By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — Perhaps this one was meant to be.
Shikellamy’s John Schaeffer told coach Todd Tilford in school Friday that he was going to return a kickoff for a touchdown. So when Jersey Shore squibbed a kickoff out of bounds late in the second quarter Friday night, Schaeffer could not have been more elated.
As Schaeffer knew he would, Tilford took the penalty and forced a re-kick. In doing so, he gave up what would have been great field position for a gamble.
Schaeffer made it pay off for Tilford and the Braves as he returned the kick 65 yards for a touchdown, staking Shikellamy to a 19-13 halftime en route to a 29-19 Heartland Athletic Conference Division I victory at Shikellamy Stadium.
Schaeffer found a hole up the middle and quickly left no doubt where he was going to end up.
“I promised him I would get a kick return for a touchdown and when I saw it was a re-kick, I was so excited,” the 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior said. ”That was my chance, I knew I was going to have to take it back right then and there because we were getting the ball and just shoving it down their throats.”
Schaeffer said, “I had amazing blockers and a huge hole. I couldn’t have done it without my blockers. They made that hole for me and I took it and I went and I didn’t stop sprinting until I got to the end zone.”
“That was huge. They had just scored. We had a chance to have our kids make a play and we went with it,” Tilford said.
The touchdown was an immediate answer to a Bulldogs’ TD, a 36-yard scoring strike from quarterback Logan English off play-action to wide receiver Derek Leese which tied it at 13-all with 1:46 left in the half.
Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said the kick return, coming just after his team had scored, was an emotional drain.
“I thought could be a real big emotional lift for us, but when they ran the kickoff back, that can be a double whammy. All of a sudden you’re going from a high to like you’re falling off a cliff in Arizona somewhere,” Gravish said.
The game was important to both teams for the District 4 Class AAA points and the win helped the Braves pad their advantage over the fourth-place Bulldogs (2-5, 1-3 HAC-I).
The game started perfectly for the Braves (3-4, 2-0) as they forced a three-and-out on the first series, then took advantage of a 39-yard Jean Turber punt return and drove 39 plays and took the lead on a 39-yard run by running back Alex Bruner. Seth Burk’s PAT put Shikellamy up 7-0 with 8:32 left in the opening quarter.
Jersey Shore pulled to within 7-6 on the third play of the second quarter. Going for it on fourth-and-one, Utoah Agae-Naipo scored on a 17-yard run in which he broke several tackles and followed his downfield blockers to the end zone.
As they did all night, the Braves answered quickly. They did it in just three plays: a 16-yard pass from Garrett Kemberling to Ryan Wary, a 53-yard run by Pepper and then a 3-yard TD by Pepper.
A high snap and pressure up the middle contributed to a missed PAT and it stayed 13-13.
The Braves kept the momentum going with an 11-play, 67-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter. The Braves eschewed a short field goal try on fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line and quarterback Garrett Kemberling faked the handoff and rolled around the right side for the score for a 26-13 advantage.
Nick Dunn intercepted a pass on the next series, then the Braves added a 28-yard field goal by Burk for a 29-13 advantage with 11:47 left.
Agae-Naipo tacked on a 9-yard TD run with 2:20 left.
Shawn Turber also had an interception and the Braves had seven sacks, two each by Evan Witmer and Brett McCreary. Bruner, Brandon Kashuba and Jeff Wojciehowski had the others.