BEAVER, Pa. — With just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Beaver Area defense forced an incompletion from Laurel Highlands’ star Rodney Gallagher on fourth down.
Locked in a 21-21 tie, after blowing a 14-0 first half lead, the Bobcats had a chance to right all wrongs with a scoring drive.
Just a minute later, Beaver senior Jake Hilton raced through the heart of the LH defense, doing his own gallop to the end zone for the go-ahead score. All was well, but that was a lot of time for Gallagher.
With two minutes to work with, Gallagher and LH worked the ball to the red zone after an insane scramble drill from Gallagher to set up a deep shot strike to senior Jayden Pratt. A couple of plays later, senior TJ Hooper raced into the end zone for his third touchdown of the night.
After a missed extra point on Beavers’ previous drive, the LH extra point made it a 28-27 lead and completed a 14 point comeback.
With the 28-27 win over Beaver Area, Laurel Highlands won its first playoff game ever behind Gallagher, Hooper and an all-around defensive effort Friday night at Pat Tarquinio Field.
Laurel Highlands won the opening coin toss, electing the receive and perhaps jump on Beaver early behind a strong start from Gallagher, but the Beaver defense had other ideas.
The Beaver defense wreaked havoc upon the LH’s offensive line, leaving Gallagher with nowhere to run. With Gallagher largely contained in the pocket, the Beaver secondary blanketed Gallagher’s targets.
If Gallagher could be contained, it’d be a long night for the LH offense, and Beaver executed to a T early.
With Gallagher contained, and the LH offense left in long down and distances — not helped by untimely penalties — Beaver capitalized.
A steady does of hard runs from Beaver senior Jake Hilton set up senior Wyatt Ringer to follow his offensive line into the end zone to open scoring on the Bobcats‘ first possession.
LH’s second drive was more of the same, Gallagher locked up inside the pocket, and a turnover on downs gave the ball back to Beaver.
The lone error of the quarter for Beaver came on the ensuing drive, unable to convert a fourth down attempt of their own. However, the defensive game plan from the Bobcats worked to perfection and forced LH into a third and long that wasn’t able to be converted.
A methodical drive from Beaver, complete with bruising runs and timely passing conversions, ended with senior JJ Shallcross escaping a scrum near the goal line and high-stepping into the end zone to make it a two score game.
Gallagher was finally able break contain on LH’s fourth drive, connecting with junior Keondre Deshields taking a screen for a long play. Gallagher converted a key fourth down play and senior TJ Hooper plowed through a couple of would-be tacklers for a 25-yard touchdown.
The LH defense forced a Beaver punt on the next possession, a short kick to set up the Mustangs inside the Beaver 30-yard line, and Gallagher did the rest.
Gallagher raced to the outside and ran down the sideline to the 7-yard line and took the ball the opposite way on his next run, evading Bobcat defenders as he dove for the pylon to tie the game.
With momentum fully swinging LH’s way, another short possession gave the ball back to the Mustangs in good position to get some points on the board before the half.
It appeared that a nice evasion from Gallagher would end in a touchdown with under a minute to go, but a beautiful pass breakup from Bobcats’ junior Gerrell Leeper forced a 39-yard field goal. And the attempt was blocked to keep the game tied at the half.
Beaver’s offense was unable to capitalize upon the second half kickoff, but the Bobcats’ defense forced a key interception from Gallagher on a potential go-ahead scoring drive.
Another methodical drive from Beaver, fueled by runs from Hilton, ended with Ringer plowing into the end zone from a yard out. However, LH wasted no time in responding, Hooper racing from beyond midfield, forcing a few Beaver defenders to miss, into the end zone to level the game at 21.
LH forced another Beaver punt, receiving the ball at their own 19, and put to together their best drive of the night as the third quarter slide into the fourth.
With a steady dose of runs and quick passes, the Mustangs drove inside the red zone and… a botched snap ended in a turnover with just over nine minutes remaining in the game.
It looked bleak for LH, but the Mustangs’ defense once again managed to make a stand.
And in the last five minutes, the game was decided.
LH and Beaver will go in different directions now, with the Mustangs moving on to play No. 2 Aliquippa at The Pit next Friday while the Bobcats’ season is over.