By: Chris Manning | Towanda Daily Review | August 26, 2018
CANTON — One of the most important qualities in offense is trust.
No matter the talent a quarterback has to trust his receivers.
On Saturday afternoon Canton's Uriah Baillie had all the trust in the world in his receivers, especially Ben Knapp and Timmy Ward. That trust was rewarded with a 25-21 Warrior win over Towanda to start the season in NTL football action Saturday.
"Oh my gosh," Ward said after the game. "It's amazing. We knew all week if we came out here and just kept hammering the ball nonstop, just break them, we knew we would be able to beat them."
Towanda coach Craig Dawsey gave Canton a lot of credit for their play.
"They got the ball to their athletes and they just did a great job," he said. "We just have to play next Friday night. We had our chances to punch it in and we just have to learn to get better and move on."
It was a typical first week game — there were 17 penalties for 115 yards between the two teams — while offenses sputtered at times and defenses missed assignments.
But the two teams' stars were able to outshine all that with big runs and acrobatic catches.
It may be August on the calendar but the players played like it was November.
Nobody shined brighter than Canton's two receivers, Timmy Ward and Ben Knapp. Ward had seven catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns while Knapp had seven grabs for 106 yards and one touchdown.
Baillie was the main signal caller for Canton as an injury early in the game forced Michael Smithers to the sideline.
"I saw him go out and I was like, OK, he just went to take a breather," explained Baillie. "After three plays I was like, what am I still doing here by myself?"
The two normally split time at quarterback, depending on the play, and Baillie saw time under center last year, so he had experience.
But it still took him time to adjust.
"I was kind of nervous," he admitted. "I didn't believe in myself at the time but after I made some good plays I was like ‘alright, I got this.'"
Baillie was 14-for-29 for 207 yards with three touchdowns and two picks. He also rushed for 29 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
But it was his throws to Knapp and Ward, most of them jump balls, that showed the confidence he had in his teammates.
"In practice we work on our things and I find them every time," said Baillie.
On the Towanda side Tanner Kunkle found himself with the ball a lot as Canton keyed in on Zane Neubert.
Kunkle was 14-for-27 for 121 yards and a touchdown throwing while he also ran the ball 12 times for 62 yards.
Kunkle spread the wealth, hitting five different receivers as Brett Crispell and Preston Rogers each had four catches for 35 yards. Dylan Hartmann had three catches for 37 yards while Isaac Pelka had a seven yard touchdown grab.
Neubert couldn't find much room, rushing for 19 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown, but made some big plays on defense, including an interception.
Hartmann picked up some of the slack with 60 yards and a score on three carries.
The Black Knight offense started the halves well but couldn't get comfortable throughout the afternoon.
"They just made some nice adjustments," Towanda coach Craig Dawsey said. "We adjusted back over halftime and it came down to whoever wanted it most."
The Knights took the opening kick-off and first play from scrimmage Kunkle went around the left for 48 yards down to the Warrior 20 yard line. Two plays later he hit Crispell for a 10 yard pass to make it first and goal on six yard line.
Towanda then got on the scoreboard two plays after that as Kunkle was on the run and found Pelka in the back of the endzone for a 7-yard touchdown strike. Aizik Nimmo hit the point after and Towanda led 7-0 just 2:06 into the game.
Canton fumbled the ensuing kick-off away to Towanda, setting the Knights up at the Warrior's 46 yard line.
Two big pass plays got Towanda inside the Canton 30 but the Warrior's defense stiffened up and back to back negative yardage runs made it 4th-and-17 for Towanda.
They elected to punt and appeared to pin Canton inside their own five yard line. However, a penalty forced Towanda to punt it all over again and Canton got better field position the second time, starting at their own 28-yard line.
After that it became a field position game as the two teams traded 3-and-outs on the next four drives.
It wasn't until late in the first quarter when, on the the first play of Canton's third drive that Baillie took it 42 yards around the left side to pay-dirt. It also happened to be the Warrior's first first down of the game.
Nick May hit the point after and the two teams were locked up at 7-7 with 1:04 left in the quarter.
The stalemate continued into the second quarter as Towanda's next two drives ended in punts while Canton's ended in interceptions.
After the second pick Towanda got a big play to go their way as, on the first play from scrimmage, Hartmann went 50 yards untouched up the middle to the endzone. Nimmo's point after was good and the Knights retook the lead, 14-7, with 3:44 left in the game.
With only three first downs to their name Canton's offense needed something and found it on their final drive of the half.
It was Knapp.
The 6-foot, 5-inch receiver made four jump ball catches for 65 yards that drive, willing the Warrior offense down field.
His final catch was an 8-yard, one handed leaping grab on second and goal with 25 seconds before the half to cut the Towanda lead to one.
"I was just hoping I would catch it," remarked Knapp. "I didn't want to let my team down."
The point after was no good and the Black Knights kept their lead, 14-13, at the half.
