LHU Throws Scare into IUP
LOCK HAVEN — The scoreboard at Hubert Jack Stadium had the final at IUP 21, Lock Haven 16, but that was only part of the story.
A play here, another play there, a little better execution with fewer mistakes, and it could have been a whole different ball game.
As most people say in the world of sports, there is no such thing as a moral victory. However, that didn’t keep LHU head coach John Allen from lauding the play of his team for its effort.
“We were so close and I am anxious to see the non-touchdown over there in the corner,” said Allen. “I am curious to see just exactly what that was, but I’ll get a chance to see that on film. We are just so close. The offense continues to get better and the young kids up front are continuing to get better. They made some mistakes today, but IUP has a really good defense. The one encouraging thing is that you can see the growth in them over the past couple of weeks. Those kids are getting better and better and Caleb (LHU quarterback Walton) did a much better job of finding the open receivers. He also made some plays with his legs and that helps us as well.”
The Crimson Hawks broke on top 14-0 with a pair of first-half touchdowns before a 21-yard field goal by Alex Boumerhi cut the IUP lead to 14-3 at the break.
During the first half, the Hawks ran at will on the Bald Eagle defensive unit, amassing 143 net yards on 30 carries, while also keeping the sticks moving by converting seven of nine third-down plays during the 30 minutes.
“Going into this game I kind of thought that is what they were going to do,” said Allen about IUP coming out running the ball. “Last week Seton Hill finished the game running the ball (on us) and we tired out a little bit. Seeing that, I felt that IUP was going to come in here and try to run their power scheme and that is what they did. I honestly didn’t think they were going to put the ball in (quarterback Chase Haslett’s) hands much because I think they have some issues there when it comes to decision making. I thought coming in they were going to try and wear us down with the power running game and then hit some play-action passes and that is kind of how the game went.”
Senior defensive back George Christas Jr. agreed with Allen as to IUP’s approach out of the chute. Christas led the Bald Eagles with 13 tackles, many of his stops against IUP running back Luigi Lista-Brinza who led the Crimson Hawk ground game with 114 yards and two scores.
“I wasn’t a spy on him. It was just a designed coverage,” explained Christas. “We knew that they liked to come out and run and their big receiving tight end (Brock Decicco) wasn’t in the game. Number 84 (Kevin Edwards) was rushing verticals against me so I was able to be a little more aggressive on run help. That is why I seemed to be in on a lot of tackles.”
IUP took its initial possession of the second half and marched 74 yards on seven plays to increase their lead to 21-3. But the Bald Eagles answered that score with one of their own when Walton hit Bernard Smack with a 12-yard scoring pass to cut the IUP lead to 21-10.
Following the Smack TD, the LHU defense stood up and controlled most of the final 20 minutes of the game in the near miss for the Eagles.
“We didn’t do anything different in the second half,” said Christas. “We went in at halftime and said that we just need to pick it (the intensity) up. The game was close and we felt that we could win the game and that is how we looked at it. They didn’t do anything us veterans hadn’t seen before so we just decided to come out and make the stops we needed to make to give the ball back to the offense.”
After the two teams exchanged punts twice, Kedar Hunter made the first big defensive play when he stepped in front of a Haslett aerial.
“They were running a curl (pattern) and it seemed like everything was in slow motion,” explained Hunter. “I thought I had a chance to take it to the house but really, I just tried to get as much as I could.”
On the heels of Hunter’s “pick”, Walton hit Jeremy Cornelius with a 30-yard pass that appeared to be a LHU score, but Cornelius was declared out on the 1-yard line.
“I don’t think the officials were really sure if I had broken the plane of the goal line or not,” said Cornelius. “I stuck my hand down and I could have sworn that the ball was over the pylon. We can send it to whoever to see if it was a touchdown, but I honestly thought I was in.”
Two plays later, Walton hit David Cook with a 2-yard scoring pass and with the score, the Bald Eagles had cut their deficit to less than a touchdown (21-16) with six minutes left in the game.
Taking the ensuing kickoff, the Crimson Hawks picked up 36 yards on four plays and appeared to be on their way to possibly running out the clock if not getting a game-clinching score.
However, that is when David Strawbridge became “Johnny on the Spot” as he picked Haslett’s pocket on the LHU 16.
“We practice defending those deep routes and doing our job all week in practice,” said Strawbridge. “I figured they might just take a shot (at the end zone) so I just watched my man, I made a break on the ball and I was able to make a play. We put a lot of pressure on our defense to make plays and in crunch time our coaches tell us that we have to embrace the pressure.”
On the strength of the legs of Walton and Beau Swales, the Eagles moved the ball to midfield before a fourth-down and long play was well short of moving the sticks and the Hawks ran the final seconds off the clock to preserve the win.
Now 0-3, the Bald Eagles will head down I-80 to East Stroudsburg Saturday for a PSAC-East battle with the Warriors. Kickoff for that game is set for 3:05 p.m.
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