SHORT GAP, W.Va — After Weir whittled a once-17-point edge to just four with 3:10 left to play on Friday, Frankfort needed somebody on offense to step up to secure its second win in as many games.
Parker VanMeter was up to the challenge. The sophomore burst through the line on the Red Riders’ 20, and it appeared as if a defender would bring him down short of the end zone.
But 5-foot-9, 180 pound VanMeter wouldn’t be denied, dragging the would-be tackler what seemed like 10 yards across the goal line. The Falcon faithful and bench erupted as he put six crucial points on the board, the final score of a wild second half as Frankfort held on to beat Weir, 37-26.
“I’m glad we got the win,” Falcons head coach Kevin Whiteman said. “I was a little concerned there in the second half. In the first half, I thought we played well defensively, but our offense was very slow starting, too many mistakes.”
Frankfort entered 1-0 following a 46-0 win over Hampshire on the Trojans’ new turf field. Weir fell to Class AAA John Marshall, 48-6, in its first contest, but came in confident after beating the Falcons, 28-27, in overtime last season.
After a slog offensively to begin the first 30 minutes of action, both teams exploded in the second half.
The squads combined for 49 points following intermission — the Falcons scoring 30 to the Red Riders’ 19, and 411 yards of offense — Weir tallied 254 to 167 from Frankfort.
The Falcons were stymied in the opening half on the ground, rushing for just 33 yards in the 7-7 halftime tie. But Whiteman and his staff made the adjustment to call more power sweeps to get the ball outside, and the move paid dividends as Frankfort ran for 167 yards in the second half alone.
Andrew Westfall had 6 carries for 70 yards, all of which came in the second half, and a score. Jansen Moreland went for 62 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 13 carries.
“I thought we moved the ball well in the second half,” Whiteman said. “Proud of the coaching staff, we made some good adjustments at halftime. We just have to keep our foot on the gas and not let up. We’ve got to keep playing, and we can’t have the big turnovers that killed us. I’m proud of the effort, but we still have a ton of things we need to work on.”
The lapse in play Whiteman is alluding to came after Frankfort upped its edge to 30-13 with just 10 minutes left in the action.
Weir responded with a 6-play, 73-yard drive capped by a Justin Brueck 18-yard scamper. The Falcons then gave the ball back on the ensuing offensive possession on a fumble, and Red Rider quarterback Anthony DiMatteis rushed for a 35-yard score on the first play to bring it to 30-26.
Weir running back Jamari Bass had 12 carries for 88 yards to lead both teams. Receiver Gage Reitter caught six passes for 73 yards and a score.
Despite the up-and-down night defensively for Frankfort, the unit was opportunistic.
Westfall picked off DiMatteis twice, including a game-icing interception on Weir’s last stand offensively, and defensive lineman Taylor Miller caught a batted pass at the line from the Red Rider gunslinger for a pick of his own, taking it to the five-yard line to set up a Corey Brieloff field goal.
DiMatteis finished 14 of 26 for 135 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He added 65 yards on the turf.
“Overall, the defense bent, but they didn’t break,” Whiteman said. “They did give up some big plays, but we were able to hang on in the end and win the game, and that’s what matters.
“Andy Westfall is a veteran, he’s been starting since he was a sophomore, and he does a good job.”
The Falcons were also recipients of big special teams plays. Kick returner Peyton Clark took an 86-yard return to the house after Weir cut the deficit to 20-13 in the third quarter.
In the first half, both sides started slow offensively. Each of the first seven drives ended in punts — the first two drives by both teams ended in 3-and-outs.
With 10 minutes left in the second quarter, Weir gifted the struggling Falcons’ offense a golden opportunity to put its first points on the board.
The Red Rider long snapper launched the ball over the punter, and although they recovered the miscue, Jake Clark made the tackle to set up a short field on the Weir 12-yard line. Two plays later, Moreland bursted through the end zone for a two-yard score to give Frankfort a 7-0 lead with 9:20 left in the opening half.
But the Falcons returned the favor in moments, as Colton McTaggart’s pass appeared to be tipped and directed into the hands of Weir defensive back Jayden Anderson, who ran 22 yards into the Frankfort end zone to level the scoreboard at 7-all.
Neither team eclipsed 100 yards going into the break — the Falcons had just 70 yards, trailing the Red Riders’ 97.
The script completely flipped after the break, though, as Frankfort was able to hold on in the second-half shootout behind VanMeter’s fourth-quarter score — he ended with five carries for 42 yards — to improve to 2-0.
Frankfort visits Berkeley Springs on Friday at 7 p.m.
“We’re still out of rhythm, out of sync on offense and we’re not staying with our blocks long enough,” Whiteman said. “Our guys were fighting and battling, but we still need to work on both sides of the ball.”
Alex Rychwalski is a sportswriter for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.