New Castle outlasts Indiana in quarterfinals
New Castle (55) vs. Indiana (49)
Written: Nov 08, 2008
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
The rematch turned in to be the game for the ages last night.
The New Castle High football team avenged an earlier setback to Indiana by posting a 55-49 shootout victory in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals at Butler’s Art Bernardi Stadium.
“We felt coming in we could move the ball but our big concern was stopping them, which we didn’t do very well,” New Castle coach Frank Bongivengo Jr. said. “To be able to play a game in this type of atmosphere and do what we did to win, that’s a tribute to these kids.”
The Little Indians claimed a 27-18 victory over the Red Hurricane in the second week of the season.
Fourth-seeded New Castle (8-3) will meet top-seeded Thomas Jefferson (10-1) at a time, date and site to be determined by the WPIAL. It’s the ’Canes’ eighth consecutive victory.
New Castle advances to the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 1998, the last time the program won a WPIAL title. The program is searching for its 12th WPIAL championship.
FROM THE START
The Little Indians (8-3) tied the contest at 49 on a 1-yard run by quarterback Ben Fiscus with 6:28 to play. Fiscus is a grandson of former New Castle High football star and longtime high school football coach Chuck Abramski.
“I thought there would be a lot of scoring; I knew they had a good offense and I knew we had a good offense,” Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas. “Ben did a great job for us and he did everything he could.”
Fiscus posted 207 rushing yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns. He was 1 of 9 for seven yards through the air.
“I thought Fiscus can run that offense like nobody’s business,” Bongivengo said. “He showed it on the first drive and a lot more drives after that.”
The ’Canes used a time-consuming, 11-play drive to take the lead for good. Senior quarterback Michael Bongivengo, the coach’s son, ran eight yards down to the Indiana 3. On third down, he was stuffed for no gain.
New Castle called for a timeout to draw up a play that would gain the required yardage. It was no problem as Keith Keene took a pitch around the left side for a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:16 to go.
“That was a no-brainer to go for it there,” Frank Bongivengo Jr. said. “Our kicking game hasn’t been the greatest but Jajuan Jay did a heck of a job kicking extra points tonight.
“We had the play set up right. We wanted it in Keith’s hands. Once he squares his shoulders, he’s going to get it in the end zone.”
Keene finished with 187 rushing yards on 22 attempts and a pair of scores. Keene’s effort gives him 1,436 rushing yards, breaking the school’s single-season mark which was previously held by Greg Solomon set in 1983. Solomon amassed 1,407 yards on 224 attempts.
“I wanted the ball in my hands in that situation,” Keene said. “This was a great game from the start. I just knew I had to get it in the end zone.”
The ’Canes converted their first seven extra points. The string would stop with the eighth try as the snap was mishandled and the Little Indians stuffed the conversion rush to trail 55-49.
“Extra points were big all night for us,” Jay said. “I was confident I could kick a field goal if needed but I had more confidence in our offense.
“I was hoping to get the ball pitched back to me on the extra point but it never got back to me.”
Indiana took over on its own 25 with just 1:07 to play and a pair of timeouts. Fiscus converted a third down with a 10-yard run. He spiked the ball on first down to stop the clock with 45 seconds to play. After an incompletion, Fiscus appeared to connect with Jay Pettina for a first down along the sideline.
“It was just disappointing; we thought our guy was in bounds on that one pass,” Zilinskas said. “We thought he dragged his toes.”
However, the referees signaled incomplete and coaches along the Little Indians sideline were emphatic in their complaints. It was to no avail as Indiana was faced with fourth down. Fiscus fired another incompletion and the ’Canes were finally assured of a victory.
“I was just in shock when the clock hit all zeroes that we didn’t have another shot at scoring,” Zilinskas said.
New Castle trailed 21-14 late in the first half when Michael Bongivengo recorded a 2-yard touchdown run with 58.2 seconds left. However, the Little Indians quickly countered when Kyle Edgar returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to recapture a 28-21 advantage with 46.5 seconds to play.
