The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Bill Bowman

September 27, 2011

Bill Bowman On college football

Oh, the stories they will tell.

In 20 years, when Susquehanna teammates gather to talk about the 2011 football season, the conversation will inevitably lead to the first month of the year. Really, how could it not?

Have you ever heard of a team winning three games in a four-week window on the final play? I've been doing this a long time, followed the game even longer, and I've never seen that or even heard of that. Just one of those victories ends up a permanent fixture in the program for a couple of decades, anchors the end-of-the-year highlight reel.

Cue John Facenda. "On a cool crisp autumn afternoon, the freshman kicker, looking nothing like that, calmly booted his team to the victory ..."

Susquehanna did that three times. Three. And twice in overtime.

As if SU's opening victory over Wilkes and the Centennial win over Dickinson last week weren't enough, the Crusaders may have outdone themselves on Saturday. Sure they were down by more points against Wilkes and, sure, Dickinson was a conference game, but Saturday's stunning 56-55 victory at Gettysburg was ... breathtaking.

Down 11 midway through the fourth quarter, on the road nonetheless, Susquehanna got a stop on defense, a field goal from Spencer Hotaling, another stop on defense, and TD pass and a two-point conversion to force overtime.

Oh, and that's not even the good stuff.

Before the overtime even started and prior to Gettysburg taking the field, SU coach Steve Briggs got on the headphones to the rest of his coaches.

"I didn't want to give them the ball back, so I said to the assistant coaches, 'When we score, we're going for two,'" said Briggs. "They all said, 'absolutely.' Coach (Scott) Knapp said, 'We're going to score on the first play, so be ready.'"

After Gettysburg punched it in and kicked the PAT to go up 55-48, Susquehanna did just what Knapp said it would: Quarterback Rich Palazzi hit Lewisburg grad Spenser Ercole for his second TD of the game on SU's first play.

Then it was a matter of deciding a play to win the game with. Coaches always have a couple plays drawn up specifically for that spot, a point in the game where they absolutely have to have three yards. Problem with SU dipping into that batch was that the Crusaders have been in that spot a couple of times already, so most of those were out there on film for the world to see.

So when Susquehanna broke the huddle, Briggs saw exactly what he wanted when Gettysburg came out in man-to-man defense. The Crusaders called a timeout, as planned if the Bullets broke the huddle in man, and offensive coordinator Nate Milne dialed up a perfect call, one that Briggs almost bricked.

"I asked the officials to put the ball on the left upright, not all the way to the hash, but not in the center," Briggs said of the conversion. "Dumb me, put it out there and squeezed the field on us."

Didn't matter one bit. The Crusaders came out in tight trips to the left and Ercole, who had in Briggs' words "a phenomenal game," ran a quick slant and the defense followed. That allowed halfback Greg Tellish to flare out of the backfield behind him, Palazzi hit him in stride and he breezed untouched into the end zone for the 110th and 111th points of the wild win.

"We caught them in man coverage, called a timeout and they came out in the same defense," Briggs said. "We had a mismatch, Nate made the perfect call and the kids executed it."

That's sort of been the way things have gone for Susquehanna this year. It seems like there is nothing it can't do when its back is to the wall.

It is something that amazes even Briggs.

"These kids are so resilient and so mentally tough it's astounding to be around them on the sidelines," he said. "We got down 11 late and it was like, 'Alright, we're coming back.' I haven't seen that kind of confidence in a long, long time, not even when we won the league a couple of years ago."

But isn't this getting a little tiring, cutting a couple years off Briggs' life, or at the very least adding to his collection of grey hairs?

"I was drained on the bus coming home," Briggs said. "One of our trainers looked at me and I said, 'Are you kidding me? I didn't even play a single down.' But it's a tribute to these kids and this coaching staff. These kids just make it happen."

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