By Bill Albright in Sports
September 15, 2011
It was the beginning of the new era in Lock Haven University football Saturday night, and first-year head coach John Allen was hoping for some big things from his squad.
However, for LHU, the outcome of the game produced somewhat bittersweet results. Although Allen and his assistant coaches watched the Bald Eagles take a big step toward becoming a competitive football team, they also saw the youthful Eagles come out on the short end of a disappointing 21-20 final in Community Night at Hubert Jack Stadium.
“I just told the guys that I am extremely proud of them because I felt we became a team tonight,” said Allen. “We have been working real hard to get the team to finally start playing together and to look like a football team and tonight we looked like a football team.”
Although the Bald Eagles didn’t score in the early minutes of the opening quarter, it wasn’t for lack of opportunities as they had three crucial dropped passes, plays that could possibly have resulted in either touchdowns or big gains.
The Bald Eagles also coughed up on the ball on their own 26 and later on their own 24 in the opening period and both times, the opportunistic Marauders took the ball to the house for a score. Two PATs and just like that Ville held a 14-0 lead.
“If we don’t turn the ball over three times and we don’t have those three key drops, it is a totally different ball game,” said Allen. “You can’t take away anything from Millersville because they played hard and executed. They came off a tough loss last week and they came in here better prepared as a result of that loss. They did some different things than what we saw (on film), but we were able to adjust to their changes. They did what they needed to do, but I am so proud of our guys that the group played hard for the entire sixty minutes. We played to the end and I am just proud of where they are right now.”
One big difference between this game and many in the past was that when trailing by 14 points, the Eagles might have hung their heads. However, this time they showed their “new” resilience by bouncing off the carpet with an answer to the Marauder scores to cut their deficit to 14-10 with a touchdown and a field goal.
“That (bouncing back) was big and our character is really starting to show,” said Allen. “I think the one thing they (the players) have learned from us is that we are going to stay positive. As I told them before, game day is fun and it comes down to us making adjustments to put them in the right position to make plays and I think we did that coming back. It would have been easy, with the type of program that has been around here for a while, for them to fold and give up, but neither side (offensive or defensive) did that and our special teams did a great job as well.”
Jay Hartman did the honors of scoring the Eagles’ first touchdown of the season when he hauled in a 7-yard pass from quarterback Jarryd Burkett, capping a 6-play, 56-yard drive for the score.
On the Ville’s next possession, Marc Olivo pounced on a loose ball inside the Millersville 30, and seven plays later, Central Mountain High product Noah Heimer split the uprights with a 35-yard field goal to put the Bald Eagles right back in the ball game with the score Millersville 14, Lock Haven 10.
To keep the LHU deficit at four points, the Bald Eagle defensive unit rose to the occasion when sophomore free safety Raymond Mosby picked off a Dan Miller aerial to send the two teams to their locker rooms for the halftime break.
Following an exchange of possessions to begin the second half, the Marauders extended their lead to 21-10 when Dominic Sanders scored his second touchdown of the night on a 22-yard hookup with quarterback Dan Miller.
If there were two areas that hurt LHU at times it might have been through the airways and runs inside the tackles. But the one strong point of the Eagle defense that stood tall was the pursuit from the back side and the outside containment on running plays.
“We preach to them to run to the ball on every single play on both sides of the ball and I thought our defense really did a good job of that,” Allen said. “They were flying around getting to the ball. Yeah, they (Millersville) made some plays and we told them that is going to happen, but what really counts is what you do on the next play that really matters. When they (defensive unit) realized what they (Millersville) were doing, they settled in and played pretty well.”
Again the two teams matched each other snap-for-snap on the next three possessions until the Bald Eagles took over on their own 32. On the first play, redshirt-sophomore wideout Jesse Hoover got behind the Ville secondary and Burkett hit him in stride for a 68-yard scoring play. Heimer’s PAT made it 21-17 Marauders as the third quarter came to an end.
“It was something we were working on all week in practice,” said Hoover of the big play. “We noticed that their safety would bite on the play-action and when he bit on it, Jarryd hit me with the ball and we were able to take it vertical.”
Burkett also felt that the play had possibilities of getting the ball into the end zone. Just prior to the big play, Burkett and Hoover were seen chatting on the sidelines after the Bald Eagles had a long-gainer called back as the result of a penalty.
“We were just talking about having a lineman downfield on a big play and I told him (Hoover) just wait, we are going to get one here,” said Burkett. “Coach called it and we kind of winked at each other and I just said to myself, I am going to find this kid and once I got the ball to him, I knew he was going to take off and score. He (Hoover) has possibly the best hands of anyone on the team and once I got the ball to him, all I had to do was just watch.”
As for Burkett’s play in his first game since being named the starter, while he felt he played well, he was also quick to give a lot of credit to the rest of his teammates.
“Obviously I can’t take credit for what happened out there tonight,” he said. “That was sort of a victory in our eyes because as coach told us in the locker-room, tonight we became a football team that is night and day different from the team that was here last year. Yes, I might have helped the offense come together, but the offense came together around me. Our offensive line did a heckuva job and although I feel I did enough to compete, the other guys around me are the guys who made big things happen as well.”
With the LHU defense standing tall as it did for most of the night, the Bald Eagles finished a drive with a 28-yard field by Heimer to cut the Ville lead to 21-20 with 12 minutes left in the game.
On Millersville’s next possession came what appeared to be the killer for the Bald Eagles as they were in position to stop the Marauders, but were called for a personal foul penalty that gave Millersville new life at the LHU 20. However, as it did several times before, the LHU defense stiffened and the Marauders were sent away from the well with an empty bucket when a field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Continuing to battle and play hard, the Bald Eagles had several more possessions down the stretch, but they never seriously threatened and the Marauders were able to hang on for the win.
The biggest bright spots for the Bald Eagle offense were outstanding efforts turned in by Burkett, Hoover and running back Brandon Brader. Hoover finished with 139 yards on seven catches and a touchdown, Burkett completed 21 of 39 attempts for 281 yards and a pair of scores, and Brader finished with 105 yards on 20 tries. Hoover’s and Brader’s combined efforts marked the first time since 2004 against Clarion that the Bald Eagles had a player rush for over 100 yards and a receiver haul in 100 or more.
“You just told me something I didn’t know and that is great to have those types of individual efforts,” smiled Allen following the game. “We just need a couple more guys to step up and make plays for us and then we’ll really have something where we can be a little more balanced to allow us to spread the ball around. Our running game is starting to come on a little bit and to have a 100-yard rusher is great. I have said it many times before that to be successful in this conference you have to be able to run the ball.”
Now 0-1 for the season and winless in their last 33 games, the Bald Eagles will once again try to shed the monkey from their backs Saturday when they visit Kutztown for a battle with the Golden Bears. Kickoff for that fray is set for 6:05 p.m.