By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | November 21, 2009
HUGHESVILLE - Ten weeks ago, Loyalsock failed to score any points despite invading Hughesville territory seven times and lost, 21-0.
Clinging to a 10-6 fourth-quarter lead Friday night on the same Harold L. Shaefer Field where they endured nothing but frustration two months ago, the Lancers huddled near midfield and expressed only one emotion, confidence. Just two plays later the Lancers were in the end zone as Mike Kinney ran in a 22 yard touchdown.
Long sought-after redemption was at hand.
And so was a spot in the District 4 Class AA championship.
All season long, Loyalsock expressed hope it would earn a rematch against Hughesville and when given that opportunity Friday it embraced it. Kinney ran for 109 yards, Corey Oliver made four huge catches and a hard-nosed defense repeatedly made big plays as Loyalsock defeated Hughesville, 17-6 in a memorable District 4 Class AA semifinal. Next up is a trip to Lewisburg in the final as Loyalsock (9-3) seeks its second district championship in three years.
"Everyone just knew. You could look in everyone's eyes and see it. We knew we were going to score," two-way Loyalsock lineman Brett Wise said. "We went down and did what we had to do."
Loyalsock's defense shared a similar mentality. After Hughesville cut a 10-point deficit to 10-6 early in the fourth quarter it appeared poised to make a dramatic comeback after moving to the 43-yard line on its next possession.
Instead Derek Mandresh made two straight outstanding plays that resulted in losses of 15 yards. Levi Oden nearly made a remarkable catch on the ensuing play but Hughesville had to punt and by the time it saw the ball again Loyalsock was ahead 17-6 with just 3:20 remaining.
"We just kept saying 'We're not letting them score, we're not letting them score,'" said senior linebacker Don Kinney, who sparked an aggressive defense and was in on nine tackles. "All of our front lineman can play but we expect Derek to be a standout guy because he's probably our best defensive lineman."
Hughesville finished 10-2, a stellar record considering the rash of injuries that ravaged it during the season's final eight weeks. Already dealing with the loss of standout two-way starters Andy Laychur and Cody Butler, Hughesville was dealt another blow Thursday when wide receiver/cornerback Levi Oden broke a finger in practice and when dominant two-way lineman Chet Ritter suffered a game-ending injury Friday early in the third quarter.
Still, there was Oden making a huge play early in the fourth quarter when he took a pitch from tight end Bryce Pardoe on a hook and lateral and ran 25 yards for a touchdown that cut the deficit to 10-6 after Pardoe had caught an 11 yard first down pass from D.J. Foresman. Pardoe also made two tremendous catches, one with three defenders on him and one with one hand as two defenders surrounded him.
Those were the type of plays that defined Hughesville's season and while the sting of Friday's loss will hurt for a while, the memories generated throughout a season that included an outright Heartland-III championship will last even longer.
"That's been our theme all year long. Everyone has made plays and done what they had to do and they kept us fighting, but it just wasn't meant to be tonight," Hughesville coach Rick Reichner said. "Our kids have shown character all year and they did it again tonight."
So did Loyalsock.
The Lancers flipped the script from the Week 2 loss at Hughesville and stopped the Spartans six times after they entered Loyalsock territory, including on five straight first-half possessions. Cornerback Frankie Pagana clinched the win in the game's final minute when, after Hughesville had driven to the 10-yard line, he stepped in front a fourth-down pass at the goal line and returned it 55 yards to the Spartan 42-yard line.
"The play before he (Oden) got me and I'm glad it was overthrown. I just said to myself I have to calm down, I have to buckle down and forget that last play and do what I have to do on this next play," Pagana said. "It's a big relief. They are a great team and they got us the first time and I know they have some injuries but our guys fought hard and came out with a big win."
While Loyalsock struggled to finish drives in the first Hughesville game it seized its chance on its first sustained drive Friday, moving 55 yards on 14 plays that bridged the first and second quarters and going ahead 3-0 on Jackson Person's 33 yard field goal. Senior Corey Oliver ignited the drive with a 13 yard catch and played the best game of his scholastic career, finishing with four catches for 84 yards.
Oliver, who set up Kinney's fourth-quarter touchdown with a 29 yard reception, had another big catch on the game's signature drive reeling in a 13 yard pass from Stephen Stopper on a third-and-seven. Loyalsock moved 68 yards on 15 plays while using nearly half the third quarter and converting four straight third downs. Stopper ended the drive with a one yard run and Loyalsock opened a 10-0 lead with 4:06 remaining in the third quarter. Loyalsock struggled in those situations in Week 2, but has come a long way since then and kept its first-half scoring drive alive when it converted a fourth-and-three at the Spartan 41-yard line.
"We've come together as an offensive line since that second week," Wise said. "The team chemistry is amazing right now and we're playing great as a team."
Hughesville responded when it moved 66 yards in a little less than five minutes and scored on the game's best play. Facing a third-and-five, Foresman threw a quick pass to Pardoe who immediately turned and pitched the ball to a sprinting Oden who ran untouched down the right sideline and gave Hughesville a big momentum lift.
It was one of few big plays Loyalsock allowed, however. Late in the second quarter, the Lancers made a big stand when they held Hughesville scoreless after a 14 play drive. Don Kinney and Pagana dropped Ethan Showers for no gain on a fourth-and-five from the 14-yard line and in a game that was defined by hard-hitting and tough defense, that stand proved to be one of the game's biggest.
"We've got a tough defense. We try and bend but not break. Every now and then we're going to gamble but the kids play hard," said Loyalsock coach Alex Jackson who has led Loyalsock to four straight postseason wins in his first two years. "We've had some adversity we've had to overcome and it's just a great win for our program."