Williams, defense score for Lancers

BLOOMSBURG – Bloomsburg’s first play of the game couldn’t have been more in Loyalsock’s wheelhouse. The Panthers went wide with a jet sweep to try and catch the corner.

The Lancers’ defense is as quick, if not quicker, than most offenses working laterally. Loyalsock flowed to the football, not leaving the Panthers’ Zahier Stewart anywhere to go.

Lancers cornerback Sam Newton broke through his block, made the tackle, and ripped the football from Stewart’s right arm. It bounced into the hands of Hunter Webb. Thirty-six yards later, Webb stood in the end zone with the first touchdown of Friday’s game at Panther Stadium.

Fans’ hot chocolate hadn’t even had a chance to cool down yet on the brisk fall night next to the Susquehanna River, and Loyalsock already had a seven-point lead. And that singular play set an aggressive tone for the Lancers defense. Loyalsock scored a pair of defensive touchdowns last night, and Marcus Williams scored four touchdowns as the Lancers won, 54-22.

Loyalsock scored at least 50 points for the second consecutive week, and the Lancers’ first-team defense allowed 1 yard or fewer on 22 of 33 plays in the mercy-rule win.

“I told them in the locker room this is the type of game where you have to establish yourself in that first moment and you have to come out and give everything you’ve got with the anticipation that they’re going to swing as hard as they can and hope it’s a haymaker on their end,” Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said. “Sometimes luck is your best friend. In that situation, the weird-shaped ball bounced right into Hunter’s hands in the open field. Once he takes off, you’re not catching him.”

That was the play which started a brilliant outing by a Loyalsock defense which allowed just 55 yards on 33 snaps with its first team on the field, 33 of which came when Nick Anderson found Jonathan Stone on a jump-ball throw to the end zone with just a minute left in the first half.

This was the perfect kind of matchup for this Loyalsock defense. An offense which likes to work wide to open up the middle of the field later in the game. The Panthers used jet sweep after jet sweep, toss play after toss play. And none of it worked because Loyalsock’s defensive line gave its lightning-quick linebackers the room to work to the football and stop plays before they ever became dangerous.

“We prepared a lot for what they were going to do,” Webb said. “We studied the film a lot and we were ready for this game.”

Bloomsburg ran 18 times for just 14 yards in the first half, thanks in part to a pair of sacks which totaled more than 20 yards of lost offense. And it wasn’t until the Lancers’ first-team defense came off the field late in the third quarter where the Panthers finally got going. Bloomsburg racked up 133 of its 188 total yards of offense after Loyalsock led 48-7 and began putting its second unit on the field.

“We’re very confident. You have to be confident in what you do, right?” Webb said. “I believe in our defense and I think everyone else does, and hopefully we can keep being on this roll like we are.”

“Our defense was searching for a time to find its identity. But across the board you have the pieces starting to fit,” Van Fleet said. “We’re starting to understand exactly what we need to do.”

And from there, the Lancers’ offense put the game away in a hurry. Loyalsock scored 28 points in the second quarter, thanks in part to a second defensive score when Williams returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown.

All four of the second-quarter touchdowns came from at least 35 yards. First it was Williams taking a sweep to the left, high-stepping out of a tackle and racing down the sideline for a 39-yard scoring run. Then it was Williams running wide open down the middle of the field after a brilliant play-action fake from quarterback Connor Watkins for a 55-yard scoring strike. Then it was Williams intercepting a throw-back screen and running untouched 47 yards for a touchdown. And Watkins capped the run with a scintillating 35-yard scoring run in which he slipped out of a pair of tackles and dove into the end zone to give the Lancers a 35-0 lead.

The three offensive touchdowns for Williams last night brought his season total to eight rushing and eight receiving. And 10 of those 16 touchdowns have come from 30 yards or more. The senior captain who missed last season with a torn ACL, has been exactly the player Van Fleet thought he was capable of being, and last night was just more evidence of that.

Williams finished with six carries for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and one reception for a 55-yard touchdown.

“Our offensive line knows what they’re doing. They’re efficient every play,” Williams said. “Thankfully I can run right behind their butts and score without ever being touched.”

“It’s certainly a good thing we have guys who can stick their foot in the ground and accelerate,” Van Fleet said. “And we have a few of them who are very, very talented. So our gameplan is to get the ball to the athletes and let them run. It’s the simplest concept in the world.”