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Cedars win a wild one Mounts rally late but fall in seesaw affair
TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
, Staff Writer
Ephrata was right where it wanted to be.
Friday night, the Mounts, searching for their first victory of the season in the Section Two opener at Lebanon, had their veer offense rolling, grabbed a 13-point lead late in the third, and looked to be on the verge of snapping their losing streak.
"We had everything going…we were playing really well," Ephrata Coach Scott Shelley said.
Unfortunately, two key fourth-quarter turnovers and a sensational effort from Lebanon quarterback Mark Pyles helped rescue the Cedars in an eventual 44-42 nailbiter.
After Pyles scored on a six-yard run late in the third cut the Ephrata lead to 35-28, Lebanon took advantage of two Bobby Nye fumbles to go up by nine points with 5:31 to play.
But Ephrata didn’t go away quietly.
Nye led his team on an 11-play, 79-yard drive that ended with the senior QB hooking up with Patrick Griffith on a nine-yard touchdown pass with 1:44 to go.
That got the Mounts to within two, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Lebanon, and the Cedars were able to run out the clock.
"Bless their hearts but these kids had more adversity thrown at them," Shelley said. "We had three fumbles in the second half…Well, that’s the way it goes. It’s not from not having good effort or whatever…It just happened."
"What do you do?," he continued. "I keep talking about, and I’ll say this until the cows come home but we never stop fighting. Forget the record and forget that we are 0-4…These kids are going to be winners in life because they know what it takes to continually fight, putting their noses to the grind stone and getting after it. They never quit."
Ephrata (0-1 Section Two, 0-4 overall) certainly didn’t do that, and could have on several occasions on this night, including in the first quarter when the Mounts found themselves down quickly at 14-0.
Pyles, a Division One college prospect who passed for 340 yards and four scores while rushing for an additional 93 yards and two touchdowns on an amazing individual night, hit Jeremy De la Cruz on a six-yard TD pass on the game’s sixth play. Then, after an encouraging opening Ephrata drive that went 78 yards and 16 plays came up short when the Lebanon defense stiffened in front of its own goalline on the Mounts’ first possession, Pyles hooked up with a streaking Nicholos Negron down the left sidelines for what could have been a back-breaking 98-yard touchdown pass.
"We are undermanned and inexperienced in a place where a Division One quarterback is going to take advantage," Shelley said of his depleted secondary. "(Pyles) took over the game, but it’s not the kids’ fault. It’s not an excuse but we are throwing guys in there who have not played, and to have to go up against a kid like that…They are just inexperienced and are learning on the fly."
Ephrata, which ran almost solely plays out of its veer package the entire night, had its most successful night of the season offensively, rushing for 306 yards on a whopping 62 attempts. Koty Keefer had 148 yards on 25 carries while Nye ran for 103 yards on 22 totes.
They got on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter when the Mounts used a nice punt return from Ethan Sipe to set them up at the Cedar 32. From there, the Mounts needed just six plays with fullback Randy Barrett punching it in from four yards out. Keagan Remp added the PAT and the score was cut in half.
Ephrata’s defense stepped up on Lebanon’s next possession and forced a turnover that resulted in a Mountaineer touchdown.
With the Cedars (1-0, 3-1) facing a fourth-and-six at the Ephrata 27-yard line, Pyles faced a heavy rush when he forced a ball in the flat. Ethan Sipe, playing the safety position, read it all the way and picked it off at the 25 and had a wide open lane to the end zone.
Sipe’s return covered 75 yards and knotted the score at 14-14.
But Ephrata wasn’t done. On Lebanon’s next possession, Josh Gehman intercepted a Pyles pass and returned it 40 yards to the Lebanon three. Nye called his own number on the next play and went in from three yards out to give the Mounts their first lead of the night at 21-14 with 5:29 to go.
"We were able to get a little bit of heat on the ball with the rush and (Pyles) made a couple bad decisions that our kids were able to take full advantage of," Shelley said of the two big defensive plays.
Ephrata’s lead didn’t last long, as Pyles led the quick-strike Cedars to another score, connecting with De la Cruz (9 catches, 178 yards) on a 59-yard touchdown pass with 3:44 remaining in the half. Pyles then found Taj Cintron on the two-point conversion pass and Lebanon regained the lead at 22-21.
But the Mounts responded once again, driving 73 yards in eight plays. With a second down from the Lebanon 14, Nye hit Griffith at the five, and the big tight end carried two defenders into the endzone. Remp’s extra point gave the Mounts a 29-22 advantage heading to the break.
The second half began the same the way the firs half ended. The only difference was, Ephrata was grinding out the yards, milking as much time off the clock to keep the ball out of Pyles’ hands.
That strategy worked to a "T" as the Mounts went 66 yards in 15 plays, draining nearly nine minutes off the clock before Nye punched it in on a one-yard run with just 3:09 left in the third.
"We had the ball almost the whole third quarter, and that was the gameplan," Shelley said. "We had to keep it out of their hands, and that’s exactly what we did."
Unfortunately for Ephrata, the Mounts couldn’t keep it out of Pyles’ hands forever. And the QB marched his team down the field in five quick plays, scoring on his six-yard run to cut it to 35-28.
That set the stage for the crazy finish. Ephrata moved the ball near midfield when Nye had the ball jarred loose and the Cedars recovered with 11:30 left in the fourth. Lebanon took over and nine plays later got into the endzone when Pyles hit a wide-open De la Cruz for a 15-yard score. Pyles then converted the two-point conversion, hitting Jeremy De la Cruz in the right corner to give the Cedars a 39-38 lead with 7:41 to go.
Lebanon then recovered the second Nye fumble of the quarter at the Ephrata 43 on the Mounts’ next possession, and two plays later Pyles was in the endzone again, scrambling for a 34-yard score. The Cedars tacked on another two-point conversion and grabbed the crucial nine-point lead with 5:38 to go.
Ephrata certainly made it interesting late, but in the end, the Cedars were able to hold on.
"I thought we played great offensively," Shelley said. "We came off the ball. I thought in a lot of cases we hit hard. The kids never quit."
Up next, Ephrata will seek its first win this Friday night when the Mounts travel to Lampeter-Strasburg (1-0, 2-2). Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
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