After losing its first two Division I games, Red Lion responded with a 41-28 victory over Northeastern. ROB ROSE, @robrosesports
After losing back-to-back regular-season games for the first time since 2015, something had to change for Red Lion.
Following Monday’s weight-room session, the Lions held a players-only meeting to address the issues that led to the losing streak.
The meeting had the desired effect on Friday night, when Red Lion (4-2) handed Northeastern (5-1) its first loss with a 41-28 victory.
“When things are going bad, it’s frustrating,” junior wide receiver Randy Fizer said. “We all knew what kind of team we were, so we just talked and got on the same page. It was a huge part of our success tonight.”
Red Lion coach Jesse Shay was happy the players took control of the team and handled the issues themselves. He and the coaching staff spent the week trying to make the players understand that no matter how well they design and call plays, the players on the field decide the final score.
“I haven’t made a tackle in 20 years,” Shay said. “We sat there and said, ‘Look guys, we can put you in the spots, but at the end of the day, you guys have to take ownership. This is your team. How do you want to be remembered?’ They took that to heart this week and they dedicated themselves (to) making sure they got this win, and they did.”
Can’t guard him: Fizer was the key to the Lions’ success on offense against the Bobcats. The junior hauled in nine passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns.
His presence on the field was felt as soon as the Lions got the ball, when he caught a screen pass on the right side of the field, cut across the field and then sprinted down the left sideline for a 91-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Nic Shultz.
“When I saw the cut back across the field I just took it,” Fizer said. “It’s a team effort when it comes to that stuff, so it was great blocking on their part too.”
Stopping the run: Red Lion used a team-based approach on defense as well in its plan of attack against Northeastern junior running back Manny Capo. He entered the game as the leading rusher in the York-Adams League with 962 rushing yards (192 yards per game).
The Lions used a gap-control scheme to stymie Capo and held him to 81 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
“You might not make a tackle 12 plays in a row, but if you control your gap, you’re doing your job,” Shay said. “You have to do your job and trust that the other 10 (players) are going to do to theirs, or he’s going to find that hole.”
The first half was a back-and-forth battle. Both teams fought for control of the game. Northeastern led, 21-20 as the teams headed to the locker rooms.
Taking the momentum: Trailing 28-27 early in the fourth quarter, Red Lion hit on the play that grabbed the momentum and put the Lions ahead for good.
Shultz dropped back and connected with senior fullback Kurt Keough over the middle. On his first catch of the season, Keough turned up the field with only one defender between him and the end zone.
Junior wide receiver Davante Dennis delivered the crucial block that lifted the Bobcats’ defender off his feet and sent Keough in for a 65-yard touchdown.
Red Lion converted a two-point conversion on a carry by senior running back Devyn Gurerri and added a 69-yard Fizer touchdown later to seal the victory.
Looking ahead: Northeastern coach Jon Scepanski was proud of the effort his players showed in a close contest, but was frustrated with the number of mistakes the Bobcats made. While he was disappointed in the loss, Scepanski was excited to see how his talented team will come back from its first defeat.
“How we respond is going to define who we are,” Scepanski said. “The loss hurts. If it doesn’t hurt, we’re not here for the right reasons. We’ll come back (Saturday) morning at 8 (a.m.). We gotta get better.”
For Shay, the way his players answered consecutive losses against an undefeated team was exactly what he hoped for.
“What we talked about all week long was the idea of resiliency,” Shay said. “At some point, every great team has to face adversity. It might be a single play, it might be a drive, it might be a game. In our case, it was two games. I was proud of how these 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids responded and showed that resiliency.”
With their focus back after a necessary players-only meeting and subsequent victory, the Lions’ sights are now set on finishing the season strong. They know there is more work to do to repeat as Division I champions, but this victory served as a reminder to themselves and the rest of the division just how good they can be.
“We know the team we are and we knew that all season, we just dug ourselves in a hole,” Fizer said. “We got a lot of great teams on our schedule. We got a confidence-booster tonight and we’re going to keep grinding and working hard and just continue our success throughout the rest of the season.”
Red Lion 13 7 7 14 - 41
Northeastern 7 14 7 0 - 28
RL - Nic Shultz 91-yard TD pass to Randy Fizer
NE - Dakota Neiman recovers fumble in end zone (Alex Afata kick)
RL - Nic Shultz 28-yard TD pass to Randy Fizer (Jacob Earnest kick)
NE - Zech Sanderson 31-yard TD pass to Jordan Lagana (Alex Afata kick)
RL - Nic Shultz 8-yard TD run (Jacob Earnest kick)
NE - Zech Sanderson 12-yard TD run (Alex Afata kick)
NE - Manny Capo 6-yard TD run (Alex Afata kick)
RL - Nic Shultz 4-yard TD run (Jacob Earnest kick)
RL - Nic Shultz 65-yard TD pass to Kurt Keough (Devyn Gurerri successful 2-point conversion run)
RL - Nic Shultz 69-yard TD pass to Randy Fizer
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.