Defense leads MC to 14-7 upset of Spot
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Rare is the occasion that Manheim Central plays the underdog role in a Section Two game.
Especially at Elden Rettew Field.
But that’s where the Barons found themselves last Friday night against a Garden Spot squad whose only league loss was a 23-21 defeat to Section champion Lampeter-Strasburg in week seven.
"I think we sort of liked that," Barons’ senior quarterback Caleb Walton acknowledged. "You don’t have as much pressure, you’re not picked to win, but hey, anything can happen. This is like a pre-playoff game and it had a playoff (atmosphere)."
In Garden Spot and Manheim Central, it did indeed feature two teams who will be playing in the District Three Triple-A playoff this Friday night. And with the Spartans boasting an offense that ranked second in Section Two with 351.3 yards per game, many picked GS to earn its first-ever win over the Barons on Friday night.
It didn’t happen.
Walton’s one-yard TD run in the third quarter snapped a 7-7 tie and the Barons’ defense held GS to a season-low in points, as Manheim Central capped the regular season with a 14-7 victory over the Spartans on Senior Night in Manheim. Walton rushed the ball 19 times for a game-high 133 yards and finished 8-of-16 through the air for 106 yards, helping the Barons improve to 26-0-1 all-time against the Spartans. The series dates back to the 1972 season.
"It feels real good keeping the tradition alive of never losing to Garden Spot," Walton said. "I’m so proud of our guys. That’s all you can ask for."
Manheim Central (6-1 Section Two, 8-2 overall) locked up the fourth seed in the District Three Triple-A playoffs and will host Palmyra (8-2) this Friday in the opening round. GS (7-3), meanwhile, earned the ninth seed and will travel to Conrad Weiser (7-3) on Friday night for a first-round game.
Last Friday, it seemed fitting that the Barons’ defense made a key stand on a late fourth down play –stopping GS star receiver Connor Schlegel short of the sticks with just 1:57 remaining — to help clinch the victory. This was the same Manheim Central defense that picked off Garden Spot QB John Armbrust as many times (two) as the senior signal-caller had been intercepted through the Spartans’ first nine games. And this was also the same defensive unit that dealt Armbrust his first two sacks of the year.
"The defense was awesome," Barons’ skipper Mike Williams said. "(Defensive coordinator) John Brubaker and his guys … The defense has been our strength all year long. They’ve kept us in games. The offense is just doing enough to eke it out. I think the key (on defense) was we put some pressure on (Armbrust), he couldn’t stay in the pocket and we made him run to the sideline."
That formula worked well as they held GS on its first series and capitalized on a short punt to get solid field position. Although the Barons’ first possession ended when Spartans’ lineman Matthew Christie recovered a fumble, they opened the scoring on their next drive, as Andrew Kauffman’s block sprung Walton on a 47-yard run and then Justin Greene (18 carries, 61 yards) capped the six-play, 85-yard drive with a two-yard TD run. Bryant Myer’s PAT made the score 7-0 with 2:58 left in the first quarter.
On the Spartans’ ensuing possession, Armbrust completed passes of 41 yards to Schlegel and 11 yards to Tyson Petersheim to move the ball to the MC 28-yard line, but Barons’ defensive back Josh Good ended the threat with a pick at the 12-yard line. Armbrust entered the game as the Section’s sixth-leading rusher with 543 yards (7.5 avg.), and although he completed 19-of 28 passes for 234 yards, he was held to just 16 rushing yards. Overall, Garden Spot managed just 68 yards on the ground.
"(Manheim Central) is fast defensively, they play very well, so we weren’t running much read stuff with (Armbrust)," Garden Spot coach Matt Zamperini said.
Later in the second quarter, Garden Spot appeared to score the tying TD when Petersheim hauled in a 54-yard pass from Armbrust, but the play was brought back due to a penalty and the Spartans came away empty.
"That was (huge)," Zamperini acknowledged. "It happens – it just happened at a very inopportune time."
