MOUNT CARMEL Nick DiFrancesco drifted toward the Loyalsock sideline, waiting for the football to fall into his arms. It might as well have been a punt coming his way because the Lancers' defensive back was the only one who was going to catch the pass thrown by Mount Carmel's Zack Wasilewski.
When he finally caught the ball, he took two steps out of bounds and was swarmed by a sea of Loyalsock players who could finally exhale knowing their first win over the Red Tornadoes in school history was imminent. One first-down run and a couple kneel downs later, it was pandemonium on the 50-yard line at the storied Silver Bowl as Loyalsock pulled the first major upset of the year in District 4, beating Class AA favorite Mount Carmel, 32-29, Friday night.
Lancer players milled around their sideline following a post-game huddle with coaches, sharing hugs and stares of disbelief that not only did they come on the road and beat Mount Carmel, but they did it in front of a statewide audience in a game shown on PCN.
"You come down here and it's intimidating," Lancer linebacker Mickey Haller said. "Everyone is wearing red. Grown men are saying stuff to you. But we walked in and said, 'Hell yeah, we're going to embrace it.' Once we started rolling, we just went with it."
Loyalsock made its presence known in increments, first forcing a fumble on the opening possession and turning it into a touchdown. Then answering Mount Carmel's first score with a two-play, 74-yard drive. Then it was simply holding on to that 14-7 lead through the second quarter.
But in the second half the Lancers were announcing their presence with authority. A dazzling 48-yard touchdown run from Kyle Datres that saw him duck under one would-be tackler, split another two, beat one to the corner, and then outrace another to the end zone. Then it was a 71-yard drive capped with Mike Dougherty's second touchdown run.
And finally, Datres quieted a stadium in which five state championship teams have called home when he returned a fumble 62 yards for a touchdown. It was as mind-numbing as it was shocking.
This is a Loyalsock team that is clearly much improved from its 2011 one-win season, but had yet to tap into that potential before Friday night. Then it all exploded on to the Silver Bowl grass in one 32-minute span that sent shockwaves through the District 4 Class AA contenders.
"This game means everything to us. Our whole team came together," said Dougherty, who finished with 74 rushing yards on 11 carries, including a pair of touchdowns. "We said we're not letting this season turn out like last season. We played as one team. We're coming back together and we're ready to have one hell of a season."
"I think this is the proof of the faith the kids had in me. I'm crazy enough to think we can do this, and the kids, the coaches and the community have faith in me," Loyalsock first-year head coach Justin Van Fleet said. "I can't say how much that means to me. This is just proof that the system being put into place works."
The scoreboard points to Loyalsock's win last night as a triumph of a struggling offense which threw five interceptions two weeks ago against Danville, and struggled to get anything going outside of one drive against Central Columbia a week ago. And 195 rushing yards on 33 carries might be proof to that theory.
But last night's game was won with a suffocating defensive effort that saw the Lancers stifle the most basic plays in Mount Carmel's playbook. They allowed their share of 3- and 4-yard runs, but that was the plan. The players weren't preached to all week about completely shutting out the Red Tornadoes' offense.
Instead it was a lesson in learning that 3- and 4-yard plays were going to happen. The key was to take away the 20 and 30-yard plays. And for the most part, the Lancers did just that.
Mount Carmel averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. Starting tailback Luke Klingerman, who was banged up following last week's loss to Southern Columbia, carried 22 times for just 59 yards. In fact, the bulk of Mount Carmel's damage on the ground came from Wasilewski who gained 74 yards on just 10 carries, including 48 yards and a touchdown on the Red Tornadoes' final scoring drive in the fourth quarter with 3:48 to go in the game.
Haller, Cody McCracken and Aaron Hepburn helped negate Mount Carmel's speed advantage, getting to the corner before Klingerman could on sweeps and stretch plays, blowing up blockers and leaving nothing but a pile of bodies for Mount Carmel ball-carriers to run through.
"We're a really fast team and we play a lot of Wing-T teams, so we're used to having that outside contain," Haller said. "We have great outside contain guys in Mike Dougherty, Bobby Oeler and Cody McCracken. We were great tonight at containing the run on the outside."
"Mickey Haller and Cody McCracken just blew plays up," Dougherty said. "They tore it up back there and that's what made the defense click tonight."
Last night's win was a huge one for the Lancers just to get back on track after losing in consecutive weeks to District 4 title contenders. Van Fleet cautioned, though, that it was still just one win, and he still expects Loyalsock to be a team that wins every game on their schedule.
"It is obviously a major program-changing win," he said.