Pottsville coach Bryan Rust appeared to get a birthday present with 3:05 to play Friday night when Michael Hesson didn’t catch a pitch from Ethan Dobbs and Ben Jones recovered for the Apaches at the Bearcat 32-yard line.
Two plays later Hesson took the gift back when he stripped the ball away from Elijah Bradley and the Bearcats (3-0) went on to a 28-26 win at Bearcat Stadium.
While the Bearcat fumble was their only turnover of the night, the Apache return fumble was their third.
While the Bearcats made Pottsville (1-1) extinguish their time outs, a carry out of bounds by Carson Ray would get the Apaches the ball back with 46 seconds to play.
But they got it back at their ownn 6 after a 46 yard punt by Hesson.
The Apaches were able to move to the 22, survived a Jones fumble, a spike, attempted a double pass and eventually had a pass dropped before the game finally ended.
More than two and a half hours earlier the game began with a squib kick, which Anthony McKesson recovered, but an unnecessary shot from an Apache gifted the Bearcats 15 yards to the Pottsville 42.
It was an omen. There would be plenty of penalty flags. Pottsville had 12 accepted for 94 yards; the Bearcats 10 assessed infractions cost them a touchdown, and 83 yards. There were offsetting penalties and one on Booneville declined in favor of a second, more costly, penalty on the same play.
Starting from the Apache side of the field Dobbs got 2 yards, Carson Ray was stopped for no gain, but Anthony Robertson got free for a 40-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with Gavin Kent’s point after.
Pottsville answered with a scoring drive of their own, going 64 yards in just six plays. Kurtis Kemp scored on a 23-yard run but Dobbs blocked the Justin Mullinax point after to keep it 7-6 with 7:55 left in the opening quarter.
The Bearcats put together two first downs but a holding penalty disrupted their second possession but a false start infraction helped induce a Pottsville’s punt.
A 12 play drive that took 6:15 gave the Bearcats a 14-6 lead when Robertson scored his second touchdown on a 14-yard run. The play was on a third-and-1 that was set by an offside penalty on Pottsville at the 18, that moved the ball to the 14 with 7:52 to play in the half.
McKesson picked off Jones at the 4:19 mark of the quarter and the Bearcats went in front 21-6 just 16 seconds before the intermission.
Easy it was not. Ray lost a touchdown run of 22 yards to a penalty, after there had already been a dead ball set of personal fouls.
That would be followed by a block in the back flag, also on the Bearcats, and a helmet-to-helmet contact foul on the Apaches.
The later made it third-and-1 and Jeremy Elliott got 4 yards to move the chaings.
Ray got the final 11 yards, with carries of 5 and 6 yards sandwiched around a time out. Kent’s PAT, after another offside penalty for a yard and a half, made it 21-6.
Out of the intermission Pottsville seized momentum when Mullinax took the opening kickoff back 82 yards for a touchdown. Robertson and Hesson prevented a 2-point conversion to keep it 21-12.
Pottsville then forced a three-and-out by the Bearcats and took over at their own 22.
However, on the next play, Noah Reyes, who had been largely quiet to that point, dropped Kemp for a 2-yard loss and foced a fumble that McKesson recovered at the Apache 20.
Schlinker hooked up with Robertson for a 15-yard gain to the 3 on third down and the Apaches contributed a roughing the passer penalty to set up Ray’s second touchdown run, from the 1 and it was 28-12 with 8:45 to play in the third quarter.
The Apaches answered with a 65-yard drive, scoring on a third-and-9 12-yard pass from Jones to Drew Rust. Jones ran for the 2-point conversion to cut it to 28-20 with 4:48 left in the third quarter.
The Bearcats kept the ball until the 11:06 mark of the final quarter but Ray was stopped a yard short on a fourth-and-2 at the Pottsville 24.
The ensuing possession included a holding call and a false start on Pottsville but three personal foul calls on the Bearcats, including a late hit out of bounds and a facemask, subtracting either of which would have killed the drive. The third call moved the Apaches to the Bearcat 8 and Kemp scored from the 6 to make it 28-26 with 4:48 to play.
There was also an unsportsmanlike penalty on the play that forced an attempt to tie the game to occur from the 18, and Jones was forced to throw the ball away by Jordan Pirraglia.
Pottsville opted to kick away rather than an onside kick but Mullinax’s kick bounced out of bounds about the 12. Still, at the 3:05 mark the Apaches got the fumble after a pass to Dobbs.
That came after a delay of game call — the play clock did not operate during the game — on a third-and-6 as the Bearcats were trying to draw Pottsville offside.
Having played on the newly created Week Zero, the Bearcats have an open date on Friday before opening Conference 3A-1 play at Paris. The Eagles area also open this week after an 0-3 start.