Heartbreaker in State semi-finals

By on December 6, 2017
Baron senior running back Giovanni Lester (right) follows his blocking to run for a nice gain in the first half against Gaterway in the State 5A semi-finals last Friday.

Baron senior running back Giovanni Lester (right) follows his blocking to run for a nice gain in the first half against Gaterway in the State 5A semi-finals last Friday.

Barons nearly pull off miracle hook-and-ladder, but fall short, 31-28

Colin Erb thought Tyler Simon was going the distance.

So did a lot of his Manheim Central teammates.

“We did everything we could,” said the Barons’ bruising running back/defensive end.

Unfortunately for MC, Gateway stopped the Barons’ desperation hook-and-ladder play, dragging Simon down at the 20-yard line as time expired to hold on for a riveting, down-to-the-wire 31-28 win in the State 5A semi-finals at Altoona’s bitterly cold Mansion Park last Friday night.

“We gave it a heck of a shot tonight,” Manheim Central coach Dave Hahn said. “We came up short, but we almost pulled off a miracle too. I was trying to call a timeout and there was no time left.”

“That was a play we practiced a lot and sadly, we didn’t get it,” senior wide receiver/defensive back Jake Novak said, “but it was a fun ride coming here.”

Manheim Central coach Dave Hahn gives senior Colin Erb a big hug following the Barons’ 31-28 loss to Gateway last Friday in the State 5A semi-finals.

Manheim Central coach Dave Hahn gives senior Colin Erb a big hug following the Barons’ 31-28 loss to Gateway last Friday in the State 5A semi-finals.

While the District Seven champion Gators (14-1) advanced to this Friday’s State finals to meet Archbishop Wood (11-2), the L-L Section Two and District Three-winning Barons ended their season with a 13-1 record.

“These guys are my brothers and this is just so much fun,” Novak said.

“It’s been one heck of a ride,” Erb added. “This is probably the best season I’ve been in all three years of varsity football. I’ve been playing with these guys for so long, so to make this far together for one last ride … there’s nothing better than that. I’m just really thankful for that.”

The Gators were thankful for freshman kicker Jayson Jenkins, who split the uprights for a 23-yard field goal with just 10 seconds left in regulation, capping a 12-play,. 80-yard scoring drive and snapping a 28-28 tie.

That set the stage for the Barons’ final play, and sophomore QB Evan Simon found MC’s all-time reception yards leader Novak over the middle, who flipped the ball to senior Tyler Simon.

Simon gave the Gators a scare, but it wasn’t meant to be.

“Tyler gave it his best effort,” Novak said. “He’s one heck of a player, he’s special, a great friend, and he did all he could. Everyone did.”

Certainly, the task in front of them was a big one, facing a prolific Gators’ offense, led by senior QB Brady Walker, who now has 4,378 passing yards and 43 TDs this season, and junior receiver Courtney Jackson. Walker was 36-of-54 for 466 yards and three TDs, in addition to rushing for a one-yard score, and Jackson hauled in 15 catches for 264 yards and two TDs.

“They’re special,” Novak said. “Those two are talented. The quarterback’s got a great arm, he knows how to find the receivers, and Jackson is one heck of an athlete.”

Manheim Cental, though, had Gateway on its heels early on, as Novak grabbed a five-yard TD reception from Evan Simon (9-of-20 for 179 yards, with 3 TDs and an INT) on the Barons’ opening possession.

Then after MC’s defense got the ball back for the Barons in great field position, they needed just one play to strike again, this time on a Simon-to-tight end Garret Fittery 35-yard TD pass. Niko Gavala’s PAT put Manheim Central in front 14-0.

The Gators got on track on their next series, and when Walker connected with Jackson on a crossing route in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown with 2:41 left in the first quarter, Gateway was within 14-7.

MC linebacker Landan Moyer recorded an early sack in the game, and the Barons got pressure on Walker at times, but the Gators’ mobile QB often proved elusive.

“What he’s able to do in the pocket, we put a lot of pressure on him,” Hahn said, “and he was still able to move very well in the pocket. At times, we just couldn’t get him. We weren’t able to finish it.”

Meanwhile, Manheim Central — after gaining 84 yards on its first two drives — managed just 14 on its next four possessions of the half, including a trio of three-and-outs.

An INT by Baron junior Isaac Perron thwarted a Gateway drive early in the second quarter, but eventually, Walker (18-34 rushing) led the Gators on a game-tying 12-play, 72-yard drive, scoring on a one-yard keeper with just :09 left in the half. Despite a bad snap, Jenkins’ PAT tied it 14-all at the break.

In all, the Gators had a 15-5 advantage in first downs in the opening half.

Early in the third quarter, Erb wasted little time making his presence felt, taking a pass from Evan Simon and rumbling for a 19-yard gain, then later carrying Gateway defenders on his back for a nice gain.

“I was just trying to do whatever I could to push everyone and get the momentum going toward our side,” said Erb, who rushed for 41 yards on five carries. “You can’t stop, you can’t let up.”

Finally, with 6:26 left in the third, Erb’s work set up Evan Simon’s third TD pass of the night, a 21-yard connection with Fittery (2-56 receiving) down the right sideline, putting the Barons back in front 21-14.

Just over five minutes later, the Gators capitalized on a big play, with Walker airing out a 61-yard dart to Jackson for a game-tying TD to make it 21-all.

“They’re both really good players,” Hahn said.

Hoping to answer, the Barons instead were forced to punt, but Gateway muffed it and Troy Kolk recovered the ball at the Gators’ 16.

Two plays later, though, Gateway dodged the threat by recovering a Baron fumble on the one-yard line. From there, Walker went 4-of-4 through the air, including a 66-yard TD pass to Jackson on a hitch-and-go on the left sideline. Jenkins’ point-after put the Gators in front 28-21.

Not long afterward, the Barons were staring at a lot of trouble, when Gateway junior Brendan Majocha pirated an MC aerial, giving the Gators a first down at their own 40-yard line.

They drove to the Barons’ 34, but on 2nd-and-long, MC defensive back Will Rivers stepped up with an INT and returned it 50 yards to the Gateway 33-yard line.

“That was huge, that was a big play,” Erb said. “The run after the catch was probably the most impressive part. He’s a good player and he’s capable of doing that all the time.”

After Evan Simon scrambled 14 yards for a first down, Erb did the rest, taking the hand-off, bouncing it left and scoring on a 19-yard run with 3:39 to play. Gavala’s PAT tied it 28-all.

“That’s been Colin Erb since B team, I remember,” Novak remarked. “He’s something special. I love Colin and he gives everything every single play.”

“He’s done a heck of a job all year,” Hahn said. “Erby’s a special kid. We’ve got a lot of special guys on this team. We had a small senior class, we only had 12 of them, and it’s such a special group.”

But with just over three and a half minutes left, Walker went to work, completing three of his first five passes on the Gators’ next drive, including a 24-yard hook-up with Jackson on the left sideline to the Barons’ 20.

After taking some time off the clock, Gateway sent out Jenkins, who proceeded to kick his go-ahead 23-yard field goal.

One play was all that Manheim Central had time for, and they nearly pulled it off. Gateway, though, was able to survive.

“I’m very proud of our kids,” Hahn said. “They gave it a great effort. If you would have asked 13 or 14 weeks ago, ‘Would we be here today?,’ I don’t know if I would have said that. I honestly just wanted to get better each week. I thought we did get better each week. We gave it a heck of a shot tonight.”

“It was a fun game,” Novak said. “It’s sad to end, but there’s a lot of memories out here.”




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