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‘Special’ win for MC Emotional Barons rally past Lower Dauphin, 28-12
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
Manheim Central senior quarterback Caleb Walton kept imploring his teammates.
They were close, he told them, to finally punching the ball into the end zone.
Trailing only 6-0 at halftime following an emotional pre-game ceremony honoring their four fallen teammates, the Barons did indeed break through in the second half. Walton threw for a touchdown and ran for another as Manheim Central scored on its first three possessions after the break and went on to defeat Lower Dauphin 28-12 in both teams’ non-league opener at Manheim’s Elden Rettew Field.
Sophomore running back Ian Hanselman also had a big night in his varsity debut, rushing for a TD and then completing the scoring with a fourth-quarter touchdown reception.
"I think everyone put (the pre-game ceremony) in the back of their head," Walton said. "I know I was a little bit shaken up in the beginning, but I don’t think it had anything to do with (our play). We just weren’t clicking yet. There were a lot of little adjustments at halftime. I kept telling (the guys), ‘We’re a play away from breaking it into the end zone. We’re flirting with that big game.’ I kept hounding on the guys. The coaches were confident and they kept hounding on those guys. We knew we could punch it in."
The Barons (1-0) no doubt got a lot of inspiration from their four friends — Nicolas Bryson, John Griffith, Cody Hollinger and DeVaughn Lee — who were tragically killed in an automobile accident in January. Prior to kickoff, both teams lined up at midfield and family members of the four boys walked onto the field for the coin toss and a moment of silence. Although the uniform numbers of Bryson, Griffith, Hollinger and Lee won’t be permanently retired, the Barons have decided not to issue them until after their respective classes graduate.
For Manheim Central head coach Mike Williams, he has seen numerous big wins over his career, including the State Triple-A finals in 2003 and multiple District Three championships. But Friday’s victory was among the biggest for its own reasons.
"It was one of the most special," Williams said, "because of where we were seven months ago on Jan. 16. From where we were that day, when we found out those four kids died, to where we are today, it’s unbelievable. I’m proud of our coaching staff and the kids for getting where they are. I mean, we’re not a great football team and you saw that in the first half. But where we were even three weeks ago to where we are today is incredible. So we’ve taken a step forward."
Central’s defense certainly took a step in the right direction, allowing only five first downs and 175 total yards against the Falcons (0-1). Kyle Mangan, Rey Lasanta, Trent Lilley, Tanner McCauley, Manny Del Carpio and Derek Shaub all rotated on the defensive line and senior linebacker Andrew Kauffman recorded a team-high nine tackle points and a fumble recovery while helping the Barons hold LD to just 53 rushing yards.
"Andrew Kauffman’s the anchor of our defense," Barons’ defensive coordinator John Brubaker said. "He’s not a guy with a loud voice or a lot of emotion, but our kids respect the heck out of him because they know he’s a hard worker and a hard player and he played real well tonight … I thought we did a super job (as a defense). It was 6-0 at halftime, but it just seemed that any momentum we got, we did come back and respond. That’s a part of a team that’s starting ‘s to mature a little bit, I think."
The Falcons, in fact, didn’t get their initial first down until midway through the second quarter. That helped Manheim Central win the field position battle early in the game, getting the ball at Lower Dauphin’s 34 and 42 for their first two possessions.
But unfortunately for the Barons, they couldn’t capitalize. Poor snaps and dropped passes contributed to MC’s struggles and kicker Bryant Myer had a 41-yard field goal attempt go wide left and another one — a 43-yard try with 7:43 left in the half — was blocked by LD’s Josh Palmer.
On the Falcons’ ensuing possession, running back Travis Morrill gained 20 yards on a sweep right, and then following a penalty, QB Ben Goss connected with Quincy Nissley, who eluded two Central tacklers and took it to the house for a 34-yard scoring strike, putting up the Falcons up 6-0 with 6:12 left in the half.
Later, Lower Dauphin tried to add to its lead as time expired in the half, but kicker Joe Julius’ 41-yard field goal attempt was off the mark.
