When Trinity went for the win Friday night in the dying seconds from the West Perry 1-yard line on fourth down, the Mustangs were ready for an outside-the-box game-deciding play.
Conventional wisdom said Shamrocks running back Messiah Mickens, severely limited by injury, would get the ball. The sophomore Penn State recruit was handed the rock the previous play from the 2-yard line on a toss left and nearly squeezed through for the winning touchdown.
Mickens’ number wasn’t called on fourth down, though. Instead Trinity quarterback Caleb Wray took the snap and rolled out to his right hoping to catch the West Perry defense off guard.
The Mustangs were ready, and Wray saw nothing but a sea of white shirts in the end zone. His desperation pass was knocked down to secure West Perry’s gritty 19-16 Mid-Penn Capital Division victory at COBO Field.
West Perry stayed unbeaten and moved to 4-0 overall by rallying from behind in the fourth quarter of a game it largely controlled against a clearly sluggish Shamrocks squad. Trinity grabbed its only lead early in the fourth quarter on a Christian Joy 34-yard touchdown run that put the Shamrocks in front 16-13.
The Mustangs’ response was a well-orchestrated and statement-making 93-yard march that drained almost nine minutes off the clock.
Time to hand out some grades.
WEST PERRY MUSTANGS
Quarterback: The plan wasn’t to use veteran Marcus Quaker and the passing game as an integral part of the game plan. The quick and elusive Quaker was a master with his legs and converted a handful of third downs that way. On the winning touchdown drive he got away with a horrendous throw from his own end zone that should have been intercepted. He turned that break into a sneak for the winning touchdown. Grade: B-
Running back: Junior Brad Hockenberry hit the holes with authority all game. While he’s not a burner in the open field, he knows how to find space and add 2 or 3 yards to a carry. Caleb Gutshall did most of the heavy lifting in between the tackles and also slammed into holes with authority. That stood out about this duo more than anything. Gutshall did have a critical fumble, but otherwise this tandem carried the load. Grade: B+
Wide receivers: We all know Ian Goodling is the star of this corps, but on this night the plan was to pound the rock with an inside-outside combination until the Shamrocks made throwing the ball a necessity. And that never really happened as West Perry played with the lead almost the entire way. I was impressed with the receivers blocking downfield on outside runs. It made the ground game that much more effective. Grade: B
Offensive line: This group won the night in my book. The holes in the first half were massive, and the plan of going up the middle and then using traps on the outside to get the backs into space was executed to near perfection. Trinity adjusted and took away the outside edge in the second half, but the inside game was very much alive and kicking. West Perry won the battle of the line of scrimmage over the course of 48 minutes. Grade: A
Defensive line: It was a pretty even battle with the Trinity o-line, but on several key third downs early and that critical third down with its back against the goal line, the combination of Quade Boden and Kaleb Cordell made a couple simple but critical plays to hold their ground. Grade: B+
Linebackers: Plenty of two-way players for the Mustangs and the RB duo mentioned above also did some grinding on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker. The real key for me was the way Hockenberry and Gutshall handled their duties when going side-to-side and closing down those lanes in the open field. That was a game changer. Grade: B
Secondary: The number of balls actually thrown downfield by Trinity was maybe a handful. Most of the pass defense was based on getting off blocks to make tackles in space on short throws around the line of scrimmage. Only two or three big plays, and by my count that was better than average. And on that last play they were not fooled at all. That’s experience right there. Goodling was all over the field on defense. This group tackled extremely well in space. Grade: B
Special teams: Again we mention Goodling and Quaker because they also handle all the kicking and punting duties. The fake punt was not a good choice. It handed momentum to the Shamrocks when they couldn’t find any on their own accord. No need for that. Goodling’s kickoff variations of pooch, short pooch and squib were executed to perfection. Plus, he kicked a couple field goals in the first quarter to put points on the board. Grade: A-
Quarterback: I will say this about Wray: he makes the short throws along the line of scrimmage look easy. When he goes down the field, though, it becomes a box of chocolates. He didn’t have a say in that final throw, so no judgment there. The receiver was blanketed, and the element of surprise the call needed to make it work never materialized. Missed two wide open receivers on easy 20-yard throws, and one would have been for a touchdown. Gotta work on hitting those when the receiver is wide open. Grade: C
Running back: Mickens is an FBS recruit as a sophomore for a reason. Whatever the injury he suffered in the Wyomissing game last week was clearly still having an impact on him. Mickens was limping noticeably and clearly struggled to cut off what appeared to be an ankle or lower leg injury. Still ran wicked hard, but if I had to guess I would put his healthy percentage at maybe 60% at best. He didn’t have the ability to use his combination of speed and power. Joy is a nice second gear for the T-Rocks, but he can’t carry the load. He is massively effective in his role and made several big plays. Grade: A-
Wide receivers: Tough night for this group overall. They struggled to break tackles on receptions along the line of scrimmage in space, and they didn’t block that well for each other. Ran a couple nice deepish routes to get open but the throw let them down. Grade: C
Offensive line: Simply put, there were not many holes of any kind in the first half, and the Mustangs’ thirst for the game was clearly stronger. Now this group did find its way as the game progressed, but in the first half there literally was no room to roam inside the tackles. A limited star RB needed some help at the point of attack, but it wasn’t there on a consistent basis. And when they needed 2 yards to win the game, there wasn’t a hole for Mickens on a toss. Grade: C
Defensive line: The group was getting pushed around like a blocking sled most of the first half. They did adjust to what West Perry was doing and improved as the game went along. But when it mattered, the other team literally ran the ball almost exclusively down the field to post the eventual winning touchdown. Grade: C-
Linebackers: All I know was if it wasn’t for a very good night from this group, Trinity would not have had a chance to win this game. They cleaned up a lot of messes by making tackle after tackle to limit the damage. Jacob Ness was all over the place, and Hayden Johnson became more noticeable with each passing quarter. Grade: B
Secondary: Senior Collin Morrow had an interception in his hands early on that final West Perry drive, but instead of catching it he somehow tipped the ball up and the receiver came down with the grab. The Mustangs drove downt he field for the winning touchdown. That was a huge missed opportunity. Overall, this group was asked to do more in run support than they probably expected and did OK. Too many times the corners were getting tossed around on outside quarterback runs that went for 10-15 yards a pop. Grade: C
Special teams: The return game brought nothing to the table, but that’s because West Perry’s kicking game eliminated that possibility. No fault there. Kieran Finegan made a 42-yard field goal, but he also missed an extra point and was wide right on a 34-yard field goal attempt, both of those coming in the fourth quarter. Trinity lost by three, that’s some tough math. Those lost points had an impact. Grade: B-