Barons hold off Eagles’ late charge

By on November 21, 2017

MC denies Cocalico’s two-point try, then clinches 21-20 win to advance to District finals

Cocalico’s Owen Zimmerman goes up high to knock the ball away from Manheim Central receiver Jake Novak during Friday’s District Three semifinal game. (Photo by Missi Mortimer)

Cocalico was knocking on the door, looking to pull off a memorable comeback.

As Conlan Kerschner hauled in a 36-yard reception for a first down at the Manheim Central 39 with less than a minute left &tstr; and the Eagles trailing by just one point &tstr; Baron Nation held its collective breath at Manheim’s frigid Elden Rettew Stadium last Friday night.

Manheim Central, having led 21-7 with 5:57 left in the third quarter, needed a big stop with a trip to the District Three 5A championship game at stake.

The 2nd-seeded Barons got exactly that, capped by senior defensive end Joe Kolk sacking Cocalico QB Noah Palm on fourth down, and clinched an electrifying 21-20 victory over the 3rd-seeded Eagles in an all-time classic between the two rivals in the District semifinals.

“I just got around my guy and chased (Palm) down,” recalled Kolk of his fourth &tstr; and biggest &tstr; sack this season. “It was an incredible feeling. You have sacks all year, but that one is probably going to stick out my entire senior year right there, putting Cocalico in the books.”

Besides improving to 12-0, Manheim Central also earned the right to play for its 17th District gold in program history this Friday at Hersheypark Stadium. It won’t be an easy task, however. Awaiting them will be 4th-seeded Governor Mifflin (11-1), a 26-14 upset winner over top-seeded Harrisburg.

“I’m ecstatic for our program,” Manheim Central coach Dave Hahn said. “I’m looking forward to this week. Manheim, Thanksgiving, family, football … it doesn’t get any better than that, so we’re excited.”

Cocalico’s Noah Palm (left) lays the hit on Manheim Central running back Giovanni Lester. (Photo by Missi Mortimer)

There were a lot of ecstatic people on Cocalico’s side of the field when fullback Brandon Brubaker (13 carries, 73 yards) scored on a three-yard run with 5:34 left in the game, bringing the Eagles (10-2) within one, 21-20.

“They don’t quit,” Cocalico coach Dave Gingrich said of his players. “They are great kids, they play hard, they work hard. They knew they were down 21-7 and they didn’t want their season to end. They came back and came back and kept making plays and played really, really hard.”

What followed was a crucial moment in the game. Riding all of the momentum, the Eagles went for two, but quarterback Noah Palm (3-9-0, 50 yards), while in Kolk’s grasp, threw an incomplete pass and the Barons held on to the slim lead.

“It was my call,” Gingrich said. “I was going for two no matter what. They might have wanted to talk me out of it, but I was going for two. I thought we had a good play call and we just didn’t execute it.”

Hahn admitted that stopping the Eagles’ two-point try sparked his team.

“That gave us that momentum back to fight that much more,” Hahn said. “And our defense picked it up then. They really picked it up. We knew, anytime we could put Cocalico in a spot where they’ve got to pass, we should be better off.”

An INT by Owen Zimmerman at the Eagles’ 25 gave Cocalico another shot, but Palm’s pass on fourth-and-8 fell incomplete.

The Barons took over with great field position, but the Eagles’ defense rose to the occasion to keep it close, forcing a three-and-out and giving Palm and Co. one final crack with 1:04 remaining.

A 36-yard Palm-to-Kerschner completion in traffic over the middle put the Eagles in good shape at the Barons’ 39-yard line.

“We had three guys around that thing and we just didn’t end up with it,” Hahn said. “That got a little scary because I know they’ve got a good field goal kicker.”

Two incompletions, an Eagle penalty and a five-yard completion from Palm to Austin Landers left Cocalico facing fourth-and-10. But Kolk came off the edge and sacked Palm and that was the game.

“Big-time players coming up in big-time moments right there,” Hahn said. “We needed that.”

Palm is a big-time player in his own right, and when he scampered 61 yards to paydirt on the Eagles’ first play from scrimmage, Cocalico was in the early driver’s seat. Manheim Central bit on a fake to Brubaker, and then Palm found a seam, bounced it right and outraced the Barons to the end zone with just 4:21 elapsed. Dan Engle added the PAT to make it 7-0.

