Defense carries Northeastern over Red Lion in Division I showdown
MANCHESTER - The smile that occupied Northeastern head coach Jon Scepanski's face when he was asked if he thought his team could win a football game when only totaling 75 yards of offense told the whole story.
His simple two-word answer of "no way" was also telling of just how improbable a feat like that could be. Yet, his Bobcats pulled it off, managing just 66 yards on the ground and nine through the air against Red Lion on Friday night, but still came away with a crucial 14-13 win in the battle of two York-Adams League Division I foes.
"It's hard to game plan for a night like tonight," he said when talking about the ugly weather conditions. "You kind of know that you're not going to be a passing-the-ball team and when you play a physical team and well-coach team like them, it makes it very, very difficult."
Those weather conditions Scepanski referenced consisted of mid-40-degree temperatures, driving winds and constant rain that made it feel like early December as opposed to early October. It's the effect of Hurricane Joaquin that is making its way toward and up the east coast and caused some local high school football games to be either played earlier in the evening or rescheduled all together. The weather also drastically impacted a game between two of the four title contenders that make up the loaded top half of Division I.
But, with how virtually ineffective the Northeastern (2-0 Division I, 5-0 overall) offense was, its defense and special teams more than carried the load.
Game-chaning moment: With the Lions (1-1 Division I, 3-2 overall) already up 13-7 and driving into Bobcat territory in the third quarter, the Northeastern defense needed to come up with a big stop. That came in the shape of Fernando Flores rushing off the right edge and sacking Red Lion quarterback Sam Emig and forcing a fumble. With the ball on the ground, linebacker Gary Gobernik picked it up and raced 65 yards the other direction to give Northeastern the go-ahead score, which turned out to be the game winner.
"I just knew we had to get a touchdown because our offense wasn't moving the ball very well," Gobernik said. "So I knew I had to make a play and I saw a long stretch ahead of me. I honestly didn't think I was going to make it because I was so tight. I felt like I was going so slow, but I just dug deep, ran as hard as I could and got into the endzone."
Prior to Gobernik's scoop-and-score, Red Lion had all the momentum. The Lions came out of the halftime break and went on top with 4:25 to play in the third quarter on a one-yard QB sneak by Emig. However, on the ensuing extra point, a bobbled snap allowed Fred Mulbah to get around the edge and block the kick, which allowed the Bobcats' next score to put them ahead.
Later in the fourth quarter, it wasn't the Northeastern defense scoring points, but preventing them that also proved to be crucial. With the Lions driving into the wind, they faced a fourth-and-six on the Bobcats' seven-yard line. Thinking that a kick from that distance would be too drastically affected by the wind, Red Lion went for it, with Emig scrambling for six yards, but coming up inches short of the first down. That was the closest the Lions would get to reclaiming the lead the rest of the night as Northeastern held on for the win.
"We had to win two out of the three (areas)," Scepanski said. "Offensively, we didn't win with 75 yards. But, special teams and our defense played tremendously tonight."
Special plays from special teams: Red Lion opened the game's scoring on a 41-yard run by quarterback Dalton Grove with 4:42 to play in the first quarter. Unfortunately, Grove's positive moments were limited to just that run, as the quarterback was ejected midway through the second quarter for unsportsmanlike conduct. With Grove gone, the junior Emig was called into action for the remainder of the game.
The Bobcats' defense came up with the first big play to start the second quarter. On the quarters first play, Emig fumbled the snap on a punt from his own endzone and Flores recovered for Northeastern to tie the game at 7-7.
With half the season still to play, the victory gives Northeastern a slight edge over one of its biggest rivals for the Division I crown. With the Bobcats, Lions, South Western and Dallastown all looking like legit contenders for the title, anytime any of those four teams square off head-to-head, the game brings on added meaning.
"Red Lion is a tremendous football team," Scepanski said. "But we got a long road ahead of us. We got another tough one next week with Dallastown, so yeah a win against a team like Red Lion means something extra to turn the program around."
Red Lion 7 0 6 0 - 13
Northeastern 0 7 7 0 - 14
RL, Grove 41-yard run (Emig kick) - 4:42
NE, Flores recovers fumble in endzone (Artman kick) - 11:51
RL, Emig 1-yard run (kick blocked) - 4:25
NE, Gobernik returns fumble 65 yards (Artman kick) - 2:38
Category RL NE
Rushes/Yard 37-149 33-66
Passing 8-21-82 1-7-9
Passing Yards 82 9
Total Yards 231 75
First Downs 14 6
Penalties/Yards 10-82 10-96
Fumbles/Lost 4-3 1-1
Punts/Average 4-39.5 7-31.6
RUSHING: RL - Daugherty 9-58, Emig 9-37, Keough 15-27, Grove 3-24, Gurerri 1-3. NE - Johnson 21-63, Valenti 5-8, Whack 5-5, Ankney 1-(-)4, Willis 1-(-)6.
PASSING: RL - Grove 1-4-6, 0, Emig 7-17-76, 0. NE - Valenti, 1-7-9, 0.
RECEIVING: RL - Keough 1-28, Boyd-Gillespie 2-25, Daugherty 1-15, Hildebrand 2-10, Jackson 2-4. NE - Johnson 1-9.
- Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker