Cocalico Goes Big and Doesn’t Go Home With Dramatic 25-24 Win At Northeastern
Coming into this year’s newly renovated District 3 playoffs featuring six classes, it was hard to find a team playing much better than Northeastern, regardless of classification. After all, the Bobcats came in riding a five game winning streak, including a trifecta of shutout performances back to back to back the last three weeks of the regular season. The last time someone did score on the Orange and Black was York in a Week 7 matchup where the Bearcats were able to muster only 6 points against the Bobcats. Talk about a York County cat fight.
On Friday night in Manchester, Northeastern would see the Cocalico Eagles on the opposite sideline, a team dangerously seeded in the 6 spot in the eight team 5A bracket.
Although the Eagles were only sporting a 7-3 record coming into the playoffs, Cocalico was to climb to the top of the vaunted Lancaster Lebanon League Section 2 standings this year to lay claim to the Section title by virtue of their head to head victory at Manheim Central which was no easy feat.
Although Northeastern had pitched a shutout in every contest going back to mid-October, they likely had not seen an offensive attack like Cocalico’s veer option attack for quite some time. In a game that featured the “Irresistible force vs immovable object” component, it was evident from the game’s first drive thatCocalico would be able to move the ball on the ground against their hosts. Cocalico featured junior fullback Brandon Brubaker early on and the “Brudozer” didn’t disappoint as he and the offensive line helped paved a path to the endzone. Brubaker was able to rip off a 23 yard run down to the Bobcat 22 yard which got some early mojo on the side of the Eagles. From there, quarterback Brady Sawyer was able to move the Cocalico attack ever closer to paydirt as he kept it down to the 9 yard line. Facing 3rd and Goal from the 3 yard line later in the drive, Brubaker was able to plow across the chalk for the touchdown run to give Cocalico the 7-0 advantage with 8:22 to play in the first quarter.
Northeastern would get the ball first with all of their explosive weapons at their own 35 yard line following Cocalico’s kickoff which went out of bounds. It looked like the Bobcats would have to give it right back to Cocalico however after a bad snap led to a 3rd & 8. Fortunately for Northeastern, senior signal caller Shannon Valenti is one of the most dynamic playmakers in District 3 from the quarterback position and on 3rd & 8, he was able to scramble away from pressure and find junior receiver Taemar Willis downfield for the first down pickup to the Eagle 43 yard line. The Bobcats went back to Willis again on the jet sweep following the reception as he was able to pick up another first down to the 30 yard line. That would prove to be the last explosive play of the Bobcat series however as the Eagle D was ultimately able to force a 4th & 4 which was knocked away at the 24 yard line.
Cocalico went back to the bread and butter running attack following the turnover on downs and picked up a pair of first downs. The first came by way of Colton Goodman going wide off the pitch to the 34 yard line for the 10 yard gain. After that, it was time for Brubaker up the middle for 14 yards. From that point on however, the Bobcat defense was able to rise up and hold Cocalico to minimal gains on the ensuing plays. One of those aforementioned plays was a 3rd & 9 attempt near midfield which saw a pitch to Goodman go for 5 yards setting up a 4th & 4. Following a timeout, Cocalico went into the bag of tricks and found a direct snap on the punt as Colton Goodman raced down to the Northeastern 19 yard line to extend the drive which brought the first quarter to a close with Cocalico in charge of a 7-0 lead, but threating to add more when the second quarter began.
Faced with a 3rd & 9 when the second quarter got underway, Brandon Brubaker was able to navigate his way for 8 yards, setting up a 4th & 1 from the 10 yard line. Brubaker got the call again and plowed his way for a first down to the 9 yard line.Cocalico would then put it in the air for the first on the night on 3rd & Goal from the 8 where Brubaker was there waiting as he took it down to the 1 yard line. On the 4th & Goal from the 1 yard line the formula is pretty simple. Hand it off to Brubaker and you will be rewarded. That was exactly what happened as Brubaker’s second TD run of the game gave the Eagles the 14-0 cushion with 8:22 to go in the half.
