By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | December 5, 2010 | Photo courtesy Chris Masse
HERSHEY - The current Lewisburg football players grew up watching one Green Dragon team after another suffer losing seasons.
Still, they only cared about building a new tradition. In three short years they have done so, already putting check marks next to first-time Heartland-II and District 4 Class AA championships.
Now what once seemed impossible, putting a check mark next to an Eastern Region championship and a state final appearance, is just one win away. Talk about an amazing turnaround.
Robbie Gaines returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown and Nick Kifolo scored on a perfectly executed 63 yard hook and ladder as Lewisburg built a 28 point third quarter lead Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium and romped to a 31-21 state quarterfinal win over the District 3 champion Trinity Shamrocks.
"To be here is unbelievable and to beat a team like Trinity is great," said Gaines, who also set up Lewisburg's first touchdown with a spectacular 21 yard catch on fourth down. "They're very legit and to beat a team like that with that kind of history is fantastic. Doing so on a place that is pretty much their home field is indescribable."
The Dragons (14-0) once were one of the state's worst teams, but now they are one of the best and are just one win away from the state final. Lewisburg has that chance next Saturday back in Hershey when it meets District 12 champion West Catholic. Forget the past because all that matters is that this team is for real and is one of the four best Pennsylvania Class AA teams.
"Everybody said we'd have a tough time winning this game," said freshman defensive lineman Josey Hendricks, part of an outstanding defensive line. "We really tried hard and worked hard all week and proved them wrong."
Lewisburg scored 21 second quarter points and extended its lead to 28-0 on the third quarter's opening possession when Merle Moscarello (15 carries, 125 yards) scored on a dazzling 66 yard touchdown. Trinity (12-2) pulled within 28-14 by the end of the third quarter but Hendricks tipped a pass near midfield that linebacker Brandon Smith intercepted and returned to the Shamrock 46-yard line.
Another big Moscarello run set up Gaines for a 24 yard field that made it 31-14 with 3:59 remaining. Ryan Lopes intercepted a pass on the ensuing Trinity possession, clinching the win as Lewisburg became the first District 4 Class AA team since Loyalsock in 2007 to reach the state's Final 4.
After Gaines made an adjustment on a wind-blown fourth-and-5 pass and made a diving catch at the one-yard line, setting up Nate Brown's touchdown run, Lopes factored in on one of the game's biggest plays. Facing a third-and-6, quarterback Cam Cassels hit Lopes with a five yard completion. When the cornerback went for the tackle, Lopes made a perfectly timed pitch to Kifolo on the hook and ladder and the senior running back went 58 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown that left Trinity rattled as dynamic running back/linebacker Jack Miller was ejected on the ensuing extra point.
"To be honest, I thought the corner saw it coming out and I thought he was coming but he went for Lopes, tackled him, Lopes got the pitch off and then I was off to the races," said Kifolo, who returned an 81 yard kickoff for a touchdown against Danville in last week's district championship. "It's just a timing thing and it worked. I got lucky on the sideline and didn't step out and got into the end zone. I guess the sideline is just my friend."
While Lewisburg made a series of big offensive plays, the game's biggest came defensively. Trinity did little against Lewisburg's stingy defense until late in the first half when it drove to the eight-yard line and had a first down with 35 seconds remaining.
Just when it appeared Trinity might make it a seven point game at halftime, Gaines delivered the play of his life. The senior safety jumped in front of a pass at the one-yard line, made a quick move and went 99 yards for the dramatic touchdown. In just 13 seconds the game's entire complexion changed, Lewisburg led 21-0 and the road back to Hershey had been paved.
"Initially I wasn't expecting it. I was expecting a crossing route but when he sat I knew I had to jump it and had to make a play," Gaines said. "I'm so glad I was in that spot I was, so glad I didn't drop it, so glad I made a move and so glad I didn't get caught by a lineman because that would have been all over the film."
Moscarello ran like a man on a mission, driving that point home on the third quarter's fourth play. A play after Brown carried a defender for eight extra yards, the hard-running junior broke four tackles and turned what looked like a 10 yard run into a 66 yard touchdown for a 28-0 lead.
"It was definitely a hard run and it was more like a team run," Moscarello said. "I saw Nate blocking down field, I saw Lopes blocking down field... everybody was getting a block. I was able to make a couple moves and get into the end zone and it was a great team play."
Trinity, which had blanked three of its last four opponents and that averaged 42 points per game, cut the deficit in half on consecutive Adam Geiger one yard touchdown runs. The Shamrocks then regained possession early in the fourth quarter and moved toward midfield.
Right when it seemed Trinity was capable of mounting a remarkable comeback, Hendricks charged into the backfield and deflected Patrick Dill's third down pass. Smith intercepted the ball at the Lewisburg 45-yard line, adding to his stellar performance that included 13 tackles and a pass breakup. Lewisburg forced four turnovers and converted them into 17 points.
"The coaches got us ready and I can't say enough about them," Moscarello said. "It was a great team win today."