As Lewisburg linebacker Brandon Smith made the interception and raced 73 yards toward the end zone, Green Dragon teammates celebrated, jumping up and down as their fans roared behind the sideline.
Over on the Loyalsock sideline and in its stands barely anyone spoke. As Smith put the finishing touches on a dominant 49-26 Lewisburg win at Kenneth Robbins Stadium, quarterback Kyle Datres lay flat, writhing in pain at midfield. Datres was carried off the field, his status unknown while a complete performance carried Lewisburg to a huge win.
Lewisburg (7-2) made a big statement against a fellow District 4 Class AA playoff team and now has a shot at earning one of the district's top three seeds since Central Columbia, Danville and Athens all lost Friday. Smith ran for 163 yards and scored five touchdowns, four rushing, while quarterback Nick Costigliola was outstanding and the offensive line overpowering as Lewisburg built a 28-0 halftime lead and never punted.
Lewisburg's Brandon Smith follows close behind the block of Michael Berger for a touchdown in the second quarter.
"Offensively and defensively we played well and were able to establish the run and were able to do a lot of good things on both sides of the ball," Lewisburg coach Jeremy Winn said. "It was a very dominating performance by our offense and our offensive line. Any time you don't have to punt that's a big testament to our offensive line."
Datres threw for 160 yards, ran for 119 and accounted for three touchdowns. He helped Loyalsock (5-4) cut that 28-point deficit to 35-20 with 7:59 remaining but, after Smith scored his fourth touchdown, Datres was crunched at midfield by a blitzer and Smith made the game-clinching interception return. Datres was able to put some weight on his injured leg afterward and Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said Datres was upbeat. At that point, the diagnosis was unknown, although it appeared to be either an ankle or a foot injury.
Loyalsock had driven to the Lewisburg 36-yard line before Smith made his best play in a night filled with them. The Lancers spent the whole second half rallying but Smith finally delivered the knockout blow.
"I was thankful for that after it happened because up until then, my job was spying the quarterback and pressuring him, so a few times when I came up to pressure that left the receiver open so this time I got to stay in coverage and I saw the No. 3 receiver went out so I knew somebody was coming back in," said Smith, who had eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. "I hooked in and someone hit the quarterback so the pass was a little off-balance and made it a lot easier to get to it."
Smith's offensive line made it easy to do just about anything offensively. Alex Starmack, Kyle Santorine, Brandon Benfer, Jonathan Miller and Jamison Bond collectively could have received the game ball, paving the way for a 395-yard performance. Lewisburg scored on all four first-half possessions and the only time the starters did not score in four quarters was when a third-quarter drive ended with a missed field goal.
Lewisburg linemen repeatedly drove defenders backward and often Smith was not touched until he was 5-10 yards upfield. Costigliola also took advantage of the line's brilliant performance, completing 14 of 19 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. The junior topped 1,000 yards passing and completed eight straight first-quarter passes.
"It makes my job very easy when they're getting that kind of a push. I don't think there were too many plays where I didn't have a hole," Smith said. "They were moving people. I can speak from experience, it's nice when you're not getting hit till you're 4-5 yards down the field as opposed to do in the backfield. They did a good job opening things up."
Lewisburg sent a message on its first possession, moving 76 yards on 12 plays and going up 7-0 on Smith's 4-yard touchdown. It was more of the same on the next possession as the Dragons put together another long, balanced drive that Costigliola capped with a 1-yard run. The first-year quarterback was 9 for 11 at that point and had connected with five different receivers.
The Dragons gained 234 first-half yards and two more Smith short touchdowns made it 28-0 at halftime.
"We're really starting to get that balance on both sides of the ball," Winn said. "Obviously teams are trying to stop Brandon. He's a big weapon for us, but Nick has played well all year and he's allowing us to do a lot of different things in the pass game and that was probably our best performance from our offensive line tonight."
The Lancers made an impressive comeback attempt in the second half, scoring on three of their first four possessions. After Datres scored on a 15-yard run to make it 35-15, Bailey Young recovered an onside kick at midfield and Loyalsock made it 35-20 10 plays later when Datres hit Phil Krizan with a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down.
"We weren't out of it down 28. I was on other side of that with Mount Carmel when they almost came back on us so we knew we could do it," Van Fleet said. "The kids didn't give up or quit. We were a 1-9 team last year that had a lot of trouble. Many times we would have folded in the past and they didn't fold. They came out and fought hard and were able to push themselves in a lot of ways. There are positives that come out of a game like this, an awful lot of them."
Lewisburg regrouped following Krizan's touchdown and the offensive line again took over. Smith ripped off a 20-yard run on the first play and Costigliola capped a 50-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Joe Gardner.
Loyalsock suffered a big blow just four plays into the game when linebacker/offensive lineman Aaron Hepburn suffered a game-ending injury. Hepburn is one of the district's premier linebackers and already has more than 100 tackles. He also is a standout blocker and was assigned to spy Smith throughout the game.
"The start they got off too was certainly good and losing Hepburn on defense is a much larger thing than most people would consider. He is our most influential defensive player," Van Fleet said. "He was in a lot of ways what we were hoping for against Smith. When he goes out you could see in that first half it changed things very quickly."
Malik Wilson caught four passes for Loyalsock while Young made seven tackles. Lewisburg safety Ty Turner played an outstanding game and had a sack, five tackles and a pass breakup.