Mechanicsburg’s football dreams might be starting to come true because of Brandon Purk, a stingy defense and an opportunistic offense.
All three — and three big parts of Purk’s game — did Friday night what no team had done for 32 regular-season games: beat West Liberty-Salem 32-22 to stop the Tigers’ winning streak.
“I’m just so excited for everyone,” said Purk after his team’s first win over WLS since 2008. “For us to come up here and get a win, this could give us our playoff berth we’ve always wanted, that our seniors have dreamed for … I’m so emotional right now. It’s just amazing.”
The Indians (5-2, 3-1 Ohio Heritage Conference) entered the game rated No. 8 in their region in Division VI. The Tigers (6-1, 3-1) were rated No. 6, so this win will certainly boost the Indians this week.
“These seniors are a great, great group of young men,” Indians coach Kurt Forrest said. “And they have fought their tails off and they’ve stuck together for four years. This one meant a lot to them.”
The Tigers tried to come from behind like they did last week at Greeneview. Down 25-14, Brandon Upton threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Landon Williams and a two-point pass to Ben Burden to cut the Indians’ lead to 25-22 with 5:20 left.
Then it was Purk time again. Freshman quarterback Kaleb Romero threw high and deep to Purk on third down. Purk found the ball, the defender didn’t, and Purk ran the last 50 yards untouched to put the game out of the Tigers’ reach.
“That was absolutely crazy,” Purk said. “Words can’t even describe what that felt like.”
Purk kicked field goals of 42 and 43 yards in the first half after WLS jumped to a 7-0 lead. Purk closed the first half with a seven-yard touchdown catch on a fade pattern for a 19-7 lead. And all through the game his punting and deep kickoffs kept the Tigers in poor field position. Three times his punts pinned the Tigers inside their 10 and another time inside their 20.
“He’s as good as this league has seen kicking the ball and catching the ball,” Forrest said. “He’s a kid we expect to make plays like that, and he came through in a humongous way.”
Tigers first-year coach Dan McGill said the Indians’ defensive front caused his offense problems. And he wants his team to grow beyond being just a second-half team.
“Sometimes the toughest lessons you learn are the ones after you fall down,” McGill said. “These guys will be OK. I told them we’ll be all right and our goals are still in front of us.”