Finally, with just 1:10 left in the half, GS scored the tying touchdown when Armbrust found Schlegel in the left corner of the end zone, just out of the reach of a Manheim Central defender to complete a seven-play, 56-yard drive. Armbrust was 4-of-6 for 46 yards through the air on that drive, including a pair of completions to Schlegel, who finished with nine receptions for 122 yards.
Once the second half got underway, Walton and Armbrust traded interceptions on the first two drives, and Kauffman’s pick and seven-yard return gave the ball to the Barons at the GS 43 with 7:48 left in the third quarter.
"(Kauffman) is a tremendous defensive player — he’s probably one of the best linebackers in the county, one of the top in the state," Walton said. "He really loves the game and he studies hard and he read that pick and got it and that was really crucial."
From there, Walton completed three passes, including a 24-yard strike to sophomore tight end Taylor Geib on a seam route and a 17-yard hook-up over the middle with junior Cole Proffitt on third-down to get the ball to the Spartans’ one-yard line. Facing fourth down on their next play, however, Williams consulted with Brubaker and also with his players about their options.
"I asked everybody to get an opinion about what we wanted to do. Coach Bru was the first to say go for it. We were deciding what we want to do, field goal or go for it? So we had this special play that we practiced 57 times all year," Williams joked, "and it didn’t work and Caleb had enough athleticism that he ran it in."
The play was designed for Walton to throw the ball to Josh Good on an out route, but the play was well-covered by Garden Spot’s zone defense, and the Barons’ quarterback rolled right, found a small opening and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a one-yard run with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter.
"I first checked the receivers and it’s not a very good play against zone, so my next option was … It’s Senior Night, play with a lot of heart and get in," Walton said. "That play is a little bit better for man coverage and they gave us zone, and Coach always tells me, ‘If I have room to run it, just go.’ I saw just a little hole and I burst through it."
With the Barons getting the job done offensively and defensively, their special teams also stepped up after that when senior Trent Lilley blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt by Garden Spot’s Bryan Peter with 10:29 left in the fourth, and senior Reid Pavlik pounced on the loose ball, keeping the Barons’ seven-point lead intact.
"That was our big pitch over the last several weeks about playing four quarters because we could do so many good things for a short period, and then all of a sudden, quarter-by-quarter we could just flop," Williams said. "Tonight, we had our ups and downs – we started out shaky again – but the kids hung in there. It’s a credit to them. We beat a pretty good football team tonight."
Playing with the lead, Williams admitted that they went to a conservative approach on the offensive side of the ball, but they nevertheless drove to the Spartans’ 28-yard line on their next series. When the drive stalled, Myer attempted a 44-yard field goal with 4:23 left to make it a two-possession game, and although it had plenty of leg, it sailed wide left.
Having dodged that scare, the Spartans took over and gained a pair of first downs to move the ball to the Barons’ 49-yard line. Two plays later, GS junior David Drescher attempted a halfback pass on a reverse, but the Barons’ Pavlik came through with a big defensive play, knocking the ball away from Schlegel.
"Boy, on that reverse pass, (Pavlik) made a great play," Williams said. "I mean, it was this far short (holding his hands a foot or two apart), and that’s the difference in the play."
Moments later, after making the fourth-down stop, the Barons took over on their own 40-yard line with just 1:57 left, and on third down when Walton completed a key 18-yard pass to Geib, that was the ball game.
"Taylor’s going to be a real good player in the next two years and he made a great catch and that was a big throw because if we try to run it, they’re loading eight, nine guys in the box," Williams said. "If we don’t make it, then we’re going to punt, we’re going to give them the ball back and then we’ll see what happens. But we made that and game over. As a coach, there’s no greater feeling than being able to knee the ball. They can’t do anything about it. The best time of doing that ever in my life was at Strath Haven when we had a 3-0 lead. But tonight was close to that." More MC, page B-5