By Bill Albright
The monkey that has been riding on the back of the Lock Haven University football team for 52 straight games is gone.
Saturday afternoon before an enthusiastic crowd at Hubert Jack Stadium, the Bald Eagles finally kicked the pest to the curb as they defeated the Cheyney Wolves, 15-7, in the 2012 season finale.
With the win, the Bald Eagles start a new streak that now stands at one win in a row.
“I keep saying it over and over and I can’t say it enough, but these kids are so resilient,” said a happy, but exhausted LHU head coach John Allen. “It goes back to that senior group last year where we had a lot of guys who could have left this program when I came in, but they stayed with us. Not only did they give us great leadership last year, but they got us started. As for this group of seniors, they just kept working hard during the off-season. Because there was no quitting in them, they wouldn’t let the rest of the guys quit. Even though we made mistakes throughout the course of the year, they just kept pushing, scratching and fighting to get us to where we are right now. That is the kind of group we have right now and I can’t say enough about them.”
The Bald Eagles took the opening kickoff on their own 35 and drove down field to a first-and-goal at the Cheyney 2-yard line. However, just as was the case in the Clarion game, the snap was mishandled and the Wolves recovered a fumble.
“No doubt about it, we made some mistakes and left some points on the field out there today,” said Allen. “We made the kinds of mistakes that kill drives. But we were able to coach them up and they kept pushing it through and in the third and fourth quarters, all of those mistakes were corrected and you just saw the ball go down the field. That was good to see because after battling that kind of stuff all year, it was finally put together and they finally understood what it takes to win a football game.”
The vastly improved LHU defense rose to the occasion to force the Wolves into a punting situation midway through the opening period, and when the snap from center went sailing over the punter’s head and out of the end zone, LHU took a 2-0 lead.
Taking over on their own 13 following a LHU punt, the Wolves drove to the LHU 39. That is where Freddy Fumble became a factor in the game as quarterback Blaze Wasserleben fumbled and Tyrail Morgan pounced on the bobble at the LHU 41.
Cheyney was unable to move the sticks on its next possession and again it was the LHU defensive unit that did its job when Matt Kirchner caused and recovered a Marcus Jones fumble at the Wolves 37.
Six plays into the possession following the Kirchner recovery, the LHU drive stalled and Alex Boumerhi drilled a 37-yard field goal to move the LHU lead to 5-0.
Neither team could make things happen in the next five possessions and when the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Bald Eagles took their 5-0 lead to the locker room at the break.
The defenses of both clubs took over in a scoreless third period, but the Bald Eagles captured good field position when Bernard Smack returned a Cheyney punt to the Wolves 21-yard line.
Thirty-seven seconds into the final period, the Bald Eagles scored their only touchdown of the game when Beau Swales bulled in from the two for the score. Noah Heimer’s PAT was good and the LHU lead had swollen to 12-0.
Not to run away and hide, the pesky Wolves took the ensuing kickoff on their own 30 and promptly put together an 11-play drive that covered 70 yards for a touchdown. Tyler Wilkinson’s PAT made it LHU 12, Cheyney 7, with almost ten minutes left on the clock.
But here comes the resilient Bald Eagles as they shook off the Cheyney score to march 46 yards on nine plays, the drive culminated by a 23-yard field goal by former Central Mountain kicker Noah Heimer.
On the drive for the field goal, another costly mistake was made by the Bald Eagles when they were called for holding just as it had appeared that running back Brandon Brader had sprinted into the end zone for a 26-yard TD for what could have been the clincher.
However, not to be denied, Brader promptly ripped off a 21-yard gain on the very next play to set up Heimer’s field goal.
“They weren’t going to be denied,” said Allen about his players bouncing back from the mistakes. “Brader’s touchdown called back really hurt, but he came right back with a big run to get us into the red zone. They know we (the coaches) have that confidence in them and that is the way they played. We tried to take it right to Cheyney and in the end, that is what we wound up doing. I am proud of them and just glad they were able to battle through it.”
With 4:39 on the clock and the Wolves still hanging around, it was once again time for the Bald Eagle defensive unit to do its thing, and led by Ryan Good and Janosch Beauchamp, that is exactly what happened as it held Cheyney to a three-and-out.
Wilkinson punted to the LHU 46, but much like their defensive counterparts had just done on the other side of the ball, the LHU offensive unit picked up a crucial first down on a sneak by quarterback Jarrett Kratzer. With no timeouts left and unable to stop the clock, all the Wolves could do was watch the Bald Eagles take a knee twice to run out the clock and preserve the win.
Leading the LHU defensive unit was Kirchner and Good with seven stops each, while Skyler Wool chipped in with a half dozen stops that included a quarterback sack and a tackle for loss and Ben Snyder added five stops that included a sack and three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Brader easily paced the Eagle ground game with 110 yards on 23 carries, Kratzer completing 10 of 19 passes for 127 yards through the airways.
Bill Albright is a writer for The Express and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.