Mickey Haller found a turning point in Loyalsock's season four weeks ago after a disappointing trip to Towanda. It was a learning experience which fueled not only the Lancers' 48-20 throttling of the Black Knights on Friday night, but this entire three-week wave of impressive wins Loyalsock is riding.
That road loss in Week 7 by one point got Loyalsock to refocus, making sure it treated every opponent as if it was the best opponent the Lancers had played all season. Friday night in the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals, the Lancers left no doubt as to who the better team was as they rolled up more than 500 yards of offense and quarterback Kyle Datres accounted for five of Loyalsock's seven touchdowns.
"I feel we were overconfident going into Towanda last time," Haller said last night. "We have to thank Towanda for showing us that we're not better than every team just by showing up."
Loyalsock's Philip Krizan defends a pass intended for Towanda's Dylan Bates Friday night at Loyalsock.
Loyalsock advances to the AA semifinals where it will travel to Danville. The Ironmen beat Lewisburg, 23-6 last night. Danville beat Loyalsock in Week 2, 23-21, and also defeated the Lancers in the district playoffs a year ago.
As impressive as the offensive numbers were for Loyalsock, it was the vast improvement in its defensive play against the Black Knights and their read option offense which stood out most. The Lancers strung out most of Towanda's running plays toward the sideline where the outside linebackers and defensive backs attacked to make tackles.
After rushing for nearly 300 yards in the first meeting, Towanda was held to just 40 yards on 22 carries last night. Quarterback Noah Huff, and undersized but lightning-quick runner, had just 22 yards on 15 carries. Ten of his carries went for 2 yards or less. Tony Daniello who had nearly 90 yards in the previous meeting, had 14 yards on five carries.
After being gashed up the middle in the opening game, the Lancers did their best to stuff the running lanes on the dive or off-tackle portion of the read option, forcing Huff to take the ball wide. It worked to near perfection.
Towanda had just one carry for double digit yards, it recorded just eight first downs and was unable to sustain the kind of long drive which kept Loyalsock's offense at bay in the first meeting.
"We knew we could bait them into going outside and then we'd be able to contain," Haller said. "If you line up inside and get them to go outside and contain them, you can play with them. That's our defensive strategy is to play unselfish defense."
"The big thing you can't do is give up the gashes in the middle, because they'll take it," Loyalsock head coach Justin Van Fleet said. "So we figured if we can get someone to stretch it wide, we have enough team speed to catch up to it."
Towanda ran 12 first-quarter plays but gained just one first down and turned the ball over once on a fumble. Inside linebacker Luke Faubion did the initial damage up the middle by penetrating the offensive line and burying plays before they ever got started.
With the early penetration, Towanda became hesitant to run the ball up the middle.
"Luke Faubion stepped up for us and turned into an absolute monster," Haller said. "With a 130-pound quarterback, if you get pressure up in his face, he's going to flood to the outside. And if you have the outside shut down, there's nowhere to go."
"Luke has filled a lot of the plug we had with Aaron Hepburn up the middle last year as a play-making inside linebacker who just does some things that are hard to stop," Van Fleet said. "He's an aggressive defensive player who plays with an offensive mentality. When he's in, he's not thinking we're going to try and stop them. He's thinking get the ball and do what he can with it. His aggressiveness has picked up as his confidence has picked up."
And as the defense shut down Towanda's offense, it kept getting the football back in the hands of Datres and Loyalsock's offense, something it struggled to do in the first meeting. The Lancers ran 68 offensive plays last night, 30 more than it ran in the previous meeting, and Datres sparked the offense early with his legs.
He ran for three first-half touchdowns, and his first six carries of the night went for 187 yards, pushing him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. Datres had a 47-yard run on an option keeper on Loyalsock's opening series, but was tackled at the Towanda 12-yard line when Phil Krizan couldn't hold a block on Huff.
That Lancers possession ended in a lost fumble. Krizan made up for it when he threw a beautiful seal block on Huff later in the corner to spring Datres for a 53-yard touchdown run which gave Loyalsock a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Krizan threw another stellar block downfield when Datres scored on a sweep play on the first play of the second quarter from 65 yards.
His third touchdown run was 7 yards later in the second quarter. He had 213 yards on 11 carries in the first half. He finished with 233 yards and has 1,129 yard rushing this season. He's also thrown for 1,374 yards.
Last night was the third time this year he's run for at least 200 yards in a game.
"When Kyle does those things, people look out and say look at what he's doing, and it's all neat and pretty," Van Fleet said. "But it's really the work of the other 10 players that allows him to do that. When the other 10 aren't working in function, he doesn't work at that level. Our receivers have really worked on downfield blocking because we knew it was a weakness last year. They bought into it."