SELINSGROVE - It seemed like a dagger that would finish off Milton well before halftime. Mason Pope's daring return of booming punt by the Black Panthers that saw him race past his cheering bench on the west side of Harold L. Bolig Stadium before cutting it back against the grain for a 60-yard touchdown handed the Seals a surprising 21-0 just over three minutes into the second quarter.
But this time, Milton, a program that has endured numerous disappointing defeats in Snyder County refused to be fed another bitter loss to the Seals. Riding the best passing performance of Brady Chappell's four-year varsity career and big play after big play from Jayson English, the Black Panthers stormed back from the early deficit and secured a 33-28 victory when Travis Krall recovered a Selinsgrove fumble in the final three minutes of the Heartland Athletic Conference-1 contest Friday night.
"When you spot a Selinsgrove team 21 points and come back to beat them, it's unheard of," Milton coach George Goodwin said. "Selinsgrove is a quality team and they made all the big plays early in the game. But we just found a way to make those kinds of plays at the end when it mattered."
It certainly looked like Selinsgrove was prepared to bounce back from consecutive batterings at the hands of powerful Berwick and Southen Columbia. The Seals (3-4, 2-2 HAC-1) turned Matthew Apple's interception of Chappell's first pass of the game into the first touchdown of the game when Connor Liesenfield ran in from three yards.
The Selinsgrove defense held the Black Panthers to minus-two yards on three plays and pushed the lead to 14-0 with a bit of good luck when a Liesenfield fumble in the red zone bounced directly to Benjamin Kahn and he ran untouched for 15-yard touchdown.
Milton (5-2, 2-2) still couldn't get their offense in gear in two more possessions and Pope's meandering dart through the Milton punt coverage team promised to add another loss on the Black Panthers.
But the Milton attack, so explosive since an opening night loss to Danville, finally found it's rhythm with nine-play, 85-yard drive sparked by English's 41-yard run on a third-and-5 and capped by the first of four scoring runs by Josh Brown.
After forcing the first Selinsgrove punt of the game, Milton turned to its two-minute attack and Chappell, who at one point in the game completed 17 straight passes and finished with 262 passing yards, marching the Black Panthers 72 yards in eight plays. Completing six of his passes on the drive, Chappell hit English (10 catches, 146 yards) with a screen pass and the senior avoided three Selinsgrove tackler while tip-toeing along the sideline for a 23-yard touchdown while slicing the Seals lead to 21-14 with 35 seconds left in the half.
"We knew Brady would have to come up big in this game and he did," said Goodwin. "English was tremendous, as well."
After receiving the second half kickoff, Milton stayed with the passing attack and Chappell connected with Greg Schultz on a 40-yard completion to the Selinsgrove 17 and two plays later Brown's five run helped tie the game at 21-all.
The deadlock lasted less than two minutes as Angelo Martin, who enjoyed a breakout 151-yard rushing night, broke a 61-yard touchdown to restore the Seals lead at 28-21. But when Chappell was forced out of the game when he was sacked and backup quarterback Hunter Snyder entered, Milton turned back to the running game and finished a 94-yard drive with eight straight rushes, ending with a three-yard dive by - who else? - Brown. The kick failed and Milton still trailed, 28-27.
But Milton's defense, which tightened after the initial Selinsgrove outburst in the first half, got an interception from Schultz and, with Chappell back in the game, drove 51 yards with Brown scoring the game winner on a one-yard blast with just over nine minutes left in the game.
"Chappell was just tremendous for them tonight," Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess said. We just couldn't get the defensive stops we needed."
Selinsgrove seemed poised to pull out the win, though, driving deep into Milton territory and converting a key fourth-and-5 play on a dazzling reverse by Pope. But on first down, the Seals fumbled and Krall recovered. With 2:14 remaining in the game.
"When I saw Travis raise the ball in the air, it was a great feeling," Goodwin said. "Hey this is Selinsgrove and it's the one that is always circled on the calendar. The kids could have folded tonight but didn't."