Whether a defending state champion or a one-win squad, no football team wants its season to end the way Lower Dauphin’s did on Friday, Nov. 9. The offense struggled to get going and the usually sturdy defense had an off-night in the Falcons’ 42-10 loss to Manheim Twp. at Hersheypark Stadium in the first round of the PIAA District 3 Class AAAA playoffs.
The Streaks received the ball first and proceeded to march down the field in just over six minutes when quarterback Brenna Scott found Ryan Morgan in the end zone from 7 yards out.
Lower Dauphin seemed to dodge a bullet and turn the tide late in the first quarter when Manheim’s next drive ended thanks to cornerback Spencer Snyder’s interception in the end zone. Unfortunately, LD was unable to turn the pick into points, as the ensuing possession ended in a punt.
Things got worse for the seventh-seeded Falcons in the second quarter when Manheim’s Scott and Morgan hooked up for their second touchdown of the game, this time on an 85-yard bomb down the left sideline. Alex Woolley’s extra point made it 14-0 with 7:08 remaining in the half.
Lower Dauphin found itself in unfamiliar territory as the home team trailed by more than 10 points for just the second time all season.
The Falcons seemed to be headed in the right direction following Joe Julius’ 44-yard field goal with 3:58 left in the second quarter.
But when Manheim Twp.’s Cartier Morton returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, the air could be felt leaving the hometown side of the stadium.
LD went three-and-out on its next possession, and the Streaks upped their advantage to 28-3 when tailback Raycol Martinez broke a 35-yard run and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone.
Lower Dauphin Coach Rob Klock gave Manheim Twp. credit for its offensive scheme.
“We had trouble matching with some of their athletes,” he said. “Their team speed was very impressive and their quarterbacks and receivers did a great job. They have a nice balance of run and pass that keeps you guessing.”
It appeared the Falcons might have a rally left in them when Adam Zeiders returned the second half’s opening kickoff to Manheim’s 44-yard line. But it wasn’t to be.
Lower Dauphin used four plays to go just 3 yards and turned the ball over on downs when quarterback Troy Spencer was tackled short of the sticks on fourth down.
On their first drive of the second half, the Streaks picked up right where they left off, going 59 yards in 11 plays and adding another 6 points to their total on a Scott quarterback keeper from 1 yard out. Woolley’s fifth PAT made it 35-3 Manheim Twp. with 2:36 left in the third quarter.
A microcosm of LD’s night was seen on the team’s next possession when Travis Morrill’s halfback pass deep down the right sideline to a wide open Nate Miller fell incomplete just past the outstretched arms of his fellow senior.
Even when the perfect play was called, the Falcons simply could not execute.
When asked if Manheim’s defense was the reason for the lack of rhythm or if his offense simply had an off-night, Klock admitted the opposition did a good job in its game-planning but that his team might have underperformed as well.
“I think it was a combination of both,” he said. “We did not execute well but their defense is playing much better now than they were in some of the film we had on them from earlier in the season.”
The Streaks capped their scoring on their first possession of the fourth quarter when Scott found Morgan for the duo’s third touchdown of the game, this time a 28-yard pitch and catch with 10:27 left in the contest.
The Falcon faithful finally got something to cheer about when defensive lineman Brandon Eaton recovered a Manheim fumble at LD’s 45-yard line.
On the first play of the drive that followed, senior running back Tyler Messick rushed up the middle for 34 yards.
The senior finished it off with a touchdown from the 2-yard line six plays later. Julius’ extra point made it 42-10 with 1:33 left on the clock.
Messick was the Falcons’ leading rusher, picking up 37 yards and a score on four carries. Morrill went for 25 yards on 11 carries while Spencer rushed for 20 yards on 11 attempts.
Spencer also went 5-for-7 for 64 yards through the air. Caleb Koval saw some time at quarterback early in the second half and completed one pass for 14 yards.
Nate Miller led the team in receptions with four for 49 yards. Nate Dorwart and Jack Miller added one catch apiece.
Despite the sour taste that the final game’s score left in the mouths of Lower Dauphin and its fans, 2012 will be remembered for so much more than the final defeat. This past fall was the season the Falcons flew again.
The team’s early season non-conference shutout streak comes to mind, as do LD’s last-minute heroics to beat Mechanicsburg in late September.
There was the night the offense put up 50 points against Palmyra, the defense’s domination of archrival Hershey in the regular season finale and the thrilling win over Cedar Cliff in the fog. Klock explained that moments like these have laid the foundation for the program’s bright future.
“It was a tough loss, but it doesn’t take away what this group of kids accomplished,” he said. “This group of seniors got us back and now our underclassmen have to accept the challenge to continue. Every player contributed in some way. This was truly a team effort.”
“As for our coaching staff, I can’t say enough,” he continued. “Our defensive staff did an incredible job. Defensive Coordinator Jim Page, Mike Sterner, Dave Gourley and Greg Bowman were amazing. On the offensive side of the ball, Offensive Coordinator Ed Romano and Greg Kratzer implemented a new system that was very productive. We still have some areas we need to improve on but we have a lot of the same players at key positions back.”