Following another kickoff that trickled out of bounds, Northeastern took over at their own 43. The Bobcats would have to work from even further back however as Cocalico’s Owen Lippold was able to get in the backfield for a 6 yard tackle for loss. Already in hole and sensing the need to respond, Northeastern was able to do just that as Shannon Valenti was able to hook up with Justin Edwards who got behind the secondary for a play that went all the way down to the Eagle 19 yard line. After the explosive play, Valenti found Freddy Mulbahfor the 18 yard TD strike to narrow Cocalico’s lead to 14-7 with 6:33 to play in the half.
Following the score, the Bobcats would get the ball back after Elijah Alexander stuffed the Cocalico 4th & 1 attempt giving the ball back to Northeastern at the 44 yard line.
It looked like Northeastern was back in business as Freddy Mulbah went up and got it on a great one on one play well down inside Cocalico territory, however an illegal shift brought the long play all the way back to the Cocalico 49 yard line. Things were again in Cocalico’s favor as a fumble recovery by the Eagles’ Ben Fromm set Cocalico up at the Northeastern 40 yard line.
Cocalico would get down deep into Bobcat territory following Colton Goodman’s 23 yard jaunt down to the 22 yard line. That would be all the further the Eagles would get as the Bobcat defense stiffened forcing a 36 yard Ben Puodziunas field goal which he booted home to give Cocalico the 17-7 lead into the halftime break.
Northeastern got the ball out of the locker room and served up a heavy dose of senior running back Anu Johnson to the Cocalico defense. One of the highlights was Johnson going for long run down to the Cocalico 20 yard line on 3rd & 4 from their own 31. Johnson would get Northeastern to the 12 yard line, but they would get not further as Cocalico forced a 29 yard field goal attempt by Hayden Seifert which he converted to make it a one touchdown game with 8:44 to go in the third.
Much like they did on the first drive of the game, Cocalico went back to Brandon Brubaker on the first drive of the second half as well. Brubaker was able to get Cocalico down to the Northeastern 31 yard after converting a 3rd & 2 attempt from the 35. After Brubaker’s first down run, the Bobcat defense came up big to prevent any further damage as Coby Motley collected a tackle for a loss of 3 yards. After Motley’s tackle, Shamari Young joined the party as his sack set up a 3rd & 21 that not even Brubaker was able to pick up which set up a punt back to Northeastern.
On the punt, Michael Cooper fielded the punt at the 1 yard line much to the chagrin of the home fans at least initially, however their mood quickly changed as Cooper was able to juke nearly the entire Eagle punt coverage unit as he was able to take it out to the Bobcat 49 yard line. Northeastern kept their foot on the gas as Shannon Valenti was able to show off his prowess when the play breaks down as Valenti scrambled down to the Cocalico35 yard line. After the scramble, Coby Motley made a sensational run that would’ve been worthy of a SportsCenter highlight as he bobbed and weaved his way through the Cocalico defense to the house, but not so fast, as a chop block penalty brought it back to the Bobcat 46 yard line.
Following the penalty flag, Valenti eluded pressure yet again and scrambled across midfield, however a questionable fumble call where Valenti appeared to be clearly down, went Cocalico’s way to give the Eagles the ball back at their own 48 yard line as the game moved into the final quarter.
The Bobcat defense was able to force a Cocalico punt as they were clearly amped up with the fumble call going against them which allowed Northeastern to take over at their own 30 yard line. After a pass to Freddy Mulbah got Northeastern to the Eagle 42 yard line, the Bobcats began to pound it with Anu Johnson down to the Cocalico 31 yard line. Northeastern and Valenti went back up top following the Johnson runs, however freshman Noah Palm was there to make one of his trademark acrobatic highlight plays defensively as he was there to knock away what appeared to be an easy touchdown. Although the Bobcats didn’t get the touchdown on the play, they were able to get a roughing the passer call in the process which moved the ball down to the Cocalico 16 yard line. After yet another Valenti to Mulbah hookup got the Bobcats to the 5 yard line, Chris Whack was there to plunge across the goal line from 2 yards out to knot it up at 17-17 with 7:45 still left to play.