The 6-foot-0, 185-pound Palm did a solid job of executing the Eagles’ veer offense, rushing for 100 of his 110 total yards in the opening two quarters.

But Cocalico’s 7-0 lead didn’t last long. After Manheim Central’s first series ended with Jake Novak’s fourth-down pass falling incomplete on a fake punt, the Barons put together a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive. Behind a physical offensive line, running back Tyler Flick scored on a two-yard run with 3:51 to go in the first quarter. Niko Gavala’s PAT tied it 7-all.

“I don’t think we played very well up front (in the first half) and credit to Manheim,” Gingrich said. “I thought they did. We just were not getting a good push. They were in our backfield … It was like Deja Vu all over again from the first time we played them. But we fixed it. We made a couple of adjustments, but basically the biggest adjustment is we played harder and faster.”

Baron sophomore QB Evan Simon credited the seniors for giving their team a boost.

“We focused on completing drives this week,” Baron sophomore QB Evan Simon said, “and we didn’t finish the first drive, so the second series, we really had that energy.”

Simon ended up completing 16-of-28 aerials for 272 yards, with one TD and one INT. His scoring strike came with 6:16 left in the opening half, when he hit Novak in stride for a 51-yard touchdown down the left sideline, putting the Barons up 14-7.

Manheim Central capitalized on something they spotted in film study from Cocalico’s outside ‘backer to grab the upper hand.

“We ran that play all week,” Simon said. “We never really connected on it until tonight, so it was meant to be.”

“(Evan) was pretty sharp,” Hahn said, “but I’ll tell ya, Cocalico didn’t make it easy. I mean, they were ball-hawks. Our guys earned every one they got. He really put that ball on the sideline for Jake. Their number 2 defender, he kinda cheats the bubble and he gets his eyes inside on the back and the quarterback, we just slipped (Jake) down the sideline. It was a perfect pass.”

Coming out of the half, Manheim Central suffered a tough blow when Flick exited with an arm injury. But Giovanni Lester then took more of the load and scored on a 26-yard run with 5:57 to go in the third quarter, stretching the lead to 21-7. Lester finished with a team-high 95 yards on 15 rushes.

At that point, and then again after holding the Eagles to a quick three-and-out, the Barons seemed to be taking a stranglehold on the game.

But with 51 seconds remaining in the third, Cocalico created a break for itself, with senior lineman Joe Bearinger pouncing on a fumble by Lester at the CHS 30, and the Eagles capitalized.

Five plays later, sophomore Ronald Zahm busted off a big play, cutting left and finding open spaces in the Baron secondary for a 43-yard TD run. After Engle kicked the PAT, the Eagles cut Manheim Central’s lead to 21-14 with 10:44 left.

“We got a couple turnovers and those are things that we needed,” Gingrich said. “We didn’t get them all game, but late we got a couple turnovers which made a big difference. Unfortunately, the two-point play didn’t work.”

With the momentum clearly in Cocalico’s corner, the Eagles’ D did their job, wasting little time in getting the ball back for their offense. Starting on its own 30, Cocalico turned to Brubaker, who lugged the ball six times for 52 yards, including a three-yard TD run with 5:34 left, cutting the deficit to 21-20.

“The line got off the ball really well in the fourth quarter, “ Gingrich said. “They started pushing and Brandon’s a bull. Brandon ran really, really hard.”

Down one, the Eagles found themselves in the same spot they were in 2016, when they trailed Northeastern 24-23 with 45 seconds to go in the District Three quarterfinals. In that game, Brubaker ran for two, leading Cocalico to a 25-24 win.

This time, though, it wasn’t meant to be.

“I thought there was still a lot of time left on the clock,” Hahn said. “I don’t blame them. I think it’s a gutsy move. It would probably be something I’d do, but I was surprised.”

Although Cocalico eventually fell short, Gingrich couldn’t say enough about his team.

Asked what was said to his players after the game, Cocalico’s coach replied, “You gave everything you had … I don’t know what else to say. What do you say? They are a great group of kids. We have 43 kids and 17 seniors, and from day one, they just practiced hard, they played hard and they cared about one another, and that’s the thing I noticed most about this group. They cared about one another. The 17 seniors that we lose are going to be tough to replace. They really are.”

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