By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG – The Mifflinburg Wildcats faced all kinds of adversity on Friday night facing elimination from the District 4 Class AA playoffs without a victory over rival Lewisburg in the Little Brown Jug.
Some of that adversity was caused by Lewisburg – taking a 15-7 lead in the third quarter. Some the adversity was caused by the Wildcats, nine penalties in the contest and a blocked field goal at the end of the first half.
However, a senior class led by standout defensive tackle Nazar Mironenko, wasn’t going to let a little adversity end their season.
“It was much less a physical adjustment, than it was an attitude adjustment,” Mironenko said. “We came out in the second half knowing quite well this could be our last game.”
Mironenko and the Mifflinburg defense limited Lewisburg to just 34 second-half yards, while the Wildcats scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, including Brett Luhrman’s 29-yard field goal with 3:30 left in the game to notch an 18-15 victory over the Green Dragons.
“We couldn’t be back-pedaling and thinking. We need to react and just do our jobs. We had to trust the guy beside you is going to do his job,” Mifflinburg coach Jason Dressler said. “I’m so proud of the boys.”
The Wildcats’ defense did its job in the second half. In addition to allowing just 34 total yards, Mifflinburg (5-5) also limited Lewisburg quarterback Nick Costagliola, the area’s second-leading passer – to 1-of-10 for 10 yards in the second half, including incompletions on his final nine passes.
“You know we were able to run in the first half and in the second half we weren’t,” Lewisburg coach Jeremy Winn said. “Our kids are pretty resilient. We just have to regroup for week 11.”
Mifflinburg jumped on top early, eating up most of the first quarter with a 17-play, 81-yard touchdown drive, which consumed 8:03 off the clock. Chris Temple scored on a one-yard TD run. The rest of the first half was all Lewisburg (6-4). The Green Dragons scored touchdowns on their only two possessions of the opening half. Logan Aikey ran 58-yards for a touchdown with 32 seconds left in the first quarter to cut the lead to 7-6 after the extra point was blocked.
Then, after a Mifflinburg punt, Costagliola found Luke Smith on a crossing route for 30-yard touchdown on fourth-and-seven with 3:30 left in the first half.
After a hold and a procedure penalty pinned Mifflinburg on its own five on its first possession of the second half, the snap on the punt went out of the zone for a 15-7 Lewisburg lead with 7:02 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats were stopped on downs on their next possession at the Lewisburg 5, but took advantage of field position and a 16-yard Tristan Martin punt return to start its their next drive at the Lewisburg 23. Wagner (13-of-17, 169 yards) hit tight end John Punako with a 22-yard TD pass with 8:16 left in the game. Luhrman’s leaping grab on the two-point conversion tied the game at 15.
After a quick Lewisburg three-and-out, Mifflinburg drove 56 yards in eight plays to for the game-winning field goal with 3:30 left. Luhrman (7 catches, 110 yards) set up a first-and-goal from the six with a 43-yard grab on third-and-11.
“Basically it’s a flood pattern, and we have three guys going out and the middle guy, who is me, usually, is open,” Luhrman said. “On that play, we altered it and I took an extra two or three steps deep and it opened up for my quarterback.”
A penalty and a fumbled snap sputtered the drive, leaving Dressler with a decision, go for it on fourth-and-goal, or kick a field goal despite a the Wildcats having one blocked to end the first half.
“It’s back to the attitude thing. We just have to make the blocks, which we didn’t do on the first one,” Dressler said. “We trust the kids. It’s been working all year long, why wouldn’t it now?”
Luhrman justified his coach’s confidence banging the 29-yarder right down the middle.
“I prefer the right hash so that was nice,” Luhrman said. “I have the same routine no matter the pressure. You can’t think about it too much or you’ll miss it every time.”