SUNBURY Loyalsock's defense absorbed many blows from bruising Shikellamy running back Dwayne Pepper on Friday night. The 6-foot, 220-pound senior carried the ball 24 times, often shaking off or running through would-be tacklers, leaving them behind or on their back.
Pepper's 24th carry, however, ended in a stalemate and that is all the Lancers needed.
Facing a fourth-and-1 at his own 38, Shikellamy coach Todd Tilford faced an agonizing decision. Go for it and run another 2 minutes off the clock, or punt the ball to Kyle Datres and the Loyalsock offense with just under 3 minutes remaining.
Tilford called the first of his three second-half timeouts to mull the decision after a Loyalsock timeout, and when Tilford returned to the sideline he left his offense behind.
Pepper had rushed for 164 yards on his first 23 carries, so when the Braves broke the huddle, there was really no suspense where the ball was going. Pepper took the handoff from quarterback Garrett Kemberling, but when he reached the line of scrimmage, he met heavy resistance from the interior of the Loyalsock defensive line that was gashed throughout different parts of the night.
Pepper and the Braves were turned away, and five plays later the Lancers were in the end zone with a 35-28 lead. The Lancers' defense made one final stop and secured a second consecutive victory after losing in Weeks 2 and 3.
"We have timely defense," Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said. "What we are trying to develop as a defense is when we need to stop somebody we bend but we don't break and tonight we took a good step."
"It was a long one or give Datres the ball back," said Tilford about the call to go for a first down in his own territory up by a point. "We felt he is just too good of a quarterback. We had a chance to put it away with under three and with the ball. The kids wanted to go for it, the coaches wanted to go for it and I'd do it again."
After the defense stuffed Pepper, Loyalsock took over at the Shikellamy 38 with 2:48 remaining. Two plays into the drive, the Lancers (3-2) faced a critical third-and-9. Datres, who rushed for over 100 yards, turned to his arm and it delivered a strike to Mickey Haller to keep the possession alive. A 15-yard pass to Caleb Robbins moved the ball to the Shikellamy 13.
"We had so many chances to force them into punt and every time he came up," Tilford said. "Sometimes the other kid makes plays and that was him tonight."
The Lancers went to the option on first down at the 13, and Datres held the ball as long as he could before pitching it to Robbie Klein. The running back, a rookie football player, shook his shoulders to bypass one defender and sprinted into the end zone before the remaining Braves could close in to give the Lancers a 35-28 lead after Datres hit Omar Little with a two-point play.
"I couldn't tell you," Klein tried to explain how he worked his way into the end zone for the game-winner. "I saw green grass and I kind of made a move and I was there."
The Class AAA Braves reached just inside Loyalsock territory with under a minute remaining but four consecutive incompletions allowed the Lancers to move back above .500 for the first time since winning their opener.
Loyalsock scored 14 consecutive fourth-quarter points for the second consecutive week to secure another hard-fought victory. Klein pulled the Lancers to within a point with 6:14 remaining after a 2-yard run, but Loyalsock missed the extra point.
Special teams weren't all bad for the Lancers. For the second consecutive week, they returned a kickoff 88 yards. This time it was an unlikely returner. With last week's returner Fletcher Quigley and Jimmy Webb both out with injuries, Phil Krizan filled in and ignited the Lancers, returning the opening kickoff of the second half back. Krizan broke free and made a quick move past the kicker on his way to tying the game at 21-21.
"It's next man up step in," Van Fleet said about the revolving door around the kick return game due to injuries. "Our team has lived up to that across the board."
While Krizan played the role of the hare, Pepper was the turtle, deliberately moving the ball down the field for the Braves (1-4), who hadn't scored more then 14 points in a game this year and had just 34 total in their first four games.
Pepper's third touchdown, a 23-yarder that ended a four-play, 45-yard drive, which were all Pepper runs, gave the Braves their final lead, 28-21, with under a minute left in the third quarter.
Pepper finished just a yard shy of matching his 165 yards against the Lancers last year.
Loyalsock will face another strong running attack next week when Troy visits.