Written by: William Albright on Monday, October 14th, 2013
By BILL ALBRIGHT
LOCK HAVEN – For the Lock Haven University football team, it was simply a matter of running out of time in its PSAC-East battle with Shippensburg Saturday afternoon at Hubert Jack Stadium.
Shaking off a sluggish start that saw the Bald Eagles dig themselves a 23-point deficit, they battled back to outscore the Red Raiders 24-14 in the second half, only to fall short in a 30-24 loss.
“We made up our minds coming out at halftime that we were going to stop thinking about other peoples jobs and doubting each other and just focus on our jobs and what we need to do,” said LHU head coach John Allen. “We have been saying for the last couple of weeks that if we just do our thing, good things will happen. We have great skill kids on our side that can make good things happen, but we just have to execute on each opportunity and not wait for the big play to happen. That is what we did in the second half.”
Although the Bald Eagles fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter, the LHU defense played well when it only gave up a field goal on a first-and-goal for the Raiders while also forcing Ship into several punting situation during the first 30 minutes.
“I thought our guys did a great job in that first half,” said Allen. “We bent, but we didn’t break. They had a couple of plays, but for the most part, we stayed in there. Unfortunately we left them (the LHU defensive unit) out on the field and think we got a little tired at one point. Then in the second half when we got some plays together, they played really, really well.”
A look back at the flow of the game would indicate that two of the lapses the defense was guilty of occurred in the final two minutes of the first half and the first two minutes of the third period.
Backed up in its own territory, Ship marched 75 yards on eight plays for a TD with 42 seconds left on the clock before taking the second half kickoff and moving into the end zone for the second score with 1:24 off the clock.
“Those two situations hurt, but I wish we could have gotten the touchdown earlier in the game when we got the field goal,” Allen said. “I wish I would have called a couple of different plays. Coming out of the half we talked about the importance of holding your opponents to at least a field goal or get them off the field without a score. Offensively you want to come out of the half and get points, but unfortunately they were able to do just that. We just continue to learn and grow and hopefully this will start a different trend from here on out.”
One of the big plays that kept things close for LHU was an interception of a Zach Zulli pass by George Christas that stopped a Ship drive and set up a Bald Eagle field goal by Alex Boumerhi.
“I just read the quarterback’s eyes,” explained Christas. “I need to read the quarterback’s eyes and find the ball. It was an out-and-up and I had the guy all the way. Zulli is the Harlon Hill Award Winner so he is the best of the best. We knew coming in it was going to be tough, but I thought we played very well.”
Special teams also played a big part in the game for the Eagles led by Bernard Smack, a former member of the Ship program who had several nifty kickoff returns, one of 45 yards where he nearly broke it off for a score.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my blockers,” said Smack. “They gave me the holes and today I was able to hit them.”
Smack admitted that he and some of the guys on the other sideline had some conversation going.
“I know most of the guys over there (on the Ship sideline) so it was just a little friendly competition,” he said. “I transferred here from Ship so it was a little friendly competition with trash talking going on, but nothing personal.”
For the first 35 minutes of the game, the LHU running game was almost non-existent, showing negative yardage from the line of scrimmage.
“They gave us some different pressures at different points,” said Allen. “We finally got it figured out in the third series of the game and the biggest problem was that we just weren’t executing the runs on some of the plays I called. The success we had in the second half was with some of the same stuff we called in the second quarter. It is just one of those learning things that we have to stay focused and grow from.”
With the LHU running game all but shut down by the Ship defense, tailback Brandon Brader gave the troops a shot in the arm when he ripped off a 49-yard jaunt that carried LHU to first-and-goal at the Ship 7. For the game, Brader finished with 87 yards on 16 totes and a touchdown.
“Going into the game we knew they had a stout defense. They play tough to the run and they sent all of their linebackers into the box and they even brought down their safeties,” explained Brader. “What we wanted to do game-plan wise was just keep plugging away and as a running back, it takes time. You might only get two yards, two yards, two yards, but then boom, 49. Just staying positive and our ‘O’ line believing in it, we finally got it going at the end. It is just too bad it was too late.”
Unfortunately for LHU, the drive would come up short of the end zone when the Ship defense held on a fourth down play at the 3-yard line.
The LHU offensive unit was dealt a blow in the first half when starting quarterback Dillon Mazzoni left the game to spend the rest of his afternoon on the sideline sporting a pair of crutches. That meant redshirt freshman Caleb Walton didn’t have to wait until Allen summoned him to go into the game. It meant that he was the man to take over the controls for the rest of the contest and who knows how much longer.
“I just had to try and remain calm,” said Walton. “I feel like I struggled a little bit in the first half, but I knew I had to cool down and settle in. Once I got settled in the whole offense started clicking. Had I settled down earlier, who knows, it might have been a different ball game.”
When asked about the growing spurt he went through in the game, Walton agreed that it felt good for him to make some strides, especially in a game situation.
“You can always get reps in practice and watch as much film as you want to, but you never get a real feel for it until you are out there in a game,” Walton explained. “I feel like I learned a lot, grew up a lot and matured a lot today. I knew I had to grow up because if the other ten guys in the huddle see the quarterback all jumpy and not relaxed, they are going to say, oh boy, what is the next play. I really had to buckle down and get everyone clicking. Once we did that, things were good.”
Allen also liked what he saw from his young quarterback.
“He (Walton) absolutely grew up today,” said Allen with a smile on his face. “He was shaky in that second quarter, but he absolutely settled down and things started making sense to him and clicking for him. He is going to be all right. Although I have been saying it, he needs to see it on the field in a game and unfortunately (with Mazzoni’s injury) today he had no choice. I was really, really proud of him in that second half.”
Still trailing by 30-11 with 11 minutes left in the game, the Bald Eagles scored the final 13 points of the game on touchdown runs by Beau Swales and Brader, but it was too little, too late and the disappointing loss was in the LHU books.
“My eyes got as big as saucers when I saw it (the hole and end zone) the first two times,” said Brader. “It was unfortunate that I didn’t get in the first two times to help the team big time, but I had no problem getting down here for three yards and have Beau Swales take it in. I finally punched one in at the end so we just have to keep working at it.”
Now 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the PSAC-East, the Bald Eagles will remain home Saturday when they host the West Chester Golden Rams in another conference outing. Kickoff for the fray with the Rams is set for High Noon.
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