Cavanaugh and Lancers beat Blue Jays

Chase Cavanaugh said he wore short sleeves on the season’s first frigid night Friday because he was worried long sleeves might cause him to fumble. His Loyalsock coach, Justin Van Fleet, said it was because his junior quarterback is tough.

Maybe, just maybe, both answers were true after the Lancers posted a 21-13 win over Central Columbia in the District 4 Class AAA semifinals. Cavanaugh had no issues fumbling the ball, and he showed that toughness Van Fleet talked about, carrying 25 times against a Blue Jays defense which seemed to hit harder the more the temperature dropped.

The Lancers (9-3) advance to the District 4 Class AAA championship game Friday against Montoursville. The Warriors defeated Warrior Run, 54-12, in the other semifinal. The cross-bridge rivals are meeting in the district championship game for the first time since 2014 when Montoursville won, 21-19. Montoursville also won the previous meeting between the two teams this year, 41-6.

“I feel like we weren’t at our best in the first game,” Loyalsock linebacker Simone Mileto said. “But I feel like we’ll be at our best for this game and we can give them our best shot.”

Cavanaugh thought about wearing long sleeves coming into the game with temperatures dipping into the 20s. But the material making the cold compression shirts like he would wear can often make it more difficult to keep the football tucked against the forearm. And on a night where offenses were going to want to throw the ball about as much as John Goodman wants to run a marathon, ball security was of the utmost importance.

Besides, Cavanaugh figured running around the field and the adrenaline flowing would be enough to keep him warm. In hindsight, it wasn’t. But he shrugged off the cold and carried 25 times for 97 yards and a touchdown. He also made almost every correct decision in the Lancer’s read-option offense and tailback Davion Hill carried 26 times for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Loyalsock ran for 198 yards as a team against a Central Columbia defense which had allowed just 114 rushing yards per game against teams not named Southern Columbia. For only the second time in their last seven games, the Blue Jays surrendered at least 20 points.

“I felt like we were getting 4 yards a carry every carry,” Cavanaugh said. “When you have that kind of success, you have to keep doing it.”

This wasn’t the kind of offensive performance from Loyalsock in which it delivered knockout blow after knockout blow. Instead, it was death by a thousand paper cuts. Its opening drive covered 65 yards in 10 plays before finishing with a fourth-down quarterback sneak for a touchdown by Cavanaugh. Nine of the 10 plays were runs.

The Lancers’ third-quarter scoring drive covered 71 yards on 14 plays with 12 of them coming on the ground. The only two passes of the drive were thrown with Loyalsock facing a goal-to-go situation from the 14-yard line. And when Loyalsock posted the winning drive in the fourth quarter which ended on a Hill 1-yard scamper, the Lancers covered 71 more yards on 14 plays with 12 coming on the ground.

“The running game gained traction and we found some things we thought we could take advantage of when we watched film,” said Van Fleet, holding a helmet in which frost had formed on the shell. “We had to continue to keep grinding and take our shots when they permitted.”

“They’re a good team and they have a big D-line. I got hit a couple times pretty hard,” Cavanaugh said. “But we had great success in the run game, and when that happens it’s hard to stop an offense.”

Early on, finding leading receiver Rees Watkins seemed to be part of the gameplan as his 22-yard gain on the game’s second play helped set up the scoring drive. But after that, offensive coordinator Andy Brown generally called on the pass game when absolutely necessary.

Cavanaugh threw a fade to Watkins on fourth-and-goal from the 14-yard line in a 7-7 game in the third quarter largely because it was the highest percentage chance of the drive finishing in a touchdown. Watkins likely got away with a bit of a push-off as he separated from Central cornerback Zander Bradley for a touchdown reception.

Watkins also made an critical fourth-down catch for a 14-yard gain which helped extend the drive in which Hill scored his decisive touchdown. Watkins’ six receptions for 95 yards last night put him over 1,000 yards for the season. His touchdown reception was his 10th of the year.

“I know our team can make those plays on fourth down,” Cavanaugh said. “We have the receivers and the playmakers to make those plays. So there’s no doubt in my mind we can make those plays when we have to.”

And from there, Cavanaugh handed the game off to a Loyalsock defense which has been just as stingy as Central’s. The Lancers have allowed 20 points just once during the course of its six-game winning streak. Mileto set a tone early when he popped scrambling quarterback Garrett McNelis on a 1-yard sack on the Blue Jays’ first possession.

Central had just 44 yards of offense in the first half, and it wasn’t until it put Dylan Devlin in the wildcat late in the first half that the Blue Jays’ offense began to find its legs. Devlin carried six times for 37 yards on the second half’s first possession, including a 1-yard touchdown run which tied the game at 7-7.

But after that initial possession in the wildcat in which the Lancers didn’t have any answers, it felt like it had all the answers for the remainder of the game. Malaki Parlante had a pair of sacks. Eli Gair and Joeb Schurer each intercepted a pass. And Central was held to just 69 rushing yards on 25 attempts.

“I feel like the whole defense was caught off guard and we didn’t do our jobs correctly (against the wildcat),” Mileto said. “But once they had that drive where they went down and scored, I think we adjusted well and did our job from there on.”