SOUTH CENTRE TWP. Dain Kowalski was bottled up. The point of attack on his fourth-quarter run toward the left tackle had been closed off by Loyalsock's defense.
Then there was a quick adjustment by the Central Columbia running back. A hop back to the right. A hop you'd miss if you blinked. But it was enough.
Kowalski slipped out of a pair of tackles near the line of scrimmage, broke toward the right sideline and was all but gone. He avoided just one tackler near the 10-yard line before waltzing into the end zone for his third rushing touchdown of the night.
It was the dagger in the heart of a Loyalsock comeback attempt. Central Columbia improved to 3-0 last night for the first time since 2004 with a 22-6 win over a game Loyalsock team that is running the gauntlet of HAC-II teams in the first half of its season.
Kowalski played maybe the best all-around game by a Blue Jay this year, a tall task considering they've gotten a brilliant performance from a different player in each of its three wins. Kowalski did it Friday night with a trio of touchdowns and 155 yards on just 13 carries. He added an interception just two plays after his dagger of a 63-yard touchdown run, and for good measure caught four passes for 28 yards.
"Both backs are really hitting the cutback nicely," Central Columbia head coach Jason Hippenstiel said. "It's what we worked on all summer because you have to be able to get the back side run when they're overloading the front side."
After the Blue Jays first two drives combined for 21 plays, 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the Lancers defense made the necessary adjustments to contain Central's running game. They crowded the point of attack, leaving very little running room for Kowalski and teammate Aaron Johnson.
But it also left a bit of an opening to the back side, which Kowalski saw as he made that quick hop. The 63-yard run ended Loyalsock's hopes of a comeback.
"The actual assignments to the front side were certainly very strong," Loyalsock first-year head coach Justin Van Fleet said. "I don't think we really gave up things on the back side, we just had a couple misses (tackles). I'm never going to fault a kid for giving every effort in the world to make a play."
Kowalski's late TD run was the highlight reel play of the night where Central Columbia had to rely on its running game as Loyalsock played back with its secondary to avoid the big play in the Blue Jays' passing game. The Jays' offensive line responded, paving the way for 264 yards on 36 carries (7.3 yards per carry).
Central had success in the run game despite losing starting center Tyler Young to an apparent knee injury in the second half.
"We didn't miss a beat there in the second half when we had to run the ball," Hippenstiel said of the changes after the injury to Young. "I've been preaching for three years, if you're going to win anything, you have to be able to run the football."
After giving up touchdowns on the first two drives to the Blue Jays, Loyalsock's defense didn't allow another score until Kowalski's long touchdown run with 8:16 to go in the game. And trailing 13-0 at halftime, the Lancers made a great adjustment at halftime that cut the lead nearly in half.
After running just 19 plays in the first half for 55 yards, including going just 1 of 7 passing, Loyalsock put quarterback Kyle Datres in an option attack that allowed the Lancers to move the ball quickly. Datres, playing just his third game as the Lancers' starting quarterback, had a 36-yard run on an option keeper to open the half. He finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-5 to cut the deficit to 13-6.
"His comfort zone is running the ball. I don't think I'm shocking the world by saying that," Van Fleet said. "(The option) gives us a different perspective. And (Central's) defense was tough to get to the edge, so that gave us an extra bubble to try and get the edge."
That was the only drive of the second half which lasted more than three plays for Loyalsock. The Lancers finished with just 138 total yards of offense last night.
"We had seen it for two plays in the 150 plays of theirs we saw," Hippenstiel said. "We just adjusted. Instead of man-to-man coverage, you go to zone and keep the play in front of you and the guys really reacted well."