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Fourth-down stops help Barons hold off Indians, 17-14
Two long pass plays gave Susquehanna Township the momentum in the second half last Friday night.
If not for back-to-back fourth down stops by Manheim Central’s defense in the shadows of their own goal posts in the fourth quarter, the Indians might have rode that wave to an upset.
In the end, the No. 2-seeded Barons survived a nerve-wracking finish and held on for a 17-14 victory over the 10th-seeded Indians in the District Three Triple-A quarter-finals at Manheim’s Elden Rettew Field.
“We had ‘em all the way. I wasn’t a bit worried,” Central coach Mike Williams joked afterward. “We saw two different halves. We had momentum and field position in the first half. They had momentum and field position the entire second half. The only time we had momentum was with 4.1 seconds left or something like that.”
Manheim Central (12-0) will look to build on the win when it faces Section Two rival Cocalico, a 35-21 winner over Lancaster Catholic, this Friday at 7 p.m. in the District semi-finals back in Manheim. In an earlier meeting between the two foes this season, the Barons prevailed by a 24-12 score in Denver.
Just as the Eagles (11-1) will be aiming for some payback, the Barons entered last Friday’s action hoping to avenge a 24-14 loss to the Indians a year ago in the District quarterfinals in Harrisburg. Central achieved that goal, but not without a serious scare.
“We had an opportunity to win, an opportunity to take advantage of it, and we didn’t,” Susquehanna Township coach Joe Headen said. “That’s what happens with young teams. All those kids will be back and we’re proud of them. It’s sorta like role reversal. I talked to Mike last year and he thought the same way about his team because they were all juniors and he knew they were all coming back and they were going to be good. They’re always good. It’s developing into a pretty good game when we play Manheim Central.”
What looked to be a one-sided contest in the first half – in favor of the Barons, 17-0 – became a pretty good game in the final two stanzas. Susquehanna Township got a break it needed, and some momentum, when sophomore Chris Ciotti returned the second-half kickoff 36 yards to the Indians’ 43-yard line. Then on third-and-long, QB Ben Moser connected with Ciotti for 52 yards to put the Indians on the doorstep. Following a penalty, Takhi Turner scored on an eight-yard run with just 1:43 elapsed. Freshman kicker Jonah Willians’ PAT was blocked, but ST cut the Barons’ lead to 17-6.
“We talked about kickoff coverages and they got the second-half kickoff out to the 50-yard line,” Williams said. “And then how many third-down plays did they make in a row? We had them stopped first and second down, they made a third-down (conversion) and they got the momentum.”
The Indians started the next drive on their own 13, but three plays later, Moser found Ciotti on a slant and Susquehanna Township’s sophomore wide receiver took it the distance 82 yards to the house with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter. The Barons again blocked Willians’ PAT, but the Indians cut their deficit to 17-12.
After going just 1-of-6 for 10 yards with a pick in the first half, while throwing high to all of his targets, Koser finished the game 10-of-18 for 201 yards.
“The two long pass plays … we didn’t do a good job of covering,” Williams said. “We let them have two easy scores. We’re struggling to move the ball and they’re throwing the pass and getting two real easy scores.”
When asked how big of a concern his team’s pass defense is, Williams quickly said, “Very much of a concern. Tonight, we didn’t play tight. We gave up too much ground. It does very much concern us. We have good kids playing back there, but maybe a little lackadaisical effort, I don’t know. We just didn’t play all that well in the secondary. The run defense was pretty solid.”
Indeed, the Barons held ST to just 50 yards on the ground, including minus-9 in the first half, and they rose to the occasion when the Indians took advantage of a short field to drive to Central’s five early in the fourth quarter looking to go in front. On fourth-and-1, Moser was stopped just a chain-link short.
“It always comes down to inches in big games,” Headen said. “September and October wins, you get ‘em. November wins are tough and this is a perfect example of it. Just as tough as it was for us, the guys across the sideline from us, it was a tough game for them too. They were playing with backs against the ropes.”
“Football’s a game of momentum,” Williams said. “They’re running harder, they’re hitting harder, and you could see it. We were falling back a little bit. In the end, our kids made that fourth-down stop, which was a great play in the game.”
Meanwhile, the Barons’ offense, after gaining 107 yards on the ground in the first half, managed just three yards on 11 carries in the second. Their best drive following the break came when they marched to the Indians’ 19, highlighted by Dan Wiederrecht’s 61-yard reception from QB Colin Fry (8-15-0, 189 yards), but the Barons were unable to add to their lead.
That looked big when Moser completed 4-of-5 passes, including gains of 16 and 20 yards to tight end Logan Sangree-Hills, to give the Indians a first down at the Barons’ five. They gained just one yard on their next three plays, and then on fourth down, Moser’s pass to Sangree-Hills fell incomplete and Central survived the threat.
“It was do-or-die right there,” Baron linebacker Taylor Geib said. “Those two (fourth-down) moments are what defined our defense. As a defensive squad, we really came together, made the plays we had to, stuck with our men and you see the outcome.”
“(Moser) got a good look and the ball went a little low on him,” Headen said. “But you know what? We wouldn’t have changed anything else up there.”
Needing a first down to run out the clock, the Barons were stopped short and then punter Wade Beamesderfer ran out of the end zone for a safety with just 14.8 seconds left, as the Indians made it 17-14. Following the free kick, ST had time for just one play after taking over on the Barons’ 45, but Lorin Butler, after catching a pass from Moser, was dropped for a loss and that was the game.
“We felt we could run some time off the clock (on the safety) and trust that we could give them one play and they couldn’t get close enough to kick a field goal,” Williams said. “Sometimes those things work out for you.”
It was Manheim Central, though, who outplayed the Indians in the first half, outgaining Susquehanna Township 198-39.
The Barons ran 20 offensive plays in the opening quarter, to ST’s three, and took the lead when Marc Royer’s three-yard TD run capped a 10-play, 67-yard scoring drive. Damon Crouse’s PAT made it 7-0 with 6:27 left in the stanza.
Royer, who carried the ball nine times on the opening drive, finished with a game-high 88 rushing yards on 24 carries. Ian Hanselman, who gets most of his rushes up the middle, had five yards on three carries.
“It was just a matter of Marc was a little better outside runner and (Susquehanna Township) was just stuffing the middle,” Williams said. “But perhaps on that one fourth down we didn’t make, we maybe should’ve had Ian running it because he might have been able to pound his way in there a little bit and break a tackle.”
Fry’s one-yard TD run on the first play of the second quarter doubled the Barons’ lead and then Crouse’s 37-yard field goal with 6:59 left in the half made it 17-0.
In the end, it turned out to be just enough for the Barons to win.
“They’re all dejected,” Williams said of Susquehanna Township, “and that could be us over there with our heads hanging. But if you’ve been in Manheim long enough, we’ve seen many like this. We’ve seen many where teams maybe outplayed us, and in the end, we were ahead on the scoreboard … My knees were weak in this one.”