“I think one of our guys just got out of their lanes,” Frank Bongivengo Jr. said.
The quick-strike ’Canes didn’t pack it in as Michael Bongivengo drove the team down toward the goal line. On second-and-10, he bought enough time and found Jay in the middle of the end zone for a 24-yard scoring aerial with just six-tenths of a second to play in the half. Jay outmaneuvered Kevin Stapleton for the ball.
“We just decided to grind it out there,” Michael Bongivengo said. “We knew we had to gut it out and put points on the board to stay in the game.
“The line took it upon themselves to give me time to throw the ball. Jajuan Jay just made an athletic play on the touchdown.”
Said Jay, “I was trying to get back in the end zone and he kept forcing me out. I finally got around and saw the ball and just caught it.”
GROUND AND AIR
New Castle took the lead at 35-28 on a 5-yard scamper by Michael Bongivengo with 8:53 left in the third quarter. He was able to push the pile into the end zone on the fourth-and-3 play.
Michael Bongivengo equaled Keene’s effort on the ground, recording 187 yards on 22 totes. He was also 9 of 15 through the air for 110 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Michael Bongivengo also tallied four rushing touchdowns.
“Our linemen are getting it done,” Michael Bongivengo said. “It feels great to be able to make those plays.”
The ’Canes’ defense recovered a Fiscus fumble on the Little Indians’ second play of their next possession. But, Michael Bongivengo was intercepted by Pettina, who returned it 28 yards for a score to knot the count at 35 with 6:53 to play in the third.
“We had a chance to put the game away and Michael made a bad decision,” Frank Bongivengo Jr. said. “That wasn’t where the ball should have been thrown; the kid made a nice break on it and picked it off.”
Indiana gambled with an onside kick and it recovered. This time, New Castle’s defense made a stand as Brandon Burley stuffed Vince Gatti on fourth down and the Little Indians turned the ball over on downs on the ’Canes’ 41.
“Friday is just a time to put the pads on make plays,” Burley said. “Our offense put it together all night and our defense came together late in the game; we played as a team and just made plays.”
New Castle rolled up 520 yards of total offense, including 410 on the ground. Indiana registered 360 yards of offense.
“I actually did expect a game like this,” Michael Bongivengo said. “I was thinking last night that they are a potent offense and we’re a potent offense. I was picturing a high scoring game.”
INDIANA NEW CASTLE
21 First downs 28
363 Yards Rushing 410
3 Yards Lost 0
360 Net Rushing 410
9 Passes Attempted 15
1 Passes Completed 9
0 Passes Intercepted 1
7 Yards Passing 110
367 Total Yards 520
4-2 Fumbles-Lost 1-1
0-0 Punts-Average 0-0
8-59 Penalties-Yards 9-68
INDIANA 6 22 14 7 — 49
NEW CASTLE 7 21 14 13 — 55
INDIANA — Ian Jones, 47-yard run (kick failed)
NEW CASTLE — Brandon Burley, 11-yard pass from Michael Bongivengo (Jajuan kick)
INDIANA — Jay Pettina, 2-yard run (Ben Fiscus run)
NEW CASTLE — Keith Keene, 4-yard run (Jay kick)
INDIANA — Vince Gatti, 14-yard run (Christopher Simpson kick)
NEW CASTLE — Bongivengo, 2-yard run (Jay kick)
INDIANA — Kyle Edgar, 88-yard kickoff return (Simpson kick)
NEW CASTLE — Jay, 24-yard pass from Bongivengo (Jay kick)
NEW CASTLE — Bongivengo, 5-yard run (Jay kick)
INDIANA — Pettina, 28-yard interception return (Simpson kick)
NEW CASTLE — Bongivengo, 53-yard run (Jay kick)
INDIANA — Fiscus, 1-yard run (Simpson kick)
NEW CASTLE — Bongivengo, 1-yard run (Jay kick)
INDIANA — Fiscus, 6-yard run (Simpson kick)
NEW CASTLE — Keene, 3-yard run (run failed)