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Southern Nips Lewisburg in Final Minute

Written by: on Saturday, October 1st, 2011. Follow Shawn Weller on Twitter.


LEWISBURG, PA: If this game of high school football was not a barn-burner, then you’ll likely never see one. It had a bit of everything for the football fan: Big break-away plays; Long, well executed drives; Defensive stands; Seven lead changes (Yes, I said “seven”); A last minute touchdown; And a game deciding field-goal attempt.

Southern received the ball to start the contest, but punted it away after a Brad Fegley pass sailed long on third-and-eight. Lewisburg started on offense at their own 34 yard-line and went straight to the air. A 14-yard strike from Cam Cassels to Brandon Smith got them near mid-field. That combination would haunt the Tigers much more in the second half.

Then the Green Dragons’ premiere running back, Merle Moscarello got his shot – first on a four yard burst, then, finding a big hole in the middle, he exploded 48 yards for the opening score. A low snap was fumbled on the PAT attempt, leaving the score 6 – 0 at 9:48 in the 1st quarter.

Next, Southern sought to slow things down a bit, putting on a ten-play, 70 yard drive. A dump screen to Matt Moore, followed-up by 21 hard-fought yards got the Tigers into Lewisburg territory for the first time at the 35. Then Fegley hooked-up with Kieth Day for 17 yards. Tyler Levan bulled his way forward for eight and a first-and-goal at the six. Two plays later he rumbled in for a five yard touchdown. Dylan Swank’s PAT gave Southern their first lead at 7 – 6.

Following the kick, the Tigers tightened up their defense and got the ball back on a long punt return by Day to mid-field. The offense, however, was not quite in synch. Fegley seemed to be loading-up too much and over-throwing open receivers, as in the case of a wide open Moore on second down. When he did manage to connect with Day on a 52 yard catch and run to the one yard-line, it was called back on a very late holding flag thrown deep in the Tiger backfield. Instead of first-and-goal at the one, they were left with third-and-28 at their own 32.

This would prove to be a huge swing in the momentum of the game, for on the next play, Fegley was sacked and fumbled to Lewsiburg’s Smith. Two rushing plays by Jared Laino went seven and 21 yards and got the lead back for the Dragons at 13 – 7.

The following SC drive sputtered at the Lewisburg 12 after two incomplete passes. Another defensive stand gave them good field position mid-way through the second period. This time it took 11 plays to cover the 49 yards to the end-zone. Receptions of 11 and 20 yards by Day kept the drive alive, and Levan capped it with a one yard TD dive. The lead changed hands again at 14 – 13.

However, a big play would once again redeem the Dragons. After being bottled up with the running game, Cassels tossed a screen pass over the pursuing defenders to Laino. With open field in front of him, he traveled 48 yards to the Southern 15. Cassels then took a keeper around the right for the score. It remained 20-14 going into half-time. After four games without a turn-over, Southern found themselves in a hole for the first time, and the difference was a fumble that led to a Green Dragon touchdown.

After the game coach Jim Roth commented that his team played the first half with very little intensity, “The execution and energy was lacking early on, but in the second half they relaxed and played better football.”

They were going to need to step up the intensity if they hoped to overcome a deficit to a quality squad like Lewisburg. And step up they did. On the first play from scrimmage Jammie Slotterback dropped Laino for a loss of four. Negative three yards on three plays forced a punt, then Southern went to work. Levan clipped off nine yards, then Moore broke loose on his biggest run of the night of 49 yards to the two of Lewisburg. Levan punched it in from there, giving the Tigers a slim margin at 21 – 20.

Another three-and-out series was forced by the defense, and the tide looked to be in Southern’s favor. They were moving the ball well on the ground when another holding call set up a first-and-23 at the Dragon 38. They decided to go to the air. First a six yard shot to Moore. Then, he had a nice catch and run deep into the red-zone for 22 yards before the ball was stripped loose and recovered by Lewisburg.

