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End of the line for Cocalico LC capitalizes on Eagles’ miscues to key 20-7 win
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Cocalico makes a living off limiting its own mistakes while feeding off those of their opponents.
It’s been the formula to all of the success they have achieved as a program under Head Coach Dave Gingrich. However, Friday night in the District Three AAA Quarterfinals at fourth-seeded Lancaster Catholic, the shoe was on the other foot.
It was the Eagles making mistakes as they turned the ball over three critical times. And it was the Crusaders taking advantage.
Lancaster Catholic senior safety Sean Titus intercepted two balls and recovered another big Cocalico fumble. One of his interceptions went for 98 yards and a pick six which all but sealed the Eagles’ fate in an eventual 20-7 Catholic win.
"They are a good football team," Gingrich said of the Crusaders. "We turned the ball over three times and you can’t turn the ball over against good teams."
With the win, Catholic advances to the District semifinals this Friday to face top-seeded Bishop McDevitt at Mechanicsburg, beginning at 7 p.m.
For the Eagles, Friday’s loss marks the end of the line for this group and its 12 seniors, who captured a Section Two title and enjoyed a very successful 10-2 campaign overall.
"We had 12 seniors and they led from Day One," Gingrich said, reflecting on the season. "You start with that and the effort that they gave, and then we just had a lot of selfless people on the team. There were a lot of people who played portions here and there but we tried to play a lot of kids. The fact that they are selfless allows you to do that. I don’t know if I’ve been around a team that has been more competitive. They don’t like to lose, and they don’t like to be told that they can’t do something…They are just tough.
"What can you say about this crew? They are tough, they are physical…I’m just proud of them. They are good hard workers and are great kids."
Cocalico has shown the ability bounce back in a game, and that’s exactly the situation the Eagles faced Friday against the defending State AA champion Crusaders.
Catholic jumped in front in the first quarter, riding their horse, Roman Clay, down the field and to an eventual 7-0 lead. The Crusaders went 71 yards in 11 plays as Clay took his seventh carry of the drive around the left end for a 21-yard score with 4:00 remaining in the first.
But the Eagles responded early in the second, marching 60 yards in 15 plays. Cocalico did convert on two big fourth downs to eventually set up Nick Reitenbach’s three-yard plunge with 5:25 to go in the half to knot it at 7-7.
The Eagle defense then stiffened and Cocalico got a shot to take the lead in the final minute. On the last play of the half, quarterback Brock Gosling lofted a Hail Mary that almost was answered as Jhett Janis had it momentarily in the right corner of the endzone before the ball came out as he hit the turf.
Still, Cocalico went into the locker room with plenty of confidence and momentum on its side. Not only were they moving the ball offensively, the Eagles really didn’t let the high-powered Crusaders offense get on track. Clay, the all-time leading rusher in the L-L League, had just 57 yards at the break and was pretty much kept in check after that initial LC drive.
"We felt very good at the half," Gingrich said. "Defensively we thought we had a good feel for what they were trying to do. We made some good adjustments, and defensively all year, I couldn’t be more proud of the way our guys played. This is some of the best defense we played in the 22 years that I’ve been here, and it was week in and week out. And it wasn’t that we had one stud, we had everyone that was on the field making plays. They did their job."
With Cocalico keying on Clay, the Crusaders made an adjustment in the second half, and it paid off. On their first possession of the second half, Clay went 13 yards on a counter play on his first carry. On the very next down, Catholic ran it to the other side, this time handing it to speedy Nassir Weaver. The sophomore got through the line before busting it to the sidelines and out-racing the Eagle pursuit for a 73-yard score to put the Crusaders back on top at 14-7.
"The second half is usually when we shine the best," Clay said of his team. "We come in and make adjustments, and we just execute to the best of our ability. We knew that their defense was keying on me more so we wanted to get the ball to our other running backs."
Gingrich agreed the misdirection plays hurt his team.
"They were running some counters, and they split that one down there," he said. "They had some good blocking, we had one or two missed assignments, and two missed assignments is 79 yards. That’s a killer right there."
But the Eagles weren’t dead yet. Early in the fourth, Cocalico put together what looked like it was going to be the game-tying drive as they marched all the way to the Catholic 10. The big play was a 19-yard scramble by Gosling to set them up with a first-and-goal.
However, facing a third-and-goal from the 10, Gosling (5-14-2, 50 yards) went back and fired across the middle, looking for tight end Casey Kerschner. However, Titus read the play, stepped in front of the Eagle tight end and raced 98 yards the other way for the killer score.
"(Kerschner) was open for a split second," Gingrich said when asked of the play. "It might have been a bad call on my behalf but the Titus kid made a good play. He was over on our split side and came across to the motion and just made a good play. That hurts right there, 98 yards…wow."
Cocalico never really threatened again as Titus’ second INT ended the Eagles next drive and Catholic eventually salted this one away.
While the Eagles held Clay to just 97 yards on 20 carries and limited QB Evan Purvis to a pair of completions on five attempts, Cocalico never seemed to get its offense totally on track.
Cocalico finished with 198 yards on 46 runs, and was led by Reitenbach’s 104 yards on 23 tough carries.
"When you are playing a big, physical team, and you are not big, it’s hard," Gingrich said. "In our offense, you don’t need to have dominating run blocking but you do need to get a push. And their size and strength just wore on us a little bit. It wasn’t due to lack of effort. Our kids come off the ball a hanging, but sometimes you come off the ball and you run into a brick wall, and that’s what it felt like a couple times tonight." More COCALICO, page B-2