"Our offensive line gave us great time," said Knapp about the drive. "Our quarterback gave me fair balls and I was fortunate enough to make great plays."
Canton needed somebody to step up as Towanda was doing a good job on Ward in that half, limiting him to one catch for 12 yards.
"Towanda's defense played awesome, good coverage," explained Ward.
That's when they started looking for holes elsewhere.
"They knew that Ben could make the plays," added Ward. "We gave him the ball and he did it."
At the half the Canton coaching staff implored their team to keep the effort up.
"It's a Saturday game, everybody is tired," said Canton coach Tyler Sechrist. "It's coming down to who breaks first. Don't break first. It all comes down to heart, just heart."
Canton got the ball to start the third quarter but were forced to punt.
Towanda's ensuing possession was their most complete drive of the second half. They went 55 yards on nine plays that ended with a 1-yard Neubert punch into the endzone. Nimmo's point after was true and Towanda extended their lead to 21-13 with 6:13 to go in the third quarter.
The key play that drive was a 16-yard pass play as Kunkle found Hartmann on 3rd-and-14 to keep the possession going.
The Knights' defense dug in after that, forcing Canton to punt on the ensuing possession.
Towanda's next possession ended with a lost fumble but Canton's ensuing drive ended on a Neubert one-handed interception where he reached back behind his head for his own highlight reel catch.
However, Towanda's offense spun their wheels. After picking up a first down two plays in on a Neubert 8-yard run they were dogged by a holding call that turned a third and short into a third and long. Kunkle's pass was incomplete and they were forced to punt it away.
But the Knight defense continued to hold, forcing Canton into a 3rd-and-6 near midfield. That's when Baillie found Ward on the outside in one-on-one coverage. Ward won the hand fight with his defender, caught the ball and took off for a 56 yard touchdown reception.
The Warrior's 2-point conversion was no good and Towanda held onto a tenuous 21-19 lead with 10:22 left.
The Knights' next possession was much like their last as a Kunkle to Crispell 7-yard hook up on third and long extended the drive and killed time Canton's defense forced them to punt after the next set of downs.
Towanda returned the favor on Canton's ensuing drive, forcing them into a three-and-out. After the Warrior punt the fourth quarter passed its halfway mark.
Towanda started out their next drive with back to back run plays. Then on third-and-7 they went to the air to try and extend the possession but Kunkle's pass was incomplete.
That forced the Knights to punt — a 43-yarder by Wyatt Ferris — that pinned Canton inside their own 30-yard line with less than three minutes to play.
With time enough for one more drive the Warriors went to work.
Baillie hit Ward on the first play from scrimmage for 11-yards. Two plays later he then found Knapp for seven yards, followed by Ward getting another 11 yards on third-and-3 that netted Canton a new set of downs.
After two incompletions Smithers, in for an injured Baillie, hit Knapp on another jump ball for 19 yards, a play that gave them a new set of downs and also set them up at the Towanda 24 yard line.
The Knight defense continued to dig in, forcing two more incompletions. Then on third down they had Baillie, who had returned, on the run.
He heaved it downfield towards Ward, who had a defender in his hip pocket with two more closing in.
The junior fought them off, caught the pass at the goal-line then fell backwards into the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown.
"I didn't know, so I just caught it and tried to back pedal as best as I could," said Ward.
Nobody was happier to see that ball come down in Ward's hands than Baillie.
"I threw it and it was a duck and I was like ‘oh boy, he either catches it or he does not,'" he remarked. "I saw the guy on his back right there. I just shut my eyes and when I opened them there was a flag on the ground and the ball in his hands."
"He's just a really good athlete," Dawsey said about Ward's play. "You keep going the well with that kid and you're going to make some plays eventually."
The 2-point conversion was no good but Canton led with 46 seconds to play.
On Towanda's ensuing drive Kunkle hit Crispell for a 9-yard gain but a false start backed them back up. His final two throws landed in complete and the Canton celebration was on.
This was a bit of a redemption game for Canton. Last year their hall of fame game they fell to Wyalusing in a close tilt.
"We came out here, we on the 10, 15 yard line and just couldn't get it in the endzone," Ward said. "I knew I had to make a play."
This is the type of win Canton needed to start the season if they're going to challenge for a league title.
"Its a great win for us," Knapp said. "It's a great thing for our program. Hopefully we can turn it around and turn it into a great season."
Canton will face Montgomery next week while Towanda takes on Sayre.
Sechrist would like to get his running game going more against a Red Raider team that was in a district final last season.
"We're not a big school," he said. "All our receivers are tired. We need to get more of a running game going to give our receives a break going forward."
Canton only had 56 yards on 18 carries.
As for the Knights, Dawsey isn't worried. They don't need to reinvent the wheel, just get it working better.
"I think we just have to finish," he remarked. "We just have finish drives a little bit offensively and just break down defensively and make some tackles. Just basic football stuff. I'm not in a panic, I really love these kids. They're just fantastic, great workers, great attitudes. So, we'll just keep getting better."