As Garth Groshek remained seated on the Stiehm Stadium field with his helmet buried in his hands, the Stanley-Boyd football team’s defensive players raced towards its sideline in celebration of stopping Amherst one final time in the second half.
Groshek was stopped a yard short on a fourth-and-17 play with 45 seconds left, giving the undefeated Orioles a 28-21 win over the defending state champions in a WIAA Division 5 state semifinal matchup Friday. Stanley-Boyd (13-0) scored 21 unanswered points, and limited the Falcons (11-2) to 113 yards in the second half — 57 coming on the final drive.
“Their defense, they stepped up to the task,” Amherst coach Mark Lusic said. “They’re a better team than we are. I have no problem saying that. They just outplayed us.”
The Falcons scored on their first two possessions and led 14-0 less than five minutes into the game, but managed just one score on their next 12 drives — one that was set up after recovering a fumble at the Stanley-Boyd 12-yard line. Connor Zblewski rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in the first half, but had just four carries for three yards over the third and fourth quarters.
“In the first half they were keying on (quarterback Garrett) Groshek, so I was able to run free,” Zblewski said. “In the second half, they were coming down on me so they took me out of the play every time we ran the option.”
Amherst, which was rushing for an average of 269.9 yards per game this season, was held to 207 by Stanley-Boyd with just 19 coming in the second half on 14 carries. The Falcons also had two turnovers in the second half, and also suffered a safety in the third quarter.
“We needed players to make plays and they made them,” Stanley-Boyd coach Jeff Koenig said. “We started to see their plays a little better and the coaches made some line adjustments. In the first half we had guys who weren’t doing their assignments.”
The Falcons only turnover of the first half resulted in Stanley-Boyd’s first score as Groshek was hit on a short run and the ball popped up in the air and directly into the hands of the Orioles’ Zach Turner, who returned it 48 yards.
Groshek scored his third touchdown of the first half with just over four minutes left in the second quarter to give the Falcons a 21-7 lead. But the Orioles drove 79 yards in nine plays and cut the lead to a touchdown on Ronny Ponick’s 34 yard run with a minute left in the half.
“It definitely changed the mood going into the locker room,” Groshek said. “We didn’t feel good going in there. We felt we had left points (on the field), and gave up points to them. We just didn’t come out like us in the second half.”
Stanley-Boyd took its first lead with eight points in a span of 1 minute, 18 seconds in the third quarter. An Orioles punt from near midfield was downed inside the Amherst 1, and Zblewski was stopped in the backfield for a safety on the next play. Stanley-Boyd then converted after the free kick as Craig Mason scored on a short run, one play after he busted loose for a 46-yard dash to the Amherst 1.
Stanley-Boyd’s Zach Turner made a leaping grab in the end zone on a fourth-and-4 from the Falcons 10 early in the fourth quarter to make it 28-21, and the Orioles were denied on a questionable decision to go for two points.
Koenig defended the move.
“We had a bunch of injuries, so we had to go for two on that play,” he said.