By: Mitch Rupert | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | November 21, 2009
TOWANDA - Todd Tilford never envisioned this chapter of Lewisburg's football season.
He didn't see it coming as an assistant coach for the Green Dragons during one of the worst stretches of football in the school's history, and he didn't even see it in August despite coming off a season in which Lewisburg won the school's first-ever district playoff game.
So knowing that his Green Dragons are not only going to play in the District 4 Class AA title game, but they're going to host it after a 19-14 victory over previously unbeaten Towanda on Friday night, is beyond Tilford's wildest dreams.
But that's exactly what is going to happen next week. Lewisburg, a program that is just two years removed from a six-year stretch of football in which it went just 10-60 is going to play a 13th game for the first time in school history. It's the Green Dragons' first appearance in a District 4 championship game. And they'll face Loyalsock, a 17-6 winner over Hughesville last night in the other semifinal.
"We thought we could go far, so this is just about what we thought we could do," Lewisburg linebacker Brandon Smith said. "But this is the first time we've ever done this, so it's pretty awesome."
"As an assistant, to even be playing for a district championship probably wasn't a realistic goal at this point," Tilford said. "We'd be lying if we said we expected to be playing for a district title with the kids we had coming back at the beginning of the year. But that's just a credit to how hard they've worked to get here."
Lewisburg did it by holding Towanda (11-1) to its lowest point total of the season, and keeping the Black Knights under 30 points for just the third time this season. The Green Dragons did it by holding 1,500 yard back Travis Chesla, a legitimate all-state candidate, to just 70 yards on 23 carries.
And they did it by coming up with timely stop after timely stop, which included Smith sacking Towanda quarterback Dakota Roof on a fourth-and-nine play from the Lewisburg 35-yard line with just 1:25 to play in the game.
"The whole plan was to stop (Chesla)," said Smith, who had one of the Green Dragons' two sacks of Roof. "The linemen made it easy for the linebackers. They stopped the front surge and then the linebackers could just go get him."
Although Towanda ran for 199 yards, most of that came between the 20s, and most of it came from Roof (105 yards, 2 touchdowns). But it was that sack, in which Roof rolled to his right looking for receiver Cody Miller on a pass pattern he had been open on three or four times earlier in the night, that was the defining play for the Lewisburg defense.
"Cody Miller was open, even on that play," Towanda coach Craig Dawsey said. "Dakota just got sacked before he could throw the ball. We tried to hit Miller on that three or four times during the night. This time we just got sacked."
Defender in his face or not, Roof had trouble getting the passing game going for the Black Knights on a night they sorely needed it to help open up some space for Chesla and the running game. Roof was just 4-of-17 passing, and didn't complete his first pass until there was 8:40 left in the third quarter.
His first possession interception by Lewisburg's John Moscarello led to the Green Dragons' first touchdown. Just two plays following the pick, Quarterback Cam Cassells found receiver Ryan Lopes on an out route. And after Towanda's Miller tried to go for the ball, Lopes slipped a tackle and tip-toed down the sideline for a 17 yard touchdown connection.
"Ryan and Cam are starting to click a little bit," Tilford said. "Ryan's got great hands, and he made two impressive runs after the catch tonight."
That's right, the pair hooked up again in the second quarter with the score tied at 7-7. Cassells hit Lopes on a slant and Lopes pulled up after making the catch before the Towanda safety could lay a big hit on him. Lopes slipped one tackle and was off to the races on a 29 yard touchdown strike.
And even though Lewisburg missed the extra point for a 13-7 lead, it had set the tone for the game. The defense carried that tone in the second half by stalling a Towanda drive at the Lewisburg 12-yard line, only to see Roof then miss a 29 yard field goal attempt with just one second left in the first half.
"I think that stop at the end of the first half was huge, and the defense just came up huge there," Tilford said. "The kids were all fired up in the locker room and you could see they had the confidence."
They gained just a little more confidence when a bad punt snap for Towanda on the first possession of the second half gave the Green Dragons the ball at the Black Knights 14-yard line and led to a Merle Moscarello five yard touchdown run and a 19-7 lead.
"Those little details are the things that can hurt you," Dawsey said of the bad punt snap and missed field goal. "And we practice those things all the time. It's just one of those nights where things didn't happen the way we wanted it to. It's a great football game. We just didn't win."
"Nobody has two kids in the backfield as good as (Chesla and Roof)," Tilford said. "We put it on our defense all year, and they came up big again tonight."