ERIE — The scene played out like the end of a movie, with tears mixing with sweat and smiles shining through grime.
The drama looked a bit out of place for a season opener, but for the Erie Tigers, this was no ordinary first game.
In the debut of the school’s nameless new stadium, which stood packed against a barren plain, the Tigers
capitalized on the Frederick Warriors’ early mistakes and
held off a furious late rally to beat their most intense rivals, 18-13.
As they walked off the pristine field turf with the Miners Trophy in hand, it was difficult to imagine a more triumphant scenario, even if their schedule is only beginning.
“There were so many things going on tonight,” Erie coach Larry Gartrell said. “It’s the first game under the lights in this stadium; it’s a talented group of young kids who were untested. Then you throw into the mix that we’re playing Frederick.
“We kind of tried to keep it low key this week, because we knew the kids realized what was going on. I think they responded real well.”
The Tigers not only responded well, they got a lot of help from the Warriors, who fumbled six times in the first half, losing three.
The Tigers took advantage of the Frederick blunders with 11 minutes, 48 seconds left in the first half, when Erie junior quarterback Kevin Kosorok connected with senior tight end Nick Spendlow from 9 yards out.
It wasn’t until the end of the game that Spendlow realized he would become the answer to a local trivia question.
“I haven’t played much offense at all, so I thought it was cool just to punch it in,” said Spendlow, who played linebacker exclusively last season. “It didn’t even cross my mind that it was the first touchdown ever in this stadium.”
Kosorok threw another touchdown with :36 left before halftime, hitting junior Mike Rahrich in the back of the end zone to take a 12-0 lead into the locker room.
The Warriors, however, could not have been more disappointed with their performance early. In addition to the fumbles, they collected 40 yards worth of penalties in the first half.
“The fumbles, even the ones we didn’t lose, were drive stoppers,” Frederick coach Thad Lear said. “They capitalized on our mistakes; you’ve got to give them credit for that.”
The Warriors, however, deserve credit for not giving up, especially after Erie running back Jared Baros broke free for a 72-yard run on the second play of the second half. Erie scored two plays later.
The play appeared to break the game wide open, but it ended up being vital for the Tigers due to an impressive Warriors comeback.
Carried by a suddenly effective offensive line and the introduction of running back Dennis Hanes — he finished with 15 carries for 91 yards, all coming in the second half — the Warriors scored their first touchdown with 1:37 left in the third quarter on a 1-yard sneak from quarterback Cavin Thome-Bejamo that capped a 10-minute drive.
On the next series, the Warriors forced a turnover and found the end zone again with 9:45 left when fullback David Baldwin ran 33 yards untouched to make it 18-13.
But the Tigers stopped Frederick’s drive in the final minutes and were able to drain the clock.
“In years past, down three scores, we would have folded up the tent and went home,” Lear said. “We had our shot, but we missed it.”
They did miss, and the Tigers walked away from their new home with the most excitement and satisfaction they’ve felt since their 1997 state championship season.
“We’re in our new house, in front of a lot of people, and we’re playing Frederick, who hates us,” Spendlow said. “I can’t explain it much more than that. This is just great for us.”