LORETTO - It was gritty and gutsy. It was rough and tumble. And, it was potentially costly.
More important than any of that, though? It was historic.
For the first time ever, Venango County will be represented in the Sweet 16 of the PIAA Class 5A football playoffs after Oil City battled its way to a 9-7 victory over Hollidaysburg on Friday night in a sub-regional contest at St. Francis University's DeGol Field
"It's nice to win," Oil City head coach Dan York said. "It's the first Oil City team to ever get to 12 wins, and I'm glad we got there."
The Oilers didn't get there without their fare share of setbacks, especially in the fourth quarter when standouts Noah Petro, Holden Stahl and Cam Russell all left the game with injuries at various points. Petro eventually returned to the field, but Stahl and Russell never did.
And while that situation is worth keeping an eye on moving forward, all it did on Friday night was prove that the Oilers' determination wasn't something to be questioned.
Trailing 7-3 at the break after gaining just 64 yards on the ground and being forced to pass an uncharacteristically high 10 times, Oil City (12-0) came out of the half and did what it does best - punch you in the mouth and then grind away at you.
Hollidaysburg (6-5) got the ball first in the third quarter and drove it down to the OC 10-yard line, but the Oiler defense stood tall, forcing a 24-yard field goal that sailed wide.
Taking over at its own 20, Oil City needed just one big play to flip the game's script.
After a two-yard loss on a run from Petro to open the drive, Stahl picked up six yards on the ground. On the drive's third play, Petro got another crack at it. He took the handoff, squeezed through a hole in the middle of the offensive line and found nothing but green turf in front of him. Seventy-six yards later, he was crossing the goal line to give Oil City a 9-7 lead with 5:51 left in the third. The extra point was missed, but it didn't turn out to matter as the Oiler defense took over from there.
The Golden Tigers' ensuing drive was the closest they would ever come to retaking the lead, driving down to the OC 20. But, faced with a fourth-and-nine, Stahl came up with a big play on defense from safety. Hollidaysburg quarterback Bryce Martellacci found a receiver beyond the first down marker and put it on his hands, but as soon as the wideout tried to tuck the ball away, Stahl lowered the boom and separated the receiver from the ball, resulting in an incompletion and a turnover-on-downs.
The Golden Tigers wouldn't enter Oiler territory again until the final seconds of the game when it was too-little, too-late because Oil City's offense was able to pick up enough first downs to steadily siphon time off the clock down the stretch.
In all, the OC defense surrendered just 240 yards in the game and provided relentless pressure down the stretch when Hollidaysburg was forced to pass its way to a comeback.
"They run to the football," York said of his team's defensive effort. "We might make some mistakes along the way, but they hustle and run to the football, and that's what good defenses do."
The only blemish for the OC defense came in the first quarter when Hollidaysburg put together a nine-play, 52-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard TD plunge from Trent Paddock.
That drive gave the Golden Tigers a 7-3 advantage after Max Latona had fired the game's opening salvo with a 25-yard field goal on OC's drive that kicked off the game. Latona's boot was set up by a 40-yard pass from Stahl to JT Stahlman.
Stahlman finished the game with 102 yards on four catches - all in the first half - while Stahl connected on 5-of-11 passes for 107 yards.
Petro, meanwhile, proved to be a workhorse once again, racking up 161 yards and the touchdown on 27 carries.
With the win, Oil City advances to take on Southern Lehigh in the next round at a date, site and time to be determined. Southern Lehigh defeated East Stroudsburg South by a 52-35 margin on Friday night.