Wildcats head coach Earl Mosley and his team lingered on the field after the game celebrating this unlikely run to the title.
And to get that crown it took a monumental first-half effort from the Halifax defense to keep a dominating Pine Grove offense off the scoreboard. All the points came in the second half of this tight squeeze all the way. The lead changed hands four times.
Pine Grove played extremely well and executed its running game to near perfection. But the Cardinals had too many 15-yard penalties and lost their cool on a borderline pass interference call late that cost them precious yards clinging to a 16-13 lead.
Time to hand out some grades.
PINE GROVE CARDINALS
Quarterback: Get ready for two more years of Josh Leininger at quarterback for the Cardinals. He’s only going to get better. He needs to put on 10-15 more pounds, but he’s a tough kid who is not afraid to stick his nose in there and get popped. He’s fast on the edge running the ball, throws a very nice mid-range pass and on the run he’s very accurate. Grade: B
Running Back: I can’t remember the last time I saw somebody carry the ball 24 times in a half and 37 times in a game. But that’s exactly what junior Dalton Kintzel did against the Wildcats. He’s a physical and punishing runner who almost never went down on first contact. He totaled 167 yards, and probably half of those came after first contact. 37 carries … you don’t see that very often anymore. Grade: A
Wide Receivers: Dawson Ibarra had an exceptional game with three catches for 63 yards and a TD. There was only one pass thrown his way that he didn’t catch. Nathan Minnich, who had only one catch, is a junior and will be heard from more next season. Grade: B-
Offensive Line: Take a bow, gents, all five of you. That was downright impressive all night. This group was dominant in the first half and was still making hay down the stretch in a game where the Cardinals ran the ball 57 times. Red zone efficiency the first half was sketchy when it needed a couple yards to get that first touchdown. Grade: A-
Defensive Line: In this defense, the job of these guys was to eat up blockers and free up the linebackers. They made it difficult for the Wildcats to get beyond the point of attack more often than not. Created some pressure in the pass game, but the ball was out quick most times. Grade B+
Linebackers: Dalton and Dillon Kintzel, Devin Artz and Nathan Minnich were outstanding all game. Only 91 yards rushing allowed, and the edge was shut down almost the entire game. Artz even had an interception. Grade: A
Secondary: Yeah, I’m not sure that was pass interference late in the game, but the call was made. You can’t lose your cool and get more yards tacked on for unsportsmanlike conduct. Run support was outstanding. Tackling was shaky on those screens, though. Only got beat once all game on a pass downfield. Allowed 167 yards on nine completions, but that was almost all yards after the catch. Grade: B
Special Teams: Partially blocked a punt that led to a short field and the touchdown that gave Pine Grove the lead. Didn’t kick an extra point, but the punts all had roll that added precious yards. Return game had an impact. Grade: A-
Quarterback: There were a couple shaky throws by London Johnson, and I’m not sure where he was going with that ball that was intercepted. But he made a couple nice, deeper touch passes. The bottom line for him on this night was when his team needed him most he was a leader and marched his squad down the field to victory. The rest is just details. Grade: B
Running Back: Tyler Berzowski ran hard for his 55 yards on seven carries. That’s nearly 8 yards a carry. Not bad at all. Run game is secondary for the Wildcats, though. But it was effective late. Grade: B
Wide Receivers: I did record two drops for this group. But whatever Broc Grosser did made up for it with seven catches for 139 yards, including an electric run after catching on a screen pass that covered 63 yards. That was a nice route by Zerby on that corner route for 26 yards that set Halifax up at the 1-yard line. Grade: A-
Offensive Line: Struggled to gain any footing in the first half in both phases of the offense. But they rebounded with a splendid second half. Pine Grove was bringing blitzes and they were picking them up. Saved its best stuff for last when it dominated on the winning drive with big chunks of yards in both the run and pass game. Middle trio has to be better when it comes to the postseason, though. Grade: B
Defensive Line: Came up with a strong push in spots, but overall they were pushed around for the most part. But those splash plays that make a difference showed up. Dylan Miller had a sack and Hunter Smith closed the game out with a sack and strip to secure the victory. Grade: C+
Linebackers: Evan Billow had a tough game in the middle, and he was forced to almost play the role of a stand-up defensive lineman. That’s okay, Dalton Marshall had his back and was rock-solid all game. Johnson and Marshall teamed up to make a critical stop with their backs to the goal line just before the half on fourth down. Grade: A
Secondary: Up-and-down night for Berzowski at corner. He came up with a nice interception but was beaten twice on plays where he was over aggressive in man coverage and got burned. Grosser was a hawk all game at safety and his run support is a difference maker. He saved at least two touchdowns with sure tackles in the open field as the last line of defense at safety. Grade: B+
Special Teams: Let’s see ... there was the partially blocked punt and an extra point that clanked off the goal post. And the Wildcats also had a 17-yard punt. So the kicking game was not good. Kick coverage was good in spots, but for the most part gave up too many yards. Grade: C-