The Daily Item
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT —
One lesson learned from Selinsgrove’s game at Berwick was that Murphy’s Law doesn’t have to be in effect very long to produce catastrophic results.
The Seals lost the ball three of the first five times they touched it Friday, and the Bulldogs turned that misfortune into a three-touchdown lead less than five minutes into the game.
The anticipated (and state televised) matchup became a mercy rule affair with Berwick scoring twice more in the second quarter for a 36-point halftime lead. The Bulldogs bled most of the running second-half clock with two lengthy drives that stalled in the red zone.
“Things didn’t go our way. That was pretty much the story of the game,” Seals coach Dave Hess said after the 36-0 loss. “We obviously can’t spot them three turnovers and 22 points in the first five minutes; we’re not going to be successful.”
After the first five minutes, the game became much of what was expected. The Seals ran the ball effectively and may have scored twice in the first half if not for two terrific fourth-down defensive plays by unbeaten Berwick.
But those first five minutes were straight out of Hess’s worst nightmare.
Selinsgrove (3-2) received the opening kickoff and an illegal block on Mason Pope’s return forced the Seals to start from their 10.
After Angelo Martin gained a yard on a run up the middle, the sophomore was headed that way again on second down when met by defensive end Will Updegrove. The force of the collision popped the ball free and Berwick’s A.J. Vandermark plucked it out of the air for a short touchdown return.
On the ensuing kickoff, Berwick’s Alex Klinger forced a Pope fumble and recovered the ball at the Seals’ 35. Three plays later, Dain Kowalski took a counter left and cut back to the right pylon for a 14-yard touchdown.
Martin handled the ensuing kick well enough, but Isaiah Rapp was intercepted on the first play of the series by Tanner Weaver. Four plays and 11 yards later, it was 22-0.
“Our defense did a really good job getting those turnovers, and we capitalized on them by scoring three times,” said Kowalski. “You have to take advantage of turnovers.”
Selinsgrove went uptempo during its first sustained drive, moving the ball 55 yards to the Berwick 34 with a pair of big gains from Zach Adams and Conner Liesenfeld. The drive ended when Berwick’s Klinger knifed through the line and dropped Martin for a loss on fourth down.
In the second quarter, after Nate Bingaman recovered a fumble following a sack of Berwick’s C.J. Curry, the Seals marched 26 yards to the red zone. On fourth-and-6 from the 20, Bulldogs linebacker Zach Andress blitzed Rapp’s front side and snared him for a 4-yard sack.
Berwick scored on a five-play, 76-yard drive, with Kowalski covering the last 42 yards on three carries. The Central Columbia transfer then sparked a four-play, 65-yard TD drive by taking the first two plays for 41 yards. He finished with 130 of Berwick’s 295 rushing yards.
“When we want to play, we can play. We can knock you off the ball and run it,” said Berwick coach George Curry. “When you play a team like that, they crowd the line and force you to run the ball and throw short. That’s what we did.”
Adams, the Seals’ rushing and receiving leader, was lost to an unknown injury late in the first quarter. Martin (18 carries, 65 yards) and Liesenfeld (13-62) did well to pick up the slack.
The Seals shook off Berwick’s fake-punt conversion of a fourth-and-10 in the third quarter and stopped the Bulldogs at the 5. In the fourth, Selinsgrove turned them away on a fourth-and-2 inside the red zone.
“The message at halftime was, ’Let’s go out and win the second half. Let’s play a better game,’” said Hess. “A lot of our young guys got some pretty good experience, and our kids fought to the very end
“I told them I’m proud of that, and I told them are far, far better days ahead.”