Late TD propels Steelton-Highspire to 24-20 win over Williams Valley
SHAMOKIN – In a close game, particularly a playoff contest, it can often come down to just a handful of plays that can make the difference in a game.
For Steelton-Highspire, it was three straight passes late in the fourth quarter of its PIAA Class A quarterfinal against Williams Valley. Trailing 20-17 with just 1:44 left in the contest and their season on the line, the Rollers took possession following a Williams Valley punt at their own 23-yard line. From there, Malachi Young found Lathaniel Webster-Spencer for three straight receptions, the final of which went 50 yards for a touchdown and ended up being the difference in a 24-20 win for the Rollers over the Vikings.
Young, who missed eight games during the regular season, threw for 205 yards on 16-of-23 passing for the Rollers. With the win, Steelton-Highspire, which finished 3-7 in the regular season, will advance to the state semifinals, which it will meet two-time defending state champion Bishop Guilfoyle, a 52-6 winner over Homer-Center on Friday. The Rollers, which had games against eight opponents this year at least two classifications above them, are now 4-0 against Class A opponents on the season.
“Our schedule was tough but we played eight games without our starting quarterback so offensively it made us one-dimensional where defenses could bottle up on us and we couldn’t showcase some of our receivers’ ability, so now with Malachi back it opens us up so we can use our athletes and use our speed,” said Steel-High coach Andrew Erby.
“Malachi is such a competitor that has so much confidence that he always thinks he’s going to win the game,” said Erby. “He’s a hard-nosed kid and a pure leaders and he showed that tonight with that drive.”
Steel-High’s game-winning drive was set up partially by a shanked punt after the Vikings put together a nine-play drive but were unable to run out the clock. After picking up a pair of first downs and advancing to the Steel-High 43, Williams Valley committed three false start penalties on its next five snaps, which backed it up enough so that Dylan Rabuck’s 15-yard run on third down still came up six yards shy of the first down that would have effectively put the game away for the Vikings. After tossing around the idea of going for it and then trying to draw the Rollers offside, Williams Valley coach Tim Savage elected to punt. The punt traveled just 16 yards but the Vikings still had the advantage with the Rollers needing to go 77 yards.
“It was very nearly all but done,” said Savage about going for it. “Then I was talked into trying to draw them offside, which made sense but you really can’t second-guess. If we make some plays in the secondary, then it was a good move to punt.”
The first play was a simple out route toward the sideline that went for eight yards. On the second play, Webster-Spencer stopped on the same sideline and when the Williams Valley cornerback attempted to step in front of him to jump the route, he stepped past the defender and turned the catch into a 19-yard gain to midfield. Webster-Spencer then caught his next ball only a few yards in front of the line of scrimmage but then used his athleticism to race through three defenders and down the sideline into the end zone.
“We knew we could take what they were giving us and we were able to isolate one of our better players on that side,” said Erby. “He turned what was supposed to be a five-yard hitch route into a big play that ended up winning the game.”
Those final three plays more than doubled Steel-High’s offense in the second half to that point, which had produced just 49 yards after Williams Valley had made some halftime adjustments that helped negate Steel-High’s size advantage on the lines. After the Rollers had run for 108 yards in the first half, including 102 by Jarvai Flowers, Steel-High managed just 21 yards on the ground in the second half.
“They made some adjustments in the run game and adjusted to our spread sets and when we ran counter they did a good job scraping over the top in the second half and did a better job bottling us up and tackling,” said Erby. “They were slanting a lot and using their athletic linebackers to get over the top quickly.
“Our defense made just one slight adjustment with some of their techniques on tackling but mainly when you have the size that they have, you’re bound to wear down in a physical game like this,” said Savage.
Williams Valley had one last chance and got a 50-yard kickoff return by Allen Hand to set them up at the Steel-High 48. The Vikings were able to pick up a first down to the Roller 33 with a 13-yard reception on a fourth down play, but following a spike the Vikings were called for a holding penalty that effectively went for 20 yards, pushing them back to their own 47, and their final two passes were incomplete.
It was a game of momentum swings in the first half. Steel-High raced out to a 10-0 lead as Flowers scored on a 12-yard touchdown run on its second drive of the game and then the Rollers took advantage of a muffed punt by the Vikings and converted that into a 27-yard field goal by Nicholas Neidlinger with 8:23 left in the second quarter.
