By Todd Hummel
The Daily Item
Everybody knows about Ryan Solomon the wrestler.
Milton football coach George Goodwin is glad Solomon still makes time for Ryan Solomon the football player.
“I’m glad Ryan didn’t dedicate his entire life to wrestling,” Goodwin joked Friday night.
Solomon, headed to the University of Pittsburgh on a wrestling scholarship, picked off a pass at the goal line on the final play of the District 4 Class AAA semifinal at Alumni Field to preserve a 13-7 Milton victory over Shikellamy and send the Black Panthers to a second consecutive district championship game appearance.
“I’m a lineman, so I don’t get much chance to catch the ball,” Solomon said. “I just dropped back and made the play.”
It was a furious final 32 seconds that began with Milton four yards from the game-clinching first down and ended with the Black Panthers hanging on for dear life.
“My heart is still racing,” Goodwin said five minutes after the game ended. “I thought we got the fumble back (late in the game), but we certainly didn’t make life easy.”
The Braves recovered a fumble on the Milton 47 with 32 seconds left. Back-to-back completions to tight end Jathan Stover put the ball on the Milton 26. On a third-and-1 play, quarterback Ernie Tyler found John Schaeffer for an 18-yard gain to the Milton 9 with 11 seconds left.
Tyler tried to hit Scott Snyder on slant on the next play, but Jayson English knocked the ball away, though the Braves’ coaches wanted a pass interference call. Shikellamy tried for Stover in the end zone on second down with six seconds left, but Solomon dropped back into zone coverage and came up the interception.
“We had a good week of practice,” Shikellamy coach Todd Tilford said. “The kids were ready. We battled back and competed.”
With the victory, Milton (7-4) advances to play Selinsgrove, a 41-0 winner over Shamokin in the other semifinal, at 7 p.m. Friday night at Harold L. Bolig Memorial Field.
The game was markedly different than last week’s first meeting between the two schools in which Milton held Shikellamy to just 111 yards of total offense, while totaling 309 yards of its own.
Each team had a scoring chance stymied in the first quarter. Shikellamy took a short opening kickoff and drove to the Milton 22 before Josh Brown intercepted a pass at the Black Panthers 9.
Milton went on an 18-play drive that took 9:28 off the clock in the first quarter, but ended on an incomplete pass on fourth-and-3 from the Braves 13. Milton struck first in the second quarter, marching 76 yards in 10 plays, capped by a three-yard TD run by Brown to take a 7-0 lead with 4:28 left in the first half. Nine of the 10 plays on the drive came on the ground. The Black Panthers converted their lone third down on the drive as well when Brady Chappell hit Brown for a 15-yard gain on third-and-7 from the Shikellamy 29.
The Braves answered with a 65-yard drive to tie the score. Tilford gambled on fourth-and-4 from the Milton 32. Wide receiver Scott Snyder ran a double-move and Tyler floated a beautiful pass into his arms for the game-tying score with 1:46 left in the first half.
The Braves had a chance to take the lead early in the second half, forcing a fumble on Milton’s opening possession. Jake Hare recovered on the Milton 45. The Braves had a first-and-10 on the Milton 24, but holding penalty stalled the drive.
The teams traded punts after that series until the Black Panthers took advantage of a Braves’ turnover late in the third quarter for what turned out to be the winning score.
English recovered a Shikellamy fumble at the Braves 37. Milton, keyed by a 23-yard run by Jarred Fogelman on a third-and-6 from the Shikellamy 33, scored on seven-play drive to take the lead. Chappell scored on a one-yard sneak on a fourth-and-one with 9:12 left in the game. The extra point failed so the lead was 13-6.
After a punt on its next possession, Shikellamy got the ball back with 2:57 left in the game, pinned deep on its own 13 after a procedure penalty on first down. The Braves (5-6) marched into Milton territory, helped by a 20-yard run by Jean Turber and a 20-yard pass play to Jordan Garinger, but a fourth-down pass fell incomplete, ending the drive.