Following the turn-over a big sack by Slotterback had the Dragons pinned deep at their own one yard-line. This time, a gutsy call by coach Tilford payed-off big again. Cassels lobbed the ball down the sideline to Smith, who was one step ahead of the defender, and outran the field 99 yards to the endzone. After the score, Lewisburg faked the PAT kick and threw for the 2-point conversion, putting them up by seven at 28 – 21.

The quick score shifted the momentum once again, but Southern went to work on a ten-play drive into Dragon territory. It ended when the Tigers went for it on fourth-and-nine at the 23. The ball was puched out of Fegley’s grip and recovered by Nick Cozza. You could feel the collective sigh from the Southern Columbia side of the stadium. With precious time ticking away in the final quarter, the defense needed a quick stop.

Lewisburg had other ideas, however, and proceeded to throw another strike to Smith for 35 yards. Three plays later Moscarello, who had been pretty well corralled since his early 48-yard touchdown, found another hole and broke loose down field. After 30 yards he was caught by Joe Kleman who knocked the ball loose for sophomore Nate Hunter to recover at the eight yard-line.

The Tigers had a chance to overcome their mistakes, but were facing 92 yards and a dwindling clock. A pass to Day earned them 23 yards to the SC 36. Then Moore took a reverse 16 yards just across mid-field as the tension mounted. A nine yard pass to Savitski just short of the first down at the 30, then a penalty, followed by a six-yard run by Levan and it was fourth-and-inches at the 29. With the Dragons keying on the halfbacks, the challenge was up to Levan… first seven yards, then ten for a first-and-goal at the eight! Next, pounding his way through defenders, he looked to break the plane, but the ball was spotted about three inches shy of the goal. There was no denying him from there as he dove across for the score.

With that accomplished, it was now decision time – the score was 28-27 and a PAT kick would tie it with 0:50 on the clock. Roth gave his team the option and they chose to go for two. With Levan lining up in the single back set, the stadium was absolutely pulsing with anticipation. The snap, the give, the line surging forward, and Levan bowled his way well into the end-zone. The two-point conversion was successful, and the score was 29-28 Tigers.

Those lighted numbers, 0:50, glared down on the field as Tilford’s Green Dragons prepared for their final push. Returning the kick to their own 29, they went for a quick pass – incomplete. Then came a lateral to Smith who had three blockers in front of him. He turned to run, then set up to pass, and threw a 37-yard strike to Laino at the Southern 34.

Next Moscarello rushed forward for five, looking for another break-away opening. Then Lewisburg tried another trick pass, first to Moscarello then long, but it fell incomplete and was flagged as an illegal forward pass. Beyond field goal range, they tried to go for the long pass again.

This time the receiver was looking to the outside along his sideline, but the ball was thrown inside where the defender was keeping stride, trying for the interception. There was contact and both players went down. A late flag looked like probable offensive interference, but to the shock of Southern it was assessed against them. A fresh set of downs and new life was given to the Dragons at the 21.

Then a face-mask penalty advanced the ball half the distance for a first-and-goal at the eight. Moscarello tried the middle again, but was stacked up quickly – too quickly for Southern as the whistle blew the clock to a stop with 0:02 left. The ball was on the right hash awaiting the field goal team. The whistle blew again. The clock ticked down. The ball was snapped cleanly, set, and kicked. Sailing high, the ball went just left of the upright and players from both sides fell to the turf exhausted when the officials made the call – “no good.”

This was a game not to be forgotten anytime soon.

LEWISBURG (3-2) is a far better team than their record would indicate. They proved that they can strike from anywhere on the field in many different ways. With plenty of heart and determination they will undoubtedly make some noise come play-off time. They travel to MONTOURSVILLE (2-3) to take on a young Warrior team.

SOUTHERN COLUMBIA (5-0) remained unbeaten with the narrow victory in HAC-II action. The coaching staff is still making changes with defensive personnel at the midpoint of the season. There is improvement as they held off a potent Lewisburg attack despite the three turnovers by the offense, but they are susceptible to the big play and need to cover their assignments better heading down the rough stretch in their schedule. They travel to BLOOMSBURG(5-0) next Friday to battle the fellow undefeated Panthers.

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