Following a short punt on Cocalico’s next possession, Northeastern was granted a golden ticket to take the lead with momentum clearly on their side. It didn’t take the Bobcats long to make good on their opportunity as Valenti found Mr. Mulbah yet again, this time from 31 yards out to put Northeastern on top 24-17 with now 6:04 showing on the clock.
With their season on the line, Cocalico would take over at their own 31 yard line needing an answer. It didn’t look good for the visitors from Denver early in the drive as Shamari Young came free again and earned himself a sack that set up a Cocalico 3rd & 7 from their own 34 yard line. The Eagles tried to use a reverse to Austin Landers to move the sticks, however he came up just short of the yard to gain which set up a 4th & 1 of the upmost importance from the Cocalico 40. The bright lights of playoff football didn’t seem too big for Colton Goodman however as the sophomore back for Cocalico ripped off a gigantic run in more ways than one all the way down to the Bobcat 22 yard line. Needing to convert another third down conversion, this of the 3rd& 6 variety from the 17 yard line, the Brudozer rumbled down to the Northeastern 11 yard line to move the chains. After Cocalico earned themselves a fresh set of downs, they would face one last third down conversion, this of the 3rd & 5 variety at the 6 yard line with 1:00 left to go. Quarterback Brady Sawyer called his own number and he delivered for his team in a big way to make it 24-23 Northeastern with the PAT upcoming. Well, maybe not so much. Rolling the dice with everything on the line, Cocalico threw caution to the wind and went for it all and guess who, Brandon Brubaker was there to cash Cocalico’scheck to put the Eagles on top 25-24 with just 45 seconds remaining.
Northeastern would take over at their 25 with just 37 seconds left following the ensuing kickoff. Their assignment would be even taller to overcome as another chop block call set the Bobcats back further. Their prayers were nearly answered however as Valenti rolled left and heaved it downfield just off the fingertips of a man downfield which would have the set the Bobcats up for a game winning field goal try. Nonetheless, Northeastern still had one last opportunity as Shannon Valenti maneuvered his way out of danger and took off, however theCocalico defense was there to put an end to his journey near midfield giving Cocalico the thrilling 25-24 come from behind victory on the road.
Big moments and big decisions. Two themes that seem ever present in playoff football with Friday night being no exception. When asked about the gutsy call to end it in regulation, Cocalico head coach Dave Gingrich explained, “A couple weeks ago against Lampeter-Strasburg we had an opportunity for a twopoint play and I kind of out-thought myself a little bit and when you’ve got a horse in the backfield like Brandon Brubaker I thought you know what, if we’re going to lose, we’re going to go down with the ship. I thought he could get it and he got it.”
With the last minute win and Manheim Central’s comeback effort at home against Cedar Cliff, the Eagles and Barons are set to do battle once again next week, with the Barons likely salivating at another opportunity to go against Cocalico. When asked about a rematch taking place next week, coach Gingrich said matter of factly, “Central knows us and we know them. What a great thing for the Lancaster Lebanon League that two teams from the same Section are going to be in the semifinals with one in the finals. I think it’s exciting. We have great respect for their coaches and their program and I think they feel the same way, so we’re looking forward to next week going over there and knocking some heads with them.”
NEXT UP: Cocalico marches on to play that already highly anticipated game at Manheim Central, the scene of Cocalico’sWeek 5 28-24 victory against the Barons, MC’s only loss of the 2016 campaign. Better put your blankets down on the grandstands now. Should be a great environment next week outside of downtown Manheim.
With Friday night’s loss Northeastern wraps up an impressive 2016 slate which saw the Bobcats rattle off three wins in the first three weeks of the regular season allowing no more than 7 points in each of those games, before going on the aforementioned five game winning streak to close out the regular season. In their wins this year Northeastern outscored their opponents by a combined score of 324-39, an impressive mark that certainly the Bobcats hope to build upon in 2017.
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