By: Jake Felix | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | November 14, 2009
DANVILLE - Loyalsock's Stephen Stopper still returns kicks and shows signs that made him one of the elite running backs in the area during the first part of the high school football season.
Make no mistake, though. Stopper is the Lancers' quarterback.
The senior proved Friday night his arm is just as prolific as his feet, throwing two touchdown passes to Frankie Pagana, as the Lancers rolled Danville, 35-3, in a District 4 Class AA quarterfinal.
"We knew we'd be able to throw the ball against them," said Stopper. "When I was running back, I got to carry the ball a lot, so I kind of wanted to throw the ball."
He'll get the chance to throw more next week when the Lancers (8-3) travel to Hughesville in a District 4 semifinal. The Spartans, who defeated Athens Friday night, 27-14, shut out the Lancers, 21-0, in Week 2.
"The kids have been looking forward to this since Week 2," said Loyalsock coach Alex Jackson, "but Hughesville is tough."
The new-look Lancers appear to be, as well.
Stopper threw touchdown passes of 31 and 39 yards to Pagana in the second quarter as 'Sock opened a 14-3 lead before putting the game out of reach with 21 fourth quarter points, which included a 51 yard run by the former tailback.
Danville (8-3) allowed six touchdown passes a week earlier to Jersey Shore and that didn't go unnoticed by Stopper, Pagana and former Jersey Shore coach turned Loyalsock offensive coordinator Frank Girardi Jr.
"All week we watched film on Jersey Shore who had success throwing the ball against Danville," said Stopper. "My dad and I watched hours and hours of film to see what opens up on that defense, and what we noticed was when they went to single safety all I'd have to do is look off and Frankie would have single coverage."
Girardi Jr. gave his senior receiver a shot at a deep ball on the Lancers' first offensive play, but while that didn't connect, it was a preview of the Lancers' game plan. Finally on their third drive, the Lancers turned to the deep ball again and Pagana ran right by a Danville defender and Stopper hit him in stride for an easy touchdown.
"We had a young guy playing (safety) back me there, a sophomore," said Danville coach Jim Keiser. "He got caught up looking up a little bit too much for the run and we got beat and (cornerback) Garrett (Llewellyn) just didn't get around quick enough.
"We're young and we'll learn from this and get better."
Stopper found Pagana on an identical play on the first play of their fifth drive after Danville hit a field goal to pull within, 7-3.
"We saw their defensive backs were a little weak, so we thought we could take advantage of them," said Pagana.
The Lancers' former featured tailback threw for 210 yards and completed 6 of his 10 passes.
While offense turned to the pass, the defense concentrated on stopping the run.
Jackson made a point to tell his players following last week's win against Shamokin they had to do a better job of containing their opponents' running game and they were up to the task against the Ironmen. Danville rushed for just 84 yards on 26 carries and Mikeal Owens-Wright had only 16 of those yards.
Loyalsock's defensive line eliminated the cutback lanes of the Ironmen's home run threat and as he attempted to stretch plays to the boundary, the Lancers' second-line defenders pursued like vultures ready to clean up the scraps.
"We thought we had him a couple of times, but we missed our blocks," said Keiser. "But they have some outstanding linebackers that get to the ball well and they did a nice job."
Russell Heath had some success with inside runs, gaining 73 yards on 11 carries, but the Lancers feasted on Owens-Wright and the passing game, which accounted for three turnovers.