Unbeaten no more

By on November 10, 2015

Barons deal Solanco its first loss and earn share of Section title

Manheim Central’s Damon Camacho side-steps a diving tackle attempt from Solanco’s Zeb Eshelman as he tries to get around left end. Also pictured for the Barons is tight end Sam Martin. (Photo by Stan Hall)

Manheim Central’s Damon Camacho side-steps a diving tackle attempt from Solanco’s Zeb Eshelman as he tries to get around left end. Also pictured for the Barons is tight end Sam Martin. (Photo by Stan Hall)

Sam Martin was the primary target.

But when Manheim Central’s senior tight end was covered by Solanco’s defense, quarterback Kody Kegarise had to look elsewhere.

Enter Jake Novak, who was open in the end zone.

Kegarise scrambled to elude the pass rush and extend the play, then made no mistake, hitting Novak for a 17-yard TD pass with just 1:34 left in the fourth quarter.

It turned out to be the difference in a 21-18 win for Manheim Central in front of a packed house in Quarryville, as the Barons (6-1 L-L, 8-2 overall) knocked off previously unbeaten Solanco (6-1 L-L, 9-1 overall) and forged a three-way tie for the Section Two crown with Lampeter-Strasburg (6-1 L-L). It’s the first time in Section Two history that three teams tied for the crown.

“The pocket broke down, so I just took a little step to my left, beat the guy coming in for me and just tried to get rid of it before I got to the line (of scrimmage),” said Kegarise, who finished 13-of-20 for 161 yards, with two TD’s and one interception, while adding 64 rushing yards on 11 carries. “I saw that Jake was open, so I just put it there.”

It was sweet redemption for Kegarise, who was picked off by Solanco’s Mike Figueroa, setting up a 21-yard TD run by Prosper Ezugouwa with 4:04 remaining which put the Golden Mules up 18-14.

As MC coach Dave Hahn noted, one of Kegarise’s strengths is his ability to bounce back from adversity.

“Kudos to Kody, he’s really coming on right now,” said Hahn, whose team opens District Three Triple-A play as the number 3 seed hosting 13th-ranked Spring Grove (5-5) this Friday. “It just says a lot about Kody and his character. He’s had his ups and downs this season, but he’s getting better and better. With our injuries, we had to kinda change some of what we were doing that suited him more and he’s really responded to it.”

As much as Kegarise did to influence a positive outcome for Manheim Central, the Barons’ defense also stepped up big time. Solanco, led by its triple option rushing attack, entered the game averaging 40.4 points per Friday, and the Barons, with four starters injured and two-way lineman Elliot Martin unavailable due to sickness, limited the Golden Mules to a season-low on the scoreboard.

Junior linebackers Nick Brown and Tyler Lutz led Central with 19 and 15 tackle points, respectively.

“Discipline,” Hahn said when asked about the key to facing Solanco’s offense. “We coached their butts up this week. We were disciplined and they did a great job.”

The Barons’ offense certainly did a great job on their first possession of the game. Kegarise completed 14-yard passes to Kevin Starner and Novak, moving MC into the red zone. Then on 3rd-and-10, the junior QB proved slippery while breaking a tackle or two and scooting 18 yards to paydirt with 9:13 left in the first. Derek Adams added the first of his three PAT’s to put the Barons up 7-0.

“I’ve said before that I thought the running back (Damon Camacho) and quarterback are great athletes,” Solanco coach Tony Cox said. “Very elusive, they can move and stuff like that. We had our opportunities. I don’t know how many times I’d see three or four Solanco guys around and then we would miss the tackle, or (Kegarise) would slip through a couple of arms. Our kids have to be focused on make sure we secure the tackles.”

For Kegarise, it was his fifth rushing TD in two weeks after scoring four in a 28-10 win over Garden Spot on Oct. 30.

“I try to stay humble and just keep going,” Kegarise said. “I mean, it feels good that we’re winning against these good teams and proving people wrong.”

