Ward’s late touchdown catch stuns Towanda

CANTON–Uriah Baillie twice hobbled off the field, but each time he returned a play later. Michael Smithers injured his ankle early, but kept battling and never missed a defensive series. Pick a Canton player and one likely witnessed similar scenes unfolding.

Towanda repeatedly knocked Canton down Saturday at Miller A. Moyer Field, but could never keep it down. And it was the Warriors who fought back and landed the knockout blow.

Baillie found Timmy Ward for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds remaining, capping a gutsy fourth-quarter comeback as Canton stunned heavily favored Towanda, 25-21. Baillie accounted for four touchdowns, Ward and tight end Ben Knapp each topped 100 yards receiving and Canton mounted a game-winning, 71-yard drive as it took down a popular preseason NTL-I champion pick and showed how dangerous it could be in 2018.

“In the locker room when were gathering up getting ready for the game we were saying this win could turn around the Canton football program,” Baillie said. “We just turned it around and I think we’re going to do great things this season.”

“I knew they had it in them. At halftime I told them it’s going to come down to who breaks first. It’s a Saturday, it’s the first game and it’s hot, but don’t break first. Break them first,” Canton coach Tyler Sechrist said. “They gutted it out. It was a great performance. Guys were dragging themselves off the field and they gave me everything they had. It gives us huge momentum knowing that we can do it.”

Towanda pounded Canton, 34-15 last year, scored on the game’s opening possession, forced four turnovers and opened an eight-point lead midway through the third quarter as it appeared the Warriors were tiring. Instead of buckling, Canton surged and the defense allowed just two first downs on Towanda’s last five possessions. Baillie’s 56-yard touchdown to Ward pulled the Warriors within 21-19 with 10 minutes, 22 seconds remaining and they had one last chance to deliver a signature win when they took over at their own 29 with 3:37 left.

The game-winning drive symbolized Canton’s determination. The Warriors converted all three third downs, including two third-and-longs. Baillie kept making big plays under duress while Knapp and Ward (7 catches, 126 yards) caught everything thrown their way. Ward’s 11-yard catch on 3rd-and-2 pushed Canton past midfield and Knapp caught an 18-yarder on 3rd-and-10, pushing it to the 24.

Two straight incompletions brought up a 3rd-and-10 with 55 seconds remaining. Baillie was flushed out of the pocket, rolled right and bought an extra second or two. A split second before being hit, Baillie lofted a pass toward Ward near the end zone’s right pylon. Two defenders smothered Ward and pass interference was called but it did not matter. Ward caught the pass anyway. The all-state receiver was virtually unstoppable in the fourth quarter when he caught four passes for 101 yards and two scores.

“The last drive we just knew anyway it took we had to get it into the end zone,” Ward said. “When the (game-winning) ball was in the air I was just trying to get adjusted. It was hard and I was probably more scared than anybody in the crowd. I was nervous because I just knew I had to bring it down. All week in practice and every night when you’re laying in bed you’re thinking about any possible play you can make.”

“We had to play relentless,” Baillie said. “We had to go out and play with your heart and give everything you’ve got and just lay it on the line for your teammates.”

Canton did that all afternoon, not flinching whenever adversity struck. Baillie threw for 220 yards, ran for a 41-yard score and repeatedly made big plays. On each touchdown pass Baillie threw, he bought extra time and made big plays right before taking big hits. He stayed tough under fire and an offensive line that starts two freshmen and a sophomore grew stronger as the game progressed and Canton started imposing its will.

It was that way defensively as well. Canton surrendered just seven second-half points and was outstanding against the run holding 1,000-yard rusher Zane Neubert to just 40 yards on 18 carries. Smithers, Knapp, Carson Stiner, Garrett Storch, Nick May and Carter Knecht consistently made timely plays and Dennis Saar played well in his first defensive back start. Towanda took the game’s opening possession 68 yards on five plays, but minus a Dylan Hartmann 51-yard second-quarter touchdown run, the Warriors made Towanda work hard for every yard it gained.

Canton’s first seven offensive plays gained no yards or negative yardage, but Baillie broke loose for a 41-yard touchdown run as Canton tied it 7-7 late in the first quarter. The Warriors answered on their ensuing drive and Knapp dazzled, catching four passes for 65 yards. The 6-foot-4 sophomore looks like an emerging weapon and he combined a little Odell Beckham with Dwight Clark on a dazzling 7-yard touchdown catch that made it 14-13. Saar went sky-high in the back of the end zone and caught the score one-handed.

Saar gave Towanda fits throughout the game, finishing with eight catches and 116 yards. His big-play ability left Towanda having to single cover Ward and Canton shined when the pressure was highest, scoring on two of its last three drives.

“We have tons of people who can make plays like that,” Ward said. “Teams we play are tough and the games are going to be hard, but I trust my guys. They can all make plays.”

Towanda 7 7 7 0–21

Canton 7 6 0 12–25

First Quarter

T–Isaac Pelka pass from Tanner Kunkle (Aizik Nimmo kick), 9:54

C–Uriah Baillie 41 run (Nick May kick), 1:04

Second Quarter

T–Dylan Hartmann 51 run (Nimmo kick), 3:44

C–Ben Knapp 7 pass from Baillie), :25

Third Quarter

T–Zane Neubert 1 run (Nimmo kick), 6:39

Fourth Quarter

C–Timmy Ward 56 pass from Baillie (pass failed), 10:22

C–Ward 24 pass from Baillie (run failed), :46

TEAM STATISTICS T C

First Downs 12 14

Rushes-yards 35-169 19-58

Passing yards 119 238

Comp-Att-Int 14-26-0 16-35-3

Fumbles-lost 2-1 2-1

Penalties-yards 9-75 8-50

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: Towanda, Dylan Hartmann 3-61, TD; Tanner Kunkle 11-56; Zane Neubert 18-40, TD; Brett Crispell 2-7; Mason Johnson 1-5. Canton, Levi Gaiotti 7-31; Uriah Baillie 9-27, TD; Carson Stiner 2-3; Michael Smithers 1-(-3).

PASSING: Towanda, Kunkle 14-26-0, 119 yards. Canton, Baillie 15-29-2, 220 yards, 3 TDs; Smithers 1-6-1, 18 yards.

RECEIVING: Towanda, Crispell 5-35; Preston Rogers 4-35; Hartmann 3-36; Isaac Pelka 1-7, TD; Noah Shafer 1-6. Canton, Ben Knapp 8-116, TD; Timmy Ward 7-126, 2 TDs; Gaiotti 1-(-4).

INTERCEPTIONS: Towanda, Neubert 2, Crispell.

RECORDS: Canton (1-0, 1-0 NTL-I). Towanda (0-1, 0-1).

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