Warrior Run keeps playoff hopes alive, beats Montgomery

Matthew Gummo of Warrior Run tries to get past Montgomery’s Brayden Strouse Friday night at Montgomery.

MONTGOMERY — Warrior Run’s offensive woes were rearing their ugly heads again on Friday night in Montgomery. A week after surrendering a 17-point halftime lead and getting shutout in the second half, the Defenders were blanked in the third quarter by the Red Raiders and for the first 7-plus minutes of the fourth quarter.

A baby-faced, 14-year-old freshman put an end to those struggles on a play that could surely lead the 2016 season highlights film for the Defenders. Denver Beachel, who replaced the injured Gage Anzulavich late in the second quarter, turned the unlikely play into a 40-yard touchdown run and a 21-13 win for the Defenders over Montgomery.

The game-deciding play began with a high snap that left Beachel retreating. A similar play earlier in the game resulted in a Montgomery recovery but this time the ball bounced right for Beachel and the Defenders. The freshman first secured the ball and appeared at best-case scenario to have the ability to get back to the original line of scrimmage. Beachel, however, tight­­roped the sideline in front of Montgomery’s players and coaches and then a lane opened and all he saw was blockers. They guided him into the end zone for a 21-7 lead with 4:34 remaining.

“I was going for the score,” Beachel said. “We needed another score to keep the lead and when I looked back all I saw was blockers behind me.”

“We know he’s a playmaker,” Warrior Run D.J. Flick said. “That’s why he is a 14-year old starting at running back for us.”

The victory keeps the Defenders (4-5) alive for a possible postseason berth, ends a four-game losing streak and made Flick a winner in his return to his alma mater.

“I’m thrilled for the team and of course I wanted to win this for myself, let’s by honest,” Flick said. “The team played hard and we have aspirations to make the playoffs whether it be districts or Eastern Conference so we needed this win.”

Beachel, who was the starting running back behind Anzulavich before his injury, also received a boost from his replacement in Anthony Null. The bruising running back allowed the Defenders to sustain some drives in the second half. The senior finished with 75 yards.

Special teams gave Warrior Run an early boost. The Defenders blocked a Montgomery punt deep in Red Raiders territory to set up the game’s first touchdown. Three runs by Beachel moved the ball to the Montgomery 3 and on first-and-goal Anzulavich just beat the Montgomery defense across the goal line for a 7-0 lead.

Anzulavich struggled to find a rhythm early in the game missing on six of his first seven pass attempts including an interception on the Defenders’ first drive. Prior to his injury, though, he began to settle in and hit seven consecutive passes at one point and moved the Defenders on a 12-play drive that spanned the first and second quarters for a 14-0 lead. Anzulavich’s final pass of the scoring drive was a 21-yarder to Matt Gummo.

Anzulavich was hurt late in the second quarter as the Defenders were halted on a fourth-and-5. After the Defenders’ starting quarterback made it to the sidelines, Montgomery faced a fourth down of its own on the seventh play of its ensuing drive. Quarterback Brayden Strouse not only did the Red Raiders convert a first down, he snuck around the left end and down the sideline for a 32-yard touchdown run and momentum heading into the half.

Miscues littered a scoreless third quarter with neither team taking advantage. Warrior Run threw and interception and lost a fumble on a bad snap, while Montgomery had a possible first-and-goal turned away by a holding penalty.

Following Beachel’s touchdown, Montgomery (1-8) made it a one-score game again on an Ethan Marino short touchdown run, but Warrior Run’s Matt Gummo recovered the onsides kick and Warrior Run ran out the clock.

“I just told my boys that I’m very proud of their fight and their heart and we hit harder tonight than we have all year long,” Montgomery coach Paul Bozella said. “We’re learning how to fight but we need to learn how to close. When you let a quarterback on a botched fumble run 65 yards or whatever it was on you it’s tough at the end of the game.”

The Defenders will try to even their season next week at Danville.