The Mules showed why they’re a good team on their first drive, putting together an 11-play scoring drive and answering MC with a five-yard run by Robbie Hassel (19 carries, 97 yards) with 4:33 to go in the quarter. The march was highlighted by a 52-yard scamper on a wrap-around draw by Darren Wheary, who finished with 83 yards to lead a Solanco ground attack which gained 353 total yards in the game.

“Our kids play tough, they’re tough kids,” Cox said. “They wanted this – the whole community wanted it, I wanted it. Again, it was a great game, a great atmosphere. Manheim Central’s a great football program. They played well, we played well. It’s just the bad thing was we lost tonight and they won.”

Even though MC blocked Solanco’s PAT, keeping the Barons in front 7-6, that playoff-like atmosphere racheted up on the Mules’ turf.

“The atmosphere tonight was crazy,” Kegarise acknowledged.

Central seemed poised to regain the lead on its next series, as Kegarise found Austin Geib for 22 yards to the Solanco 11. The drive stalled, but Adams came onto the field to attempt a 22-yard field goal. But when the Mules jumped, moving the ball to the 2-yard line, the Barons’ offense returned to the field.

The strategy didn’t work out, though, as Starner’s halfback option pass fell incomplete and the Mules took over on downs.

“I felt like we needed to make something happen,” Hahn said. “I felt like, ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity.’ After that, I was kicking myself in the butt, thinking, ‘You know what, we should have taken that (field goal) just because of the way both teams were playing defense.’”

Following the early fireworks, defense and a field position chess match resulted in no more points in the opening half.

But the Barons wasted little time adding to their lead in the third quarter. After Central’s defense stymied the Mules on their first series, Camacho faked a reverse and returned the punt 57 yards to the Golden Mules’ 13. Two plays later, Kegarise’s 11-yard TD pass to Gavin Guyer put the Barons up 14-6 with 8:41 to go in the period.

While Central did a solid job of containing Hassel up the middle, the Mules were able to break a few long runs to the outside, including Eguzouwa’s 49-yard run around left end late in the third.

Eventually, on a 4th-and-16, Solanco QB Noah McCardell (5-of-14, 88 yards passing; 20 carries, 55 yards) rolled right and found Figueroa for a 24-yard TD pass with 11:48 left in the fourth. The Mules tried a two-point conversion looking to tie the game, and failed, but Central’s lead was sliced to 14-12.

On Solanco’s next series, MC’s Gunnar Royer and Starner made tackles for loss, and Central got the ball back deep in their own territory.

“(The defense) was awesome,” Hahn said. “I gave Gunnar a big hug and said, ‘Tonight was your night’ … Brock Fittery goes down the fifth game, he can’t play anymore and Gunnar’s got four games under his belt, he’s just coming into his own and look what he did tonight.”

The defense was called upon to make another stand after Figueroa’s INT put the Mules in business at the Barons’ 27 with 6:10 left. Again, the Mules found themselves in a fourth-down situation, but Eguzouwa ran left, broke a tackle and scored from 22 yards out, giving Solanco its first lead, 18-14, with 4:04 to go.

But the Barons’ offense dug deep. Kegarise went 5-of-5 on the game-winning for 59 yards on the drive, and added a key nine-yard scamper in a 2nd-and-long situation. One play later, of course, he and Novak hooked up for a big 17-yard go-ahead TD pass, and after a brief pause from the referees, it was official.

“We ran a bootleg, which we were pretty successful at before,” Hahn said. “If he would have gotten rid of it earlier, it probably would have made it easier. But (Kody) likes the dramatic. We’ll take it.”

Solanco still had 94 seconds left to respond, but the task at hand was more difficult with just one timeout left. Cox burned two of the three earlier in the third.

“They hurt dearly, but sometimes you’ve got to make decisions, and with things we weren’t doing right on offense, I had to call the timeouts, so I had no choice in calling it or not,” Cox said.

Royer delivered a key sack, and then McCardell hit passes of 23 yards to Figueroa and 17 yards to Troy Miller, but time ran out on the Golden Mules’ hopes.

“I don’t want to get emotional,” Hahn said, “but I’m very proud of our kids because of the fight that they’ve had to go through this year.”

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