncy's defense dropped the hammer from there, forcing Canton backward on three straight plays.
Muncy's offensive line and a series of running backs took a toll on Canton on the ensuing drive. The Indians did not score but drove inside the Canton 10-yard line with only 1:21 remaining. Wagner clinched the win two plays later.
"We lost five big seniors, but we have a lot of different players stepping up," Brown said. "Tyler Wagner's pick 6 was awesome. That was a great moment for him."
And a night that started so bad for Muncy, could not have ended much better.