When Carlisle took a 19-0 lead early in the third quarter Friday night at Mechanicsburg, it felt like the Thundering Herd had seized complete control of a game it dominated in the first half.
Missed opportunities, a Wildcats defense that simply wasn’t going to let this game get away from them and a little spark from the Mechanicsburg offense made this one very interesting in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
After Jeffrey Lougee’s second touchdown run from the quarterback position pulled the Wildcats to within 19-14, the momentum was clearly on the home side. Carlisle was suddenly in trouble — as in real trouble.
Special teams matter, and when Kareem Lawson made a house call from 82 yards out on the ensuing kickoff it was game over. Carlisle should not have been in such a sticky situation that it needed a bailout kick return to ice the game. The Herd were clearly the better team and deserved to celebrate after the final whistle.
Time to hand out some grades.
CARLISLE THUNDERING HERD
Quarterback: Ezeekai Thomas started — and while a dynamic athlete with pure running back skills, he’s playing out of position at quarterback. He’s much more effective as the RB1. That’s because junior Louis Shank is a pure quarterback. He throws a nice deep ball, steps up in the pocket with his head downfield and his short throws are on the money. His first varsity game and he throws three TD passes and looks the part. That’s your quarterback. . Grade: B
Listen now to Louis Shank’s post-game interview
Running Back: This is where Thomas should be playing. He puts his foot in the ground and makes a decision. He’s slippery and quick. But I like his willingness to grind in between the tackles and be physical. He had 77 yards on only 15 carries. And you have so many options on the jet sweep with all that speed at WR coming across to take the handoff. Grade: B
Wide Receivers: Josh Zipperer is going to be a mismatch against most teams because he’s so tall and high points the ball well. Nice grab on the 39-yard TD pass, and he had another deep 50-50 ball where he won covering 40 yards. They have so many options including the Hargrove twins, Eli and Jeremiah, who are only sophomores. Talent at this position. Needs some seasoning, though. Ran some loose routes and made a couple drops on easy grabs. Grade: B+
Offensive Line: Honestly, I expected more out of this group when it came to those key short-yardage plays. They were overwhelmed too many times on those plays for a group with this much size and experience. Carlisle had third-and-goal at the 1 and never came close to scoring on two plays. Pass protection was good. Run blocking needs work. Grade: C
Defensive Line: Junior Thomas Nelson is still a large lad, but he has trimmed down to closer to 300 than 325 pounds. He was almost unblockable at times. He caused serious problems. Layton Schmick had a solid game as well and had an interception on a screen he read perfectly. Any DL who gets a pick on a non-tipped pass wins my respect. Grade: A-
Linebackers: As the game wore on this position was the real sore spot in my eyes for the Thundering Herd. They were just invisible for way too many plays and did not fill many gaps at all. Struggled all game, too. Grade: D
Secondary: Two interceptions, coverage was very good all game and their run support, needed because the linebackers were MIA, was above average. Grade: B
Special Teams: Punter Brock Shughart averaged 40 yards on two kicks and did his job. Kick coverage was excellent, and of course there was the 82-yard kickoff return by Lawson that changed the game. And Denmark native Dirk Godjin celebrated his first extra point like very few kickers I’ve ever seen. And he should. He had never kicked a football until a couple weeks ago. Grade: A
Quarterback: There’s going to be some growing pains, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done for sure. That’s pretty obvious. Junior Seth Brubaker won the starting job out of camp and struggled. Jeffrey Lougee is clearly the better running QB, but he struggled throwing the ball as well. Neither QB was done any favors by the four or five drops by the wideouts. A work in progress. This is just a one-night four quarter mark for two guys with no experience. Lougee and his legs were a difference-maker. Grade: C-
Running Back: Success for this team going forward is going to be based on the running game. I like the duo of Parker Sample and Sage Thomas. You can mix and match these guys in all kinds of ways. Combined for 105 yards on 21 carries. They did their job. Grade: B+
Wide Receivers: They have to be better. Everybody is working hard, and coach Anthony Rose made sure to point that out. But when your newbie quarterbacks are fighting to find their footing, make the easy grabs. They dropped several easy chances. Grade: D
Offensive Line: Overall, this group had a pretty good night. Run blocking got stronger and more impactful as the game moved along. They eliminated the Carlisle linebackers all night. Pass protection was pretty good. One guy gave them problems, and that’s going to happen. Fundamentally sound. Grade: B+
Defensive Line: Sam Geraty and Marlon Aristy are very good. They made plays all game long and everywhere. They made key tackles for losses, shut down and blew up runs that looked well-blocked otherwise. Those two were part of the reason the Wildcats were in the game come the fourth quarter. Grade: A
Linebackers: You expect a lot from a talented veteran like Sam DeLuca in the middle. When he delivers right out of the gate for you, that’s a difference-maker. Most of his tackles were of the solo variety, too. He’s one of those guys who finds the ball, finds it in a hurry and gets there. Grade: A
Secondary: All greenhorns out there and they did some good things early, including an interception by Rashawn Holton. And they also got beat on some deep balls, getting turned around or run by. It was a mixed bag for sure. Some ingredients to work with, though. Grade: C-
Special Teams: Not much out of the return game, and surrendering that 82-yard house call on a kickoff just after your team claws to within 19-14 early in the fourth quarter was a momentum killer. Was the difference in the game at the end of the night. And that decision to run on a fake punt was clearly Sample’s decision. Bad choice. Kicking game is rock solid, though. Grade: D+