By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — On a muggy opening night when cramps were a way of life, it looked like Shikellamy might have had Mount Carmel right where it wanted in the second half of Friday night’s Heartland Athletic Conference cross-over game.
The Braves, having somehow survived some of the strangest first halves of football you will want to see, had the Red Tornadoes on their heels, pounding the ball down their throats behind senior fullback Dwayne Pepper and his linemen.
Mount Carmel coach Carmen DeFrancesco said his coaches told him that it looked like Shikellamy was controlling the Red Tornadoes up front.
“I was thinking ‘boy, I hope this isn’t the case’ but our kids rallied in true fashion.”
The Shikellamy drive ended on the 15th play when big linebacker Christian Kelley pressured Braves quarterback Garrett Kemberling, forcing an incompletion on fourth-and-three at the Mount Carmel 16 and the Red Tornadoes rallied for a 20-0 victory.
“We bent and we didn’t break and that’s a credit to our kids,” DeFrancesco said.
Later in the quarter, a Dominic Farronato interception set up a touchdown by tight end Kelley.
“We were getting tired, but once we got up two scores, we felt that the momentum changed,” DeFrancesco said. “And you could just feel it and then our kids got their second wind.”
Shikellamy coach Todd Tilford was still shaking his head after the game just thinking about the things that went wrong.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump. We told the kids at halftime everything that could go wrong — penalties, drops and everything — we played about as horrible as I could imagine us playing and we go in and we’re down six,” he said.
“We had a good drive to start the half, but the offense just couldn’t get that thing in. We felt like we had them on the ropes. It was just strange. We kept telling our guys ‘keep on believing,’ we know we are a better team than that.”
In an odd first half, the Red Tornadoes (1-0) scored on the opening series on a nine-play, 69-yard drive capped by quarterback Zack Wasilewski’s 2-yard keeper for a 6-0 lead with 7:15 to go in the period. The kick failed.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball took a bizarre sideways bounce away from the Braves’ return team and was recovered by the Red Tornadoes’ Kyle Karycki.
The Braves (0-1) held, but the oddities were not over.
Two series later, Shikellamy’s Ryan Wary swept the right side and left all the Tornadoes in his wake. With nothing but clear sailing to the end zone, the ball slipped out of his hands and landed out of bounds.
The Red Tornadoes eventually forced a punt.
So it was understandable for anyone to think as they watched the Braves running their Delaware wing-T to near perfection on the opening drive of the second half that the tide was turning for the home team.
Given new life by its defense, Mount Carmel added the final tally on a play that must have reminded their fans of last season when DeFrancesco would send monstrous Eric Joraskie and Tyler Kwiatkowski down the field and dare anyone to tackle them.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Kelley, switched to tight end this year from the offensive line, ran a jet sweep to the left and bowled over a couple of defenders for an 11-yard TD. He then caught the pass from Wasilewski for the two-point conversion to cap the scoring.
“This was a great victory. We did not know what to expect,” DeFrancesco said. “We had two mediocre scrimmages, so we were coming in here not knowing what to expect, but our kids played great, the defense was just outstanding.”