Connellsville had three touchdowns go for over 40 yards and Ky'ron Craggette rushed for 235 and three scores in the Falcons' 42-17 victory over Uniontown on Friday at Bill Power Stadium in the Herald-Standard Game of the Week.
Craggette, a junior who rushed for 1,000 yards last season as a member of the Red Raiders, scored on runs of 65, 67 and 10. He carried the ball 14 times and had an average of 16.8 yards per rush.
"I'm not going to lie, I was thinking about this game a lot," Craggette said. "I want to thank my line and give them a lot of credit. I feel like I have gained some speed. I just need to keep going. I had a good summer and went to a lot of camps, but I would trade all the individual accolades for wins any day."
"It is a lot nicer to not have to gameplan against him (Craggette), and a lot nicer having him on your own side," Connellsville coach Marko Thomas said. "The kid played a heck of a game today, and a lot of those yards weren't easy yards. He was dragging a lot of guys today, too. If you tackle him up high, you are going to go for a ride, and that's what we plan on him doing all year."
The Falcons have won the past five meetings over Uniontown in the battle for the Coal Bucket Trophy. Connellsville leads the all-time series, 39-36-9.
The Falcons opened Week Zero with a surprise onside kick that was recovered by George Shultz. Connellsville scored on the first play from scrimmage when Seth Kuhns pulled in a 43-yard reception from Josh Maher at 11:06 for a 7-0 lead after the first of seven PATs by Lucas Hammerle.
"That was something (the fast start) we were planning on," Thomas said. "I told the guys that last year the kickoff return and then the fumble gave us a spark, and we decided that if we were going to kickoff, we were going to try the onside kick, and it worked.
"It was a great kick by our kicker, Hammerle. We kind of knew what we were going to go with our first play, and it was a huge way to start."
Maher, a senior, was 7 of 12 for 162 yards with one touchdown and one interceptions. Kuhns had two receptions for 45 yards. Maher's ability to direct an offense is something that Craggette looks forward to in his first season as a Falcon.
"I think Josh is great at leading the offense," Craggette said. "It will also help if teams are stacking the box against the run because he throws the ball well."
The Red Raiders' Torry Robinson put his team in good position by returning the ensuing kickoff 56 yards. Uniontown drove the ball to the Connellsville 13, but the Falcons forced a field-goal attempt that was no good from 33 yards. The Red Raiders had five drives enter Connellsville territory in the first half, but Thomas' defense stood tall and was able to get off the field.
"There were two or three times where they had it near our goal line and our defense stepped up," Thomas said. "I said it all summer long that I thought our defense was going to be our backbone, and they really did step it up.
"It was more of a bend, don't break philosophy. A lot of missed tackles that we have to get better at, but if they don't keep us in it there, you don't know what kind of game it ends up being."
Uniontown cracked the scoreboard with 2:23 left in the first when Clay Berkabile kicked a 25-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3. The Red Raiders had driven to the Falcons' two, but were pushed back to the nine on fourth down.
"Of course, anytime you get in the red zone, you want to come away with seven and not three," Uniontown coach Cedric Lloyd said. "We've just got to be a little bit more aggressive when we get in the red zone, and look to put the ball in the end zone. We are a young group, and we just got to get better."
Javon Davis was key for Uniontown in the drive. The senior rushed for a team-high 146 yards on 22 carries. Robinson gained 60 yards on five attempts.
"He (Davis) did a great job tonight," Lloyd said.
Connellsville extended its lead to 14-3 with 2:09 remaining in the first on Craggette's first touchdown. The Falcons took the ball at their own 35 after the kickoff went out of bounds.
The Falcons drove to the Red Raiders' 26 at 8:21 of the second, but Uniontown's Cameron Walton pressured Maher on fourth down and forced an incompletion for a turnover on downs.
Both teams traded interceptions to end drives in the first half, as Connellsville's Gabriel McCrum and the Red Raiders' Jake Shiley recorded the takeaways.