On Williams Valley’s ensuing drive, two costly penalties by the Rollers woke up the Vikings’ offense and led to a touchdown. After a nine-yard run by 2,000-yard rusher Dylan Rabuck, he was hit out of bounds, which gave Williams Valley 15 extra yards. An unsportsmanlike penalty after an incomplete pass gave the Vikings 15 more free yards and that was followed by a 34-yard run by Rabuck to the Roller 1 and quarterback Levi Engle snuck it into the end zone on the next play. A two-point conversion cut the lead to 10-8.
“With a young football team, we let our emotions get to us on that drive,” said Erby. “We tried to warn them about the situations that they’ll face here in the state playoffs and that took us out of the game for a time and it almost hurt us.”
The Rollers rebounded right away by putting together a seven-play, 62-yard drive on their next possession, capped by Flowers’ second touchdown of the night. A 33-yard hookup between Young and Javion Grant on the first play of the drive jump started it.
Williams Valley answered right back with a big play of its own. After Rabuck was tackled for a loss on back-to-back plays, Engle found Jake Wolfgang over the top down the right sideline for a 66-yard touchdown reception. The two-point conversion was initially good but was called back due to an illegal formation penalty and the subsequent attempt failed.
“They really sold out against the run and gave us the deep ball and we were able to take advantage of that a few times,” said Savage.
The Vikings then had a golden opportunity to take the lead as it recovered a Steel-High fumble at the Roller 30 but were unable to score in seven plays before halftime.
Williams Valley did manage to take its first lead of the game late in the third quarter as it took advantage of an interception by Devon Rabuck that gave it possession at the Steel-High 17. Two plays later, Dylan Rabuck ran it in from nine yards out, but the two-point conversion failed, making it four points that the Vikings left on the field in failed conversions – matching the final score’s margin.
Despite being held to 38 yards in the first half, Dylan Rabuck finished the game with 125 yards on 28 carries, giving him a final tally of 2,361 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns. He will return next year for the Vikings, who finish with a 12-2 record and lose just six seniors. Asked whether he thinks this year could be a springboard to an even better finished next year, Savage was optimistic but still wondered what could have been.
“This may be a springboard but it would have been a slingshot to win tonight,” he said. “If you go this far with only three seniors starting, the future is stunningly bright. We just came up short tonight but that can’t set us back.”
Steelton-Highspire 24, Williams Valley 20
Steelton-Highspire (6-7) 7 10 0 7 – 24
Williams Valley (12-2) 0 14 6 0 – 20
3:37 – (SH) Jarvai Flowers 12-yard run (Nicholas Neidlinger kick), 9-69, 2:59
8:23 – (SH) Nicholas Neidlinger 27-yard field goal, 6-19, 2:51
7:40 – (WV) Levi Engle 1-yard run (Jake Wolfgang pass from Levin Engle), 5-75, :43
4:23 – (SH) Jarvai Flowers 5-yard run (Nicholas Neidlinger kick), 7-62, 3:17
3:16 – (WV) Jake Wolfgang 66-yard pass from Levi Engle (pass failed), 3-62, 1:07
2:07 – (WV) Dylan Rabuck 9-yard run (run failed), 2-19, :13
1:22 – (SH) Lathaniel Webster-Spencer 50-yard pass from Malachi Young (Nicholas Neidlinger kick), 3-77, :22
First downs 20 18
Rushes-net yards 39-129 34-120
Passing yardage 205 195
Passing 16-23-1-1 8-22-1-1
Fumbles-lost 3-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 5-60 10-70
RUSHING: Steelton-Highspire: Jarvai Flowers (27-132-2), Malachi Young (5-(-11), Jayshun Ramsey (3-9), Isaiah Lockette (2-0), Tim Kater 1-6), TEAM (1-(-7)); Williams Valley: Dylan Rabuck (28-125-1), Levi Engle (5-(-7)-1), Jake Wolfgang (1-2)
PASSING: Steelton-Highspire: Malachi Young (16-23-205-1-1); Williams Valley: Levi Engle (8-22-195-1-1), TEAM (0-3-0-0-0)
RECEIVING: Steelton-Highspire: Lathaniel Webster-Spencer (9-141-1), Javion Grant (4-48), Jarvai Flowers (3-16); Williams Valley: Jake Wolfgang (3-113-1), Devon Rabuck (2-38), Allen Hand (1-30), Ken Reed (1-13), Nick Savage (1-1)
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