By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | November 10, 2007
Four Hughesville players hit Austin Knighton and four players bounced right off. 50 yards later, Knighton stood alone in the end zone and victory was all but assured.
Knighton's 83 yard, third-quarter kickoff return put Loyalsock ahead by 26 points and helped seal a 58-21 District IV Class AA quarterfinal win over Hughesville Friday night at Kenneth Robbins Stadium.
More than anything, though, Knighton's return symbolized Loyalsock's night. A veteran-laden team that had waited nearly a full year to erase the images of last year's first-round loss at Athens, Loyalsock would not be denied Friday as it made all the right moves and won its first postseason game this decade.
"We expected this to happen this year. We didn't expect anything less and we're still not satisfied," said linebacker Don Kinney, who made nine tackles. "We want to show that we're a powerhouse in Double A and that people better be watching us."
Chances are that many are watching Loyalsock after last night's parade of big plays. And even more will be watching next week as the Lancers meet Montoursville in the semifinals at Loyalsock.
Loyalsock provided its viewers a highlight reel of big plays as the first-team offense scored on all six of its possessions and gained 401 yards before coming out early in the fourth quarter. Add in Knighton's kickoff return and Jesse Eggerton's 84 yard kickoff return and the Lancers scored in all ways except defensively.
"We just couldn't stop them," Hughesville coach Rick Reichner said. "We did some nice things offensively and made some adjustments from the first time we played (in Week 4) and were able to move the ball and do some things consistently, but the defense just couldn't get them off the field."
Hughesville won its last three games to reach districts for a third straight year. With a bevy of talented players returning next year, the future might belong to Hughesville.
But last night belonged to Loyalsock.
The Lancers (9-2) built a 28-0 second-quarter lead and never led by less than 19. Thirteen of Loyalsock's 26 first-half plays gained at least 10 yards. Knighton ran for 100 yards and three touchdowns, while Shane Carey threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Carey's 66 yard scoring strike to Robbie Wright (6 catches, 135 yards) highlighted a 21-point first-quarter scoring flurry.
"Our offensive line is so big this year and does such a great job," Carey said. "They've been doing it all year and they continue to do it. They open up the holes for the run and they give me time to throw and you can't ask for more."
Especially when you consider the blocking in the return game. Hughesville appeared poised to possibly get back in the game in both the second and third quarters after solid scoring drives, but Eggerton and Knighton stifled that momentum both times.
Eggerton broke out of traffic and went down the left sideline on his 84 yard return that gave Loyalsock a 34-7 lead. Knighton picked up a bouncing ball at the 17-yard line a quarter later, bounced off several defenders and outran them all over the final 50 yards while delivering a knockout blow to Hughesville's comeback hopes.
"He (Knighton) has been in there on returns, but he's usually an upback," Loyalsock coach Dick Delaney said. "We put him back there and off he went. They get two scores off you and each time they score you run a kickoff back. You can't beat that."
Hughesville is not a lot different than Loyalsock was last year. Now the young Spartans hope they make similar strides and experience the kind of feeling Loyalsock is this morning.
Hughesville laid a strong foundation for the future by winning its last three regular-season games and reaching districts after starting 2-5. The Spartans showed plenty of tenacity again last night, scoring on three of four series between the second and third quarters. Senior fullback Ammon Swisher led the way and ran for 120 yards while surpassing 1,000 for the season.
"Our kids still had their heads up and they kept fighting like they did all year and that's a credit to them," Reichner said. "They didn't give in, they didn't quit and they have a lot to be proud of. They kept fighting and that's all you can ask of them."
While the Lancers were building a 28-0 lead, Loyalsock's defense was stifling Hughesville. Loyalsock held Hughesville to 26 yards on its first three possessions as linebacker Jamie Van Fleet recorded a game-high 14 tackles.
That's the way Loyalsock will need to play next week as it meets the two-time defending district champions in a game that should have Lycoming County buzzing all week.
"Next week is going to be really good. I'm really excited and everyone's really excited," Kinney said. "Montoursville's a good rivalry so it's going to be a great game."