The missed opportunity would come back to haunt LD when the Barons made a statement on their opening drive of the second half. Starting at its own 20 following a touchback, Manheim Central attacked the Falcons’ defense with 12 straight running plays. Junior Hunter Root ran the ball seven times for 26 yards and Walton added four carries for 28 yards to drive the ball inside Lower Dauphin’s red zone. Then on a fourth-and-3 play, Walton rolled to his right and fired an 11-yard dart to senior wide receiver Josh Good in the back of the end zone to get the Barons on the scoreboard with 5:06 remaining in the third. Myers added the first of his four PAT’s to give the Barons a lead they never lost.
"To punch it in like that, it was such a confidence booster and that was really the momentum shifter in the game," Hanselman said.
"We played a good second half," Williams said. "We went in (at half), we reviewed some blocking rules and then we just started to get going. I think (Lower Dauphin) got a little tired and we just kept running. Our running backs started to run finally. In the first half, they were a little timid. I told them at halftime, ‘It’s up to you guys. You’re not doing the job. You’ve got to run harder.’"
Walton had a team-high 65 rushing yards and the Barons gained 182 of their 206 total yards on the ground in the second half. Walton also completed 7 of 16 aerials for 73 yards, with two touchdowns and no picks. Meanwhile, Manheim Central’s defense also rose to the occasion in the second half, holding Palmer and Morrill to minus-13 rushing yards on the Falcons’ first two possessions.
"I thought the defense played well against the run," Williams said. "We pounded on them a few times. And they were big. We looked at these guys and holy heck, they outweighed us by 60 pounds a man up front, but we pounded them."
Brubaker added, "Against the running game, I thought we tackled very well. I saw four or five guys gang-tackling and that’s fun stuff. Last year, it seemed like they rushed the ball for about 400 yards on us and I know they have an experienced offensive line back with maybe four and a half starters. So they have a veteran offensive line, (but) I thought we were fresh up front and the guys that were in were doing the job. We really wanted to focus on stopping the running game because if they control the clock and keep getting first downs, it could have been a long night."
Conversely, the Falcons had a difficult time stopping the Barons’ running game in the second half, and on MC’s second possession, Lower Dauphin got a heavy dose of Hanselman (18-64 rushing). The sophomore running back lugged the ball six straight times, including one for a 14-yard gain on which he used tremendous second and third effort to take the ball to the Falcons’ 11-yard line. Two plays later, he barreled across the goal line from 10 yards out on an inside zone run to put Manheim Central in front 14-6 with :30.5 left in the third quarter.
"We really started to gel and push them back in the second half," Hanselman said. "I guess it came down to how much we wanted it. We knew the first half was going to be tough – these (Lower Dauphin) guys weren’t a bad team. But we felt in the second half we could really come out and put a hit on them and really get up on them."
From there, the Barons’ defense made another solid stand and got the ball back for their offense at the Falcons’ 39-yard line. After Walton completed a 10-yard first down pass to tight end Taylor Geib, Manheim Central’s senior quarterback did the rest with his legs, slicing through the Lower Dauphin defense for a 30-yard touchdown run with 9:30 to play in the fourth and giving the Barons a 21-6 advantage.
"We knew we could do it. I think that first half, we were sort of seeing what it’s like because we’re so inexperienced," Walton said. "We were together and we wanted to score, but we didn’t have that chemistry exactly yet. I kept hounding on those guys, the coaches kept hounding on those guys and we believed and we did it."
Lower Dauphin made things interesting thanks to Goss hitting Nissley on a quick slant which went for an 80-yard TD on the first play of their ensuing possession. Goss’ pass for two fell incomplete, but the Falcons cut the Barons’ lead to 21-12 with 9:17 left to play.
That’s as close as they would get, however. With just under four minutes remaining in the fourth, the Barons got excellent field position, starting at LD’s 22, and Hanselman received a short dump pass from Walton on fourth-and-short and rumbled 14 yards to paydirt to help seal the victory.
"It was just a wide open play and everything just worked out," Hanselman said.
"(Hanselman and Root) picked the pace up and you’ve got to give those kids credit," Williams said. "I challenged them at halftime and they did it."
With this important win under their belt against Lower Dauphin, the Barons will now prepare for another tough challenge against Section One power in Manheim this Friday night at 7 p.m.
"It’s all about us playing games," Williams said. "Wilson is probably going to be loaded and tough, (but) I don’t fear that because for us, we’re going to play them, we’re going to play hard and we’re going to get better. And if we get better, then it’s worth it, even if we lose the game." More BARONS, page B-6