PURCHASE LINE — Purchase Line’s final game of the season was the definition of bittersweet.
The Red Dragons missed out on the District 6 Class A playoffs, but wrapped up their first winning season in years.
They played in the bad weather with terrible field conditions, but put up huge numbers and came away with a blowout win.
Their star’s high school career came to an end in his team’s finale, but his last game was just as astounding as the rest of his senior season.
Grant Syster rushed for 295 yards and five touchdowns to lead Purchase Line to a 50-14 victory over Heritage Conference foe Saltsburg in a non-conference game at rainy, chilly Barry T. Madill Field.
Syster, who rushed for 333 yards and seven touchdowns against the Trojans in Week 1, finished the season with 2,533 yards and 32 touchdowns. He scored on runs of 75, 40, 15, 38 and 67 yards and did not have a carry in the Red Dragons’ final three possessions of the game.
“Nobody has ever had a season like that in the history of Indiana County football,” Purchase Line coach Brandon Overdorff said. “What else do you need to say? He’s unbelievable. He’s a big, strong kid, and the numbers speak for themselves.
Syster was led for most of the season by linemen Royce Bish, Andy Bouch, Colin Jennings, Will Syster and Zachary Book.
“Grant has fantastic vision,” Saltsburg coach Tim Frassenei said. “I was proud tonight because even though he broke off for a couple big ones on us, we made him work a little harder than we did in Week 1. We got some kids to the ball, but unfortunately, it’s not enough. Their offensive line did a phenomenal job and we couldn’t get any penetration.”
Despite the win, the Red Dragons fell short of a berth in the postseason when Williamsburg beat Homer-Center to claim the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Purchase Line and Williamsburg were tied in the standings heading into the final week of the regular season.
“You can’t dwell in the past,” Overdorff said. “We had opportunities early in the season in some of those close games to pull off victories and get in on our own, and we didn’t do that. Those are past. You can only live in the present, and we had to win. That’s the only thing we could control, and we did that. Unfortunately, we left it in somebody else’s hands and they didn’t get it done for us. But that’s our fault.”
The Red Dragons finished their season at 6-4, their first winning season since going 11-1 in 2008.
Saltsburg, on the other hand, ended its campaign with a 1-9 record and hasn’t had a winning season in the Heritage Conference era. Purchase Line crushed Saltsburg 58-19 in the season opener for both teams on Aug. 29.
“When you take your lumps like we have, you’re either going to go one of two ways,” Frassenei said. “You’re either going to cash it in, or you work your tail off. And if you put in the work, you will reap the rewards.”
“We’re going to hit the weight room, and we’re going to get bigger and stronger,” Saltsburg junior Tanner Yard said. “We just need to work hard. We want to win.”
Yard scored both of the Trojans’ touchdowns, on 30-yard and 10-yard passes from Frankie Plowman.
“We figured out pretty early in the game that our run wasn’t working too well, and they had a big defensive front, so we were forced to put the ball in the air,” Yard said.
Plowman finished 4 of 17 for 80 yards with two touchdowns with an interception.
Both teams fumbled five times, and each lost two.
“With the field conditions — especially when we’re running a shotgun offense, it’s going to happen,” Frassenei said. “You never want it to happen, and you hope it doesn’t happen, but it was kind of to be expected in this weather tonight.”
Purchase Line outgained Saltsburg 552-135. The Trojans had minus-5 yards in the first quarter.
“They gave us some different looks than they gave us in Week 1,” Frassenei said. “They played a lot of no safety and a lot of man coverage. That’s a good ball club we played, and that’s a lot of good athletes over there.”
Freshman Shamar Campbell started at quarterback for the Red Dragons in place of starter Sam Stanford, who was injured late in last week’s game against Penns Manor.
Campbell has seen significant playing time this season, but never at quarterback. He rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown and passed for 64 yards and a touchdown.
“I was nervous, but I just had to rely on my line,” Campbell said. “I was terrified, but I was just following my line and hoped they blocked. And of course they did, and I was just so happy.”
“We’ve been pushing him to try to get him better at that position,” Overdorff said of Campbell. “He’s been reluctant actually to play that position because he didn’t have the confidence. He was a little nervous as a freshman getting to play at quarterback. Sam Stanford got injured, so he didn’t have a choice. He is all we have, and he really stepped up and did a great job running the ball and throwing the ball. He showed a lot of potential for the future.”
The future of both programs is questionable.
Frassenei said after Friday’s game that he is “unsure” about his coaching future, with his son, Tyler, set to graduate this year. Frassenei is 15-52 with the Trojans since the 2008 season. It’s been a rough road, but he said the players have remained positive.
“They want to have fun,” Frassenei said. “They’re supposed to have fun, but the jubilation you get from winning, you can’t replace that. And that’s what’s fun.
“If you would’ve walked into practice on Wednesday, you wouldn’t have known if it was Week 1 or Week 10. The kids are phenomenal kids. They’re resilient with short-term memories, and they want to work. I yell and scream at them and try to make them better, but sometimes they’re giving all they have and sometimes it’s just not enough.”
Purchase Line will be without Syster next season and will have to lean on younger players to be successful.
“We haven’t thought about next season until right now, when the season’s over,” Overdorff said. “We’re trying to build a program. That’s been the emphasis since Day One. You have to work yourself up, and we are definitely on the rise a little bit. We’re going to lose some quality seniors, and you never know what lies ahead. But we know what some of these kids can do. We have some kids coming back, but we’re going to have big holes to fill.”
In the past few weeks, Syster broke the Purchase Line single-season rushing record and career rushing record (both held by Overdorff, set in 1990) and shattered the area’s single-season rushing record, which was held Penns Manor’s Danny Ferens (2011.)
He also tied the area’s single-season scoring record with 218 points, pulling even with Blairsville’s Bud Constantino (1948), and posted the third-highest single-season total offense in area history. Only Ferens (2,744 yards in 2011) and Trevor Henderson (West Shamokin, 2,706 yards in 2003) had more. Both were quarterbacks.
“The records don’t really matter,” Overdorff said. “The high school experience is about playing with your teammates and battling every week to win football games. I had my time, and now this is his time, and we’re just blessed to be able to experience these things as a high school football player. I’m just tickled that Grant gets to feel what I got to feel 20 years ago.”