By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | November 29, 2009
LEWISBURG - One play after splitting two defenders and connecting with Frankie Pagana on a 32 yard completion, Loyalsock quarterback Stephen Stopper dropped back again and looked for his dependable receiver.
Stopper threw a long pass down the left sideline but with two Lewisburg defenders waiting in the end zone, it seemed destined to be intercepted. Instead, Stopper put enough air under the ball to loft it past four outstretched hands and into Pagana's. That was the way things went for Loyalsock Saturday. Even when it looked like plays would not work they still did and the result was a dominant performance and another notch in the belt of a program becoming one of District 4's elite.
Stopper ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more, the defense allowed just seven yards on the last 26 plays and Loyalsock rolled to a convincing 41-6 District 4 Class AA championship win Saturday at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium. The Lancers (10-3) captured their second district title in three years and their third straight postseason crown after winning the 2008 Eastern Conference title.
"This is awesome," said defensive lineman Derek Mandresh, who was fearsome up front, recording six tackles and two sacks. "Coming into this game Lewisburg had beaten Towanda and beaten all these good teams and I was not expecting to blow them out like this. It was just a team effort from everybody and it's amazing."
One could say the same about Loyalsock's postseason run.
The sixth-seeded Lancers became the lowest seed to capture a District 4 championship in any classification this decade and did so by winning three straight road games against teams that had won 19 straight games. Loyalsock, which meets Lancaster Catholic in the state quarterfinals next Saturday afternoon at Shamokin, outscored Danville, Hughesville and Lewisburg, 93-15 and has won five straight road playoff games dating back to last year.
"I think we proved this team is definitely a great team," said Stopper, who topped both 100 yards rushing and passing. "We just want to keep the tradition going and we knew we had to carry that on."
Loyalsock has peaked at the perfect time and Saturday it delivered its virtuoso performance, dominating all aspects while inflicting the mercy rule by late in the third quarter against a team that had won eight straight games and had beaten top-seeded Towanda as well as defending district champion Mount Carmel. The Lancers never trailed and outgained Lewisburg, 356-132 while also building a 27-6 halftime lead.
It's been a great run by a team that had to overcome some early growing pains and that was shut out twice in its first six games. Loyalsock needed a win in Week 10 just to guarantee itself a postseason berth and was 2-3 on the road during the regular season. But when it has mattered most, the Lancers have delivered one clutch performance after another while proving why they are the district's best all-around Class AA team.
"For an offense that struggled the first half of the season 41 is a heck of a lot of points," said Loyalsock safety Alec Eggerton, who set up the game's first touchdown with a long interception return and who added six tackles, several for losses. "And a 14-point lead against us can be like a 41-point lead with the way we play defense, so overall as a whole team effort that was a heck of game and it was a lot of fun."
The way Lewisburg had been playing, Saturday's game had the makings of a classic. The Green Dragons (11-2) had won eight straight games while downing perennial title contenders Montoursville and undefeated Towanda in the first two rounds. The defense had allowed more than 14 points just twice while shutting out five opponents.
But after Stopper scored on a 46 yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, Lewisburg was never the same. That score set off a 20-point barrage in less than seven minutes as the Lancers took control on both sides and overwhelmed a team that so often had thumped opponents while reaching the district final for the first time in program history. Saturday, Lewisburg ran into a powerful team playing at the top of its game but the loss should not take away from a historic season in which it won a program-record 11 games and established itself as a district elite after going 10-60 from 2001-2007.
"A lot of it is on their part but I wish things could have gone a little better," Lewisburg coach Todd Tilford said. "It's a little frustrating how lopsided the game was, but when we look back at these guys going 11-2 we'll have a lot to be proud of and we'll tell them to keep their heads up high because they set a high standard with how far they've come."
So has Loyalsock.
Eggerton started driving that point home when he returned an interception 38 yards to the Lewisburg four-yard line late in the first quarter. A play later, Stopper ran in the for the first of his touchdowns. After Nate Brown scored on an 11 yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 7-6, Stopper then made arguably the game's biggest play on a third-and-three when he broke off a long run up the middle, shedded a would-be tackler near the 30-yard line and took off down the right sideline for a scintillating 46 yard touchdown run.
That was the second of four straight touchdowns Loyalsock scored between the first and second quarters and Stopper was in on every one, connecting with tight end Don Kinney and Pagana for touchdowns of 16 and 23 yards on the next two drives. The 1,000-yard rusher who became the team's quarterback in Week 8, had 199 of Loyalsock's 213 first-half yards and finished with 110 rushing yards in addition to 105 through the air while winning a district title in a third sport.
"It's not just him (Stopper). We have numerous kids who are district champions and state champions in baseball, basketball and wrestling so we came in really confident," said second-year coach Alex Jackson who is 5-0 in the postseason. "I thought that was a big edge for us this week, just having those kids who have that swagger. They're not rattled by the big crowds."
While Loyalsock's offensive line was taking the game over and opening up both the run and the pass, the Lancer defense constricted. Following Brown's second quarter touchdown, the Lancers did not allow another first down. The defensive line exploded off the ball, the linebackers swarmed and the secondary stifled the pass as Loyalsock allowed minus-4 yards on 18 Lewisburg plays following Brown's touchdown.
Brandon Smith intercepted a pass and, following a Stopper six yard touchdown, brought the mercy rule into effect when he exploded through a gaping hole cleared out by center Brian Losell and ran 56 yards untouched for a touchdown that made it 41-6. That was the fifth time in seven possessions that Loyalsock scored a touchdown and three of them came in less than a minute.
"They came out with a little more fire and they just outplayed us," Tilford said. "They gave us their best shot and then we scored and settled in, but they had just a little bit too much. They're a good football team."
And when it comes to District 4 Class AA football, Loyalsock is the best football team.