By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | November 28, 2010
DANVILLE - Moments after cornerback Jared Laino made the biggest interception in Lewisburg history, two-way senior starter Sean Charest raced onto the field, prepared to line up in the victory formation and raised two fingers, signifying the Green Dragons were No. 1
And they were.
Nick Kifolo returned a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown while also catching a second quarter go-ahead touchdown pass and the defense and special teams forced six turnovers. Put it all together and Lewisburg edged Danville, 18-13 at Ironmen Stadium, capturing the first District 4 Class AA championship in program history and doing so in a showdown of unbeatens.
What once was only a far-fetched dream is now reality. Lewisburg is a district champion.
"This was the goal the whole season. From Day 1 this is what you're working for," said Charest, a vital member of the offense and defensive lines. "It was a great game. It was a great game for the fans to watch. It was amazing out there. It was the best feeling you could ever have."
A few years ago saying Lewisburg and district champions in the same sentence would have elicited laughter. The Dragons went 10-60 from 2001-2007 and no team in program history had ever won a district playoff game. Even after winning 32 of their last 37 games, the Dragons still seemed to be not taken as seriously as more tradition-laden programs despite beating the likes of Mount Carmel, Southern Columbia, and Bloomsburg and all one had to do was read statewide chatboards this week where many Danville fans predicted an easy championship win for evidence.
Now Lewisburg (13-0) is having the last laugh. The Dragons have vanquished the HAC-I and III champions along with the NTL Big School champions this postseason and will next play in the state quarterfinals against District 3 champion Trinity.
Without a doubt, the Dragons have proven they are District 4's best Class AA team.
"We feel like we have a special group of kids," Lewisburg coach Todd Tilford said. "They're still having fun practicing and they enjoy being around each other. It's not easy to win a title and to their credit they did what they had to do."
They went into Ironmen Stadium and did what so few thought they could do, holding Danville to its lowest point total this season in front of a raucous crowd that had the stadium bleachers filled a good hour before kickoff. The Ironmen (12-1) actually outgained Lewisburg, 458-147, but Lewisburg made big stops when it had to and consistently forced turnovers against a team that rarely had turned the ball over while romping to the final.
Kifolo's 15-yard touchdown pass from Cassels with 3:42 remaining in the first half put Lewisburg ahead to stay, 15-10. Lewisburg still led by five when Danville started its final drive at its own seven-yard line with 2:45 remaining. Danville drove to the Lewisburg 31-yard line and converted a 4th-and-8, but Laino ended Danville's title dreams when he blanketed his receiver and made the game-clinching interception, his second of the game, at the 15-yard line with less than a minute remaining and the Ironmen out of timeouts.
"We just knew we had to stop them there," Laino said. "I just saw it in the air and just grabbed it and brought it down. It was amazing. I'm glad I got to help win it for the seniors. It was their last year and we didn't want it to end like that."
Kifolo was the senior who changed the game's complexion when he scooped up a rolling kickoff that initially bounced off his legs at the 19-yard line. Kifolo sprinted through the wedge, then bounced outside and took it down the right sideline for an 81 yard touchdown. He then caught a two-point pass from Gaines on a fake extra point and Lewisburg led 8-3 late in the first quarter.
"That was huge. We weren't getting anything going on offense so that definitely helped us out," said linebacker Brandon Smith, who made 10 tackles. "That gave us a lot of momentum and got us going. That was what we needed."
Kifolo set up Lewisburg's next touchdown when he returned a kickoff 35 yards to the 50-yard line. Ryan Lopes made a terrific diving 21 yard catch on a Nate Brown halfback pass and two plays later Cassels found Kifolo down the left sideline for the go-ahead score that made it 15-10.
At halftime, Danville had outgained Lewisburg, 262-56 and had 15 first downs to its three. But the Dragons had the lead. They had taken Danville's best punch and were still standing.
"We felt like (fullback Russell) Heath (33 carries, 236 yards) was giving us an uppercut every single time. We took it and we just had the bend but not break mentality for sure," said Gaines who made several big pass breakups. "They had some miscues and everything but we made the stops. This is pretty amazing."
Gaines, Laino, Lopes and Michael Zaleski helped hold quarterback Andrew Andreychik to just five completions and no touchdowns after he entered the game with 32 touchdown passes. Gaines made two straight breakups near and in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter, forcing Danville to settle for a 34 yard Dylan Friday field goal that made it 18-13.
Gaines' 27 yard field goal in the third quarter gave Lewisburg its largest lead. The Dragons were held to their lowest yardage total of the season but they found a way to win.
In 2010, they always have. And nobody is laughing anymore.