By: Jake Felix | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | December 12, 2010 | Photo courtesy Jake Felix
HERSHEY - Fourteen straight weeks Lewisburg found ways to win games, so when Merle Moscarello returned a fumble 11 yards in the fourth quarter Saturday for a touchdown there was no reason to believe that streak wouldn't reach 15.
The Green Dragons still trailed their PIAA Class AA semifinal by seven points, but for a brief moment another victory and a berth into next week's championship game didn't seem that improbable for a team that once trailed by 14 points and set program firsts this year by winning a District 4 championship and a PIAA playoff game.
"Divine intervention or something, maybe we can go again," recalled Lewisburg coach Todd Tilford, "but it just wasn't in the cards today."
West Catholic's wild card made sure it wasn't.
Brandon Hollomon answered Lewisburg's momentum when he took a toss, followed a pair of outstanding blocks by wide receiver Jaelen Strong-Rankin on the edge, and raced down the Green Dragons' sideline for a 65 yard touchdown that finally knocked Class AA's David out the PIAA playoffs, 21-7.
"It was a great run and I'm sad it's over," said Lewisburg senior Nate Brown, a team captain.
The Burrs (12-2) will appear in their second PIAA Championship game in the past three years next Saturday at Hersheypark against South Fayette (15-0), while Lewisburg's first loss of the season came one game short of the final weekend of the season.
Lewisburg (14-1) trailed 14-0 in the later stages of the fourth quarter, but Moscarello gave it a shot of adrenaline when he scooped up a loose ball in stride after an errant shotgun snap and strolled into the end zone with 4:53 remaining and a full complement of timeouts.
The Green Dragons' defense came within a play of forcing a punt, but Hollomon turned a third-and-10 into a game-breaking touchdown.
"I was just looking for a first down and then I saw (Strong-Rankin's) great blocks and I turned on the jets and there was no one to catch me from there," said Hollomon, who was grazed at the five-yard line before setting off a West Catholic celebration.
Hollomon finished with 201 rushing yards on 18 carries. He totaled 121 yards on his first and last carries of the game.
His 56 yard rush on the game's first play set up the Burrs first touchdown, though, the final 20 yards weren't as easy as the first 56. Lewisburg's defense caught its breath after the initial rush and kept West Catholic out of the end zone until David Williams plowed in from the two-yard line on fourth down.
"Our defense gave us chances again," said Tilford, whose team forced a pair of turnovers. "After they broke that first play, although they ended up punching it in, you could see we could play with these guys, but we just couldn't get it going offensively against that team speed."
Few teams have.
The Burrs allowed just 27 points in their three PIAA playoff games and haven't allowed any opponent to score more than 14 points this season.
West Catholic intercepted two passes and held Brown and Moscarello, two 1,300-yard rushers, to a combined 72 yards yesterday.
"They have three very good backs and we said that with 21 (Moscarello) and 22 (Brown) we needed to wrap and gang tackle because they will break off tackles," said West Catholic coach Brian Fluck. "They are tough kids and very good running backs. I thought we did a nice job of making sure everyone was around the ball and making plays. Everyone swarmed to the ball and it was a team effort."
An individual effort gave West Catholic a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter.
Leading just 7-0, West Catholic made a quarterback change in the second half, choosing junior Jaleel Reed over senior Anthony Reid. The junior showed why with one play in the fourth quarter.
Sweeping to his left, Reed was forced back to the middle of the field as Brown maintained containment on the edge, but one miss tackle in the backfield allowed Reed to turn a fourth-and-5 from the 10-yard line into a first-and-goal at the one-yard line. He finished the 84 yard drive by walking into the end zone after faking a handoff to Williams in the middle of the line.
"(Reed) is a junior and an athlete with a little more speed around the corner, more than Reid, and that's why we gave him a shot there," said Fluck.
West Catholic will now have a shot at redemption. The Burrs lost in their title appearance two years ago to Wilmington Area, 35-34.
"We've been here before and I know how it feels to lose it and I don't want to have that feeling again," said Hollomon.