Uniontown's defense had a promising start to the second half when Craggette was dropped for a seven-yard loss on the first play of the third quarter, but after a five-yard gain and a 15-yard penalty against the Red Raiders, Craggette rumbled 67 yards up the middle to extend the Falcons' advantage to 21-3 at 10:36.
"We need to tackle better," Lloyd said. "We were in position to make some tackles and we didn't. We hit them in the backfield, but didn't bring them down."
The Red Raiders drove to the Connellsville one on the next drive, as freshman quarterback CJ Soltis found Dylan Burkholder for a 42-yard gain on 2nd-and-10 from the Falcons' 46. The visitors tightened up and took over on down at their own 9 after a pass by Soltis was incomplete.
Soltis, who is the first freshman to start a varsity game at Uniontown, was 9 of 17 for 144 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Burkholder had two receptions for 61 yards.
"I thought he (Soltis) did a very good job tonight of mastering what what we are trying to do offensively," Lloyd said. "He didn't put himself in situations to hurt us. For the most part, he mastered the gameplan. We kept him under control.
"You expect different things from freshman, and he didn't do those things, and I think as he goes through this year, he'll get better. He was nervous at the start. I'm proud of him and thought he did an excellent job tonight."
Connellsville pushed its lead to 28-3 when Maher scored on an eight-yard run at 2:33 of the third. The key play in the drive was a 65-yard pass to Jason McBride.
The Red Raiders scored their first touchdown when Jake Shiley pulled in a five-yard reception from Soltis at 11:56 of the fourth to cut the deficit to 28-9. Shiley, who started against the Falcons at quarterback last year, gained 61 yards on five catches and had two touchdowns.
"He (Shiley) did a fantastic job tonight," Lloyd said.
Craggette got the touchdown right back for Connellsville on the next drive when he scored his third touchdown with 5:24 left for a 35-9 advantage. Ahmad Hooper, who attended Uniontown last year, had runs of 41 and 13 on the drive. The senior gained 79 yards on seven carries.
The Falcons forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return and McCrum recovered. Hooper capped the scoring for the visitors with an 18-yard touchdown run at 4:20 of the fourth.
Shiley caught his second touchdown pass from Soltis, a 22 yarder, with 2:03 left and Davis ran in the two-point conversion.
Connellsville opens up Class AAAAA Big East Conference action in Week 1 when it hosts McKeesport.
"We get tested early," Thomas said. "Not to take anything away from Uniontown. We are going to enjoy this win tonight and scout McKeesport in their game tomorrow. You know what you are going to get on offense. They have tremendous athletes and a nice big target at receiver.
"Coach Lloyd has Uniontown going in the right direction. They started a freshman at quarterback, and I told the kid after the game that I thought he did a heck of a job. He didn't turn the ball over and made the right reads, and they have two nice backs out there. They are quick and shifty."
The Red Raiders travel to Cougar Mountain to face Yough (0-1) in the Class AAA Big East Conference opener.
"The overall process is staring to work itself out," Lloyd said. "We can't jump ship and go in a different direction. We have to maintain and get dogmatic about what it is we're trying to do here."
Connellsville 14 0 14 14 — 42
Uniontown 3 0 0 14 — 17
CV: Seth Kuhns 43 pass from Josh Maher (Lucas Hammerle kick), 11:06
U: Clay Berkabile 25 field goal, 2:23
CV: Ky'ron Craggette 65 run (Hammerle kick), 2:09
CV: Ky'ron Craggette 67 run (Hammerle kick), 10:36
CV: Josh Maher 8 run (Hammerle kick), 2:33
U: Jake Shiley 5 pass from CJ Soltis (kick failed), 11:56
CV: Ky'ron Craggette 10 run (Hammerle kick), 5:24
CV: Ahmad Hooper 18 run (Hammerle kick), 4:20
U: Jake Shiley 22 pass from CJ Soltis (Clay Berkabile kick), 2:03