BLOOMSBURG - Rocco Bausinger showed up in the weight room in January to prepare for a moment like the one he had Friday night in Bloomsburg.
The South Williamsport junior linebacker packed on 20 pounds of muscle preparing to make a hit like the one he laid on Panthers quarterback Ricky Klingerman on the game's most crucial play.
Bausinger hit and dropped Klingerman in his tracks on a two-point conversion attempt, leaving the Bloomsburg QB stopped cold on the 6-inch line and preserving the Mounties' exhilarating 27-26 win over the Panthers. It was the third win for South Williamsport in as many tries, which includes a victory in last season's District 4 Class A semifinals.
On a night where tailback Dominick Bragalone rushed for a career-high 212 yards and three touchdowns, it was Bausinger's hit and an incredible defensive effort which sealed win. The Mounties intercepted Klingerman, a 2,500-yard passer a year ago, four times.
"He lifted hard over the summer and worked hard in the weight room," linebacker Ryan Seagrave said. "He deserves a play like that."
There was no question the initial hit on a the quarterback keeper from Klingerman stopped him short of the goal line. He contended after being brought to the ground his second effort had gotten him into the end zone on the same play he had just run to score a touchdown from 1-yard out.
After a brief discussion amongst a trio of officials, it was ruled Klingerman was short of the end zone. When the ensuing onside kick went out of bounds, South Williamsport was able to run out the clock.
"Talk to a majority of the people and they thought he was in. I don't know," said Bloomsburg head coach Mike Kogut, who was in his first game leading the Panthers after replacing Larry Sones. "They made a play. That was mano-e-mano, tip your hat to them."
Kogut called going for the two-point conversion after Klingerman's touchdown run with 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the game a no-brainer. And for good reason. The Panthers had found an offensive rhythm it lacked both in the air and on the ground in the first half.
Klingerman ran for 43 of his 78 rushing yards on that final drive, utilizing a QB draw to allow the Panthers' offensive line to open up running lanes. His touchdown run came on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line after he had previously been stuff on a quarterback sneak and Evan Ball was dropped for a loss on a sweep.
Bloomsburg was stopped on its initial fourth-down attempt when Seagrave knocked down a quick slant, but the Mounties were penalized for a player not having their mouthpiece in. Given the second opportunity, Klingerman easily scored on a keeper out of shotgun.
"I thought we had them," Seagrave said. "I was trying to keep the team up and keep them motivated enough to stop them again."
The brilliant defensive effort didn't just come on that one two-point conversion play for South Williamsport. It was a 60-minute effort. Seagrave halted a first-quarter Bloomsburg drive when he intercepted a tipped pass. The Mounties' offense turned the interception into six points when Bragalone scored his second touchdown of the quarter on a 17-yard run for a 14-0 lead.
Riley Hengler and Riley Thomas then intercepted passes on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. Hengler returned his 25 yards for a touchdown for a 21-7 South Williamsport lead. Thomas' interception came in the end zone, one of two interceptions Klingerman threw in the end zone. Brett Garbrick also intercepted a pass in the end zone in the third quarter.
Klingerman threw just 10 interceptions in 335 attempts last year.
"(The interceptions) just killed those drives," South Williamsport head coach Chris Eiswerth said. "It completely changed the momentum. The best defense we can play is to not let them have the ball, but when guys come up with turnovers like that, it's even better."
South Williamsport kept the ball out of Bloomsburg's hands with a punishing running game which completely dominated the line of scrimmage. Going mainly off the left side behind Cody Nelson and Sam Buck in the first quarter, Bragalone tallied 95 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone.
The combination of Bragalone coming off the corner with speed and power and fullback John Peters pounding the middle of Bloomsburg's defense was too much for the Panthers to handle in the first half.
The two finished the game with a combined 296 rushing yards. It was reminiscent of the Mounties' two wins over the Panthers a year ago when stout fullback Brandon Stonge combined for 410 rushing yards in the two games.
"Our whole mindset in grinding it out, grinding it out, grinding it out, and burning the clock" Eiswerth said. "We really wanted to come out and establish the run which is why we won the toss and took the ball."
"Dom just stepped it up tonight. The whole offense stepped up and we took it to them," Seagrave said. "Our gameplan was to dominate the ground. Everything we had practiced for tonight worked to perfection."