East Pennsboro saw its hopes for a Colonial Division title slipping away in the second half Friday night at Susquehanna Township’s Roscoe Warner Field.
The Panthers trailed by 12 points, and their quarterback, Keith Oates III, was sitting on the bench after he suffered an injury on defense in the third quarter. It could not have looked more bleak, really.
Then the Indians started to self-destruct, robbing them of all their intensity and focus via an avalanche of penalties. It was the help East Pennsboro needed to have a faint heartbeat in the game.
Oates returned under center, and at linebacker where he had at least a dozen tackles, and East Pennsboro owned the fourth quarter.
A pair of short touchdowns runs by Oates and JJ Gossard in the final six minutes pushed the inspired Panthers across the finish line for a stunning 31-28 come-from-behind victory over the shell-shocked Indians.
Susquehanna Township has only itself to blame for this loss. In the end, the Indians finished with 17 penalties accepted for a staggering 147 yards. And there were another handful of penalties declined.
Full credit to the Panthers, who, when the door swung open and opportunity presented itself, played their best two-way football of the night.
Time to hand out some grades.
EAST PENNSBORO PANTHERS
Quarterback: After struggling to find any sort of rhythm in the passing game the first half, Oates was on fire down the stretch. He finished 12 of 22 for 206 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a bad-decision interception late that looked more costly to the Panthers than it ended up being. His return from injury to play that well was the spark that ignited the fire. Grade: A-
Running back: Still a junior with one more year left, Gossard is the perfect feature back for this offense. He’s faster in space than you think and hit the hole really hard and with authority. He helped keep the offense moving when the passing game was riding the struggle bus. His 4.3 yards per carry was earned the hard way. Grade: B+
Wide receivers: The ball was going Breckin Swope’s way a lot early, and he was doing OK with five grabs. But Trey Good is the one who changes the game even though he was not targeted much early. But during the frenzy down the stretch he showed up with two big grabs. The speed of the ‘Hanna corners was an issue, but when it counted these two won those critical 1-on-1 battles. Do not underestimate the value of the three catches by tight end Paul Sanderson for 30 yards. Grade: B
Offensive line: Rough start for this group as the speed and strength of the Indians up front was giving it fits. In the middle of the first half the Panthers switched to a more run-based offense to get something going, and slowly this group started to make waves. The blocking on the power traps off tackle was exceptional all game. They protected their QB admirably and overall they had a pretty good, but not great, night. Grade: B
Defensive line: Like their counterparts on offense in the trenches, a slow start defined the d-line. But with each possession you could see this group climbing off the deck and starting to make plays. Senior Ahmar Lumbard made several strong stops at the point of attack, and late in the game when the Indians needed 50 yards to claim victory, this unit came up with a couple big QB stops. Grade: B
Linebackers: As much as he brings to the table as the QB, Oates is a better pure linebacker. He is strong, physical and finds his way to the football. Officially, he finished with eight tackles, but after they review the tape I think that number goes up. He was all over the field. And despite missing the better part of a quarter he was still the leading tackler. Grade: A
Secondary: No real big plays for the Indians in terms of broken coverages or anything along those lines. And they tackled well in space, which is a must against an Indians offense that thrives on green grass. Gossard and Good had a fantastic night at the safety position. Only 204 passing yards allowed is a very respectable number. When it really mattered, they locked this game down defensively. Grade: A
Special teams: I agree on the short kickoffs, although ‘Hanna’s returner managed to cause mayhem when he did get his mitts on the ball. That 10-yard punt early didn’t help, but overall the kicking game was good. Ali Alami might have missed his first PAT, but he more than made up for it by banging home a 37-yard field goal. Grade: B
SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP INDIANS
Quarterback: Only a sophomore, Torin Evans has some serious tools. He gets the ball out really quick, and the offense is clearly designed so he doesn’t have to make many second and third reads. He throws to his first option almost every time. The lefty can spin a ball, though. He made a couple midrange throws that caught your attention. When the game went sideways in the second half for the Indians, he struggled as well. That’s not his fault. Grade: B-
Running back: Dorian Smith is a weapon for this team. What I like most about him is he has speed on the edge, and inside the tackles his vision and twitch are next level. He is not easy to corral in tight spaces. He did his job with 134 yards on 27 carries with a couple touchdowns. Grade: A
Wide receivers: There’s a reason Lex Cyrus is an FBS prospect as a junior. Sure, everyone knows he’s fast. But he’s a better route runner than he probably gets credit for, and what really stands out is he wins more than not on contested catches. He had 13 catches, on 14 targets, for 110 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Jarrett Kern is going to be special, too. He gets open a lot, and that’s not an accident. Grade: B+
Offensive line: They opened some big holes early, and overall they had a pretty good night. Pass blocking was excellent until the last drive. But as the game wore on they were creating less and less space for Smith to operate. The playing field leveled after halftime, and they didn’t find another gear. Grade: B-
Defensive line: Most of the first half they were the Indians’ most dominant group on the field. They were creating all kinds of problems. But they went quiet after halftime and struggled to have any impact down the stretch when the Indians needed something to go their way. They are aggressive, though, and East Pennsboro took advantage of that in the run game when it mattered. Grade: B
Linebackers: This is where the Indians struggled to get any traction overall defensively, outside of a few splash plays here and there. They were gashed on the edges in the run game when the Panthers switched their offensive focus and were late on short coverages down the stretch. Grade: C
Secondary: For most of the game this group was fantastic, up in the face of the Panthers’ receivers and aggressive. When it mattered most, though, they were in off coverage and had backed off the receivers. Not sure why, but they clearly struggled in the less aggressive posture and got beat soundly a couple times. Grade: B
Special teams: Penalties on special teams didn’t cost the Indians any points, but a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty and a false start on extra points early were a sign of what would come later. The short punts and kickoffs gave the Panthers several positive field-position advantages. The return game when Cyrus found the ball was electric. Overall, though, it was a glaring struggle. Grade: C