SUNBURY – As the Shikellamy marching band stood on the field prior to Friday night’s season-opening football game between the Shikellamy Braves and the Central Mountain Wildcats, everything seemed normal.
It was a typical hot and humid night in late August as the teams prepared to get their seasons off on the right foot, but about midway through the Shikellamy Alma Mater, a torrential downpour broke loose and completely changed the gameplan for each team.
“We knew the field was going to be a situation, but we had no idea what we were getting into,” said Central Mountain coach Shanon Manning. “We knew the field conditions were not going to be in our favor. We knew it wasn’t going to fit well with what we wanted to do. We knew it would be a tight game and we were going to have to grind. We were having a discussion in the locker room (during the weather delay) that this game might end 6-0.”
Manning’s prediction nearly came true as the Wildcats won 12-0 in a grind.
Despite the incredible amount of rain pouring down on the field, Coach Manning’s Wildcats were able to move the ball down the field on a 12-play drive that ate up over six minutes of the opening quarter to take an early 6-0 lead.
The score came on a 12-yard reception by senior wideout Tyler Weaver on a pass from fellow senior, quarterback Brett Gerlach.
As the Wildcats lined up for an extra point attempt, officials stopped the game due to lightning in the area which resulted in a roughly 45-minute weather delay.
Following the delay and a missed extra point, the Shikellamy offense finally saw the field for the first time in the 2021 season with a chance to drive the field and take the lead. Despite a solid drive that saw the Braves pick up a pair of first downs, the home team had to settle for a punt following an illegal touching penalty on a third-down play.
The Braves’ defense was strong all game, holding the Central Mountain offense to less than 100 total rushing yards in the entire game, as well as forcing four punts and a pair of turnovers on downs. Senior defensive end Kaden Hoffman also picked up a sack in the game in a crucial moment in the final quarter.
“We didn’t come out to play defensively,” said Coach Jim Keiser. “The second half is what our defense should have been from the start. We weren’t reading our keys, we weren’t getting to the ball where we were supposed to. We weren’t flying to the ball like we should.”
With the score still sitting at 6-0 at the half, Shikellamy found itself with another chance to get the game all square, but the Braves were forced into a three-and-out.
Following that drive, each of the Braves’ subsequent drives in the game ended with a turnover. In all, the team lost four fumbles, had one interception, and also turned the ball over on downs once.
“Turnovers and penalties, that was the story of the game,” said Keiser. “Stuff that we thought we had cleaned up but just didn’t get it done tonight. Give them credit though. They played a heck of a football game. They’re a good team.”
Shikellamy’s best chance at a touchdown came in the early fourth quarter. Junior running back Isaac Schaffer-Neitz ripped off a 56-yard run to close the third quarter and put the Braves on the Central Mountain 37-yard line to start the final 12 minutes of action.
Unfortunately for the Braves, the next four plays resulted in a net gain of two yards, and the home team turned the ball over on downs at the Central Mountain 35-yard line.
With just over three minutes remaining in the game, the Wildcats put it away with another touchdown that gave the visitors a two-score lead. On third-and-five at the Shikellamy nine-yard line, Gerlach rolled left on a designed quarterback run play and scored to put Central Mountain up 12-0.
Gerlach led the Wildcats in rushing with 44 yards on the ground on 16 carries.
Schaffer-Neitz led all rushers in the game with 98 yards, while Hoffman led Shikellamy pass-catchers with 17 yards through the air coming on a long catch and run in the third quarter.
“I thought our kids did a great job running the football tonight,” said Coach Keiser. “We’ve got some guys back on the line, but most of them are pretty new. They didn’t do a bad job, but we’ve got some things to clean up. I thought our kids ran the ball well though.”
Shikellamy out-rushed the Central Mountain offense in the game, racking up 129 team rushing yards to Central Mountain’s 98.
Gerlach paced the Central Mountain offense in the win, adding 113 passing yards to his team-leading rushing total. He also played a big role on defense, adding a sack and a pair of fumble recoveries.
“Brett (Gerlach) did a great job on both sides,” said Manning, “He managed the ball well on offense and he was critical on defense as well.”
Weaver led all pass-catchers in the game with 49 receiving yards and a touchdown.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Manning, “The kids were great continuing to gut through it. They had a lot of reasons not to, but they kept playing.”
Central Mountain starts off the season at 1-0 and will host Shamokin this coming Friday evening. The Indians play Lewisburg today following a delay due to a lighting issue.
Shikellamy (0-1) stays at home to take on Milton (1-0) who is coming off a 39-28 victory over Nativity BVM.