A Fight to the Finish: Eagles go for ‘two,’ convert in final seconds to stun Northeastern

By on November 16, 2016
Cocalico quarterback Brady Sawyer turns the corner during Friday’s District game at Northeastern.

Cocalico quarterback Brady Sawyer turns the corner during Friday’s District game at Northeastern.

With 6-1, 205-pound bruising fullback Brandon Brubaker at his disposal, making the decision to go for two with the game on the line was a no-brainer for Cocalico Coach Dave Gingrich.

After Cocalico QB Brady Sawyer scrambled in from six yards out to cut the Eagles’ deficit to 24-23 with 45 seconds left in their District 5-A Quarterfinal game at Northeastern, Gingrich went for the win.

It turned out to be a very wise decision.

Brubaker took a toss from Sawyer and barreled across the goal line to give Cocalico the 25-24 lead, a score that held up as the Eagles advanced to this Friday’s District Three semifinals.

“You got a horse in the backfield in Brandon Brubaker, and I thought, if we are going to lose, we are going to go down with the ship,” Gingrich said of his gutsy decision following the win. “We put our best linemen to one side and tossed to Brandon. I thought he could get it and he got it.”

The win sets up a juicy rematch with fellow Section Two foe Manheim Central Friday night (7 p.m.) at Rettew Field in Manheim. The Barons came from behind Friday to knock off Cedar Cliff, 38-29.

In their first match-up on September 30 in Manheim, Cocalico (8-3) handed the Barons (10-1) their only loss of the season in an exciting 28-24 Eagle victory.

This Friday’s winner will advance to the District Three 5-A Finals set for November 25 in Hershey.

“Central knows us, and we know them,” Gingrich said. “What a great thing for the Lancaster-Lebanon League that two teams from the same section are in the semifinals in 5-A…I think it’s exciting. Coach Hahn…we have great respect for their coaches and their program, and I think they feel the same way. We are looking forward to going over there next week and knocking some heads with them.”

This past Friday, the Eagles saw third-seeded Northeastern (8-3) rally for 17 unanswered points in the second half to turn a 17-7 deficit into a 24-17 lead.

Hayden Seifert booted a 29-yard field goal for the only scoring in the third quarter before Chris Whack tied the game on a two-yard run with 7:45 to go. Then, after the Eagles were bottled up inside their own 20 on their next possession, a punt into a strong wind gave the Bobcats the ball at the Cocalico 33 with 6:44 to go.

Northeastern needed just two plays as quarterback Shannon Valenti scrambled in the backfield before finding wideout Fred Mulbah down the right side for a 31-yard TD pass to give Northeastern its first lead of the night with six minutes to play.

After an impressive first half, the Cocalico offense was bogged down for most of the second as Northeastern’s blitzes proved to be quite effective.

However, Cocalico, somehow, mustered up its best drive of the night with the game on the line.

Faced with a fourth-and-one at its own 40, tailback Colton Goodman came up with his team’s biggest run of the night when he bobbed and weaved his way for a 38-yard run to put the Eagles within striking distance at the Bobcat 22.

“The game was on the line right there,” Goodman said when asked about the play. “We had so much passion for each other in this game, and we had a lot of preparation throughout the season and we really wanted to get that play. That’s what we went out and did.”

Five-straight runs by Brubaker took the ball to the Northeastern six where the Eagles faced a third-and-five with 45 seconds to go.

Sawyer faked to Brubaker, kept around the right side and shook off four tacklers on his way for the big six-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to one, setting up the winning two-point run.

“I just did what I am coached to do…make the right read and then just tried to finish the play,” Sawyer said of the touchdown play.

Northeastern did get one final crack but a chop block call set the Bobcats back deep in their own territory, and the Eagles were able to bring down Valenti on a short run on what turned out to be the final play of the game.

“We all just kept our heads,” Sawyer said of falling behind in the second half. “We didn’t get frustrated and we just all played to the best of our ability. We didn’t give up…that’s what it came down to…all of us doing our jobs as hard as we could.”

Gingrich added, “the second half we just lost the momentum. (Northeastern) did a lot of stunting and we just couldn’t get anything going. When you see yourself go down by seven and you have five, six minutes to go in the game and you are playing into gale force winds…I don’t know. But these kids just don’t quit. They didn’t quit, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Facing a defense that had posted three-straight shutouts and surrendered just 19 points in its last five games, the Eagles came out of the blocks strong in this one.

They took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in nine plays to grab an early 7-0 lead. Brubaker, who led the Cocalico rushing attack with 138 yards on 29 carries, broke off runs of 29 and 23 yards to set up his eventual three-yard plunge at the 8:22 mark to draw first blood.

“We thought it was going to be imperative to get off to a big start,” Gingrich said. “We won the toss, and I always ask our captains what they want to do and all three of them play offense so they like to have the ball. That’s what we did. Our offense came out and we did some nice things right there in the beginning.”

After Conlan Kerschner broke up a fourth-down pass deep in Eagle territory to halt Northeastern’s first possession, the Eagles drove 66 yards in 16 plays to grab a 14-0 advantage. A fake punt executed by Goodman went for 32 yards to set up an eventual one-yard TD run by Brubaker with 8:22 left in the half.

But Northeastern needed less than two minutes to cut the lead in half and get back in the game as Valenti (9-15-0, 170) capped a quick four-play drive when he found Mulbah for an 18-yard scoring strike.

Cocalico, however, answered just before half to grow the lead to 17-7 when kicker Ben Puodziunas took advantage of a fumble recovery by Ben Fromm and booted a 36-yard field goal with 2:12 to play in the half.

That set the stage for the second half, which was owned by Northeastern, that is until Cocalico’s final drive.

“Our kids know how to play for 48 minutes,” Gingrich said, summing up his squad’s never-say-die effort. “They are programmed to play 48 minutes and if we need to go more, we’ll go more. They are tough kids and we got great assistant coaches, and I couldn’t be more proud of all of them.”

In addition to Brubaker, Goodman also reached the Century Mark on the ground, finishing with 102 yards on just 12 carries. Anu Johnson paced the Northeastern rushing attack with 71 yards (16 carries) while Mulbah had five catches for 98 yards.


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