So much for the Panther Valley football team being caught by any potential trap set by Shenandoah Valley.
With the Anthracite Football League title there for the taking the next two weeks with games against Tamaqua and North Schuylkill, there were some who theorized the Panthers were heading into a so-called "trap game" Friday against the visiting Blue Devils. Well, so much for theories.
Panther Valley took care of business behind three touchdown passes by quarterback Casey Lawrence, a touchdown run out of punt formation by Jake Dunn and two goal-line stops inside the 5 for a 26-8 victory. Now, the Panthers (6-1, 5-0 AFL), who kept pace with North Schuylkill (6-0 AFL) as the only unbeaten league teams, can concentrate on next week's showdown against arch-rival Tamaqua (4-1 AFL).
"We didn't even have to say anything about looking past Shenandoah Valley (3-4, 2-4 AFL)," Panther Valley coach Frank Damian said. "That's a solid football team that's had some tough luck, but is just a couple of plays away from coming in here with just one loss in the league.
"After what happened to us last year and not making the playoffs, we aren't about to look past anyone. It was at this stage of the season last year that we lost back-to-back games, so we know what we have to do every week."
Dunn was the main antagonist of the Blue Devils, scoring untouched on a 67-yard reception from Lawrence in the second quarter for a 12-0 lead. He then broke the game open in the third quarter with a 47-yard touchdown run out of punt formation for a 26-0 lead.
"I have the option to run or kick the ball, and all the coaches tell me is to make sure I make a good decision," Dunn said. "When I saw a lot of green to the right side, I just took off."
Any hope of at least extending the Panthers realistically ended for Shenandoah when Eric Whalen, who rushed 28 times for 106 yards, was stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 1 as time ran out in the first half. Panther Valley had taken a 12-0 lead when Jeff Corby capped an 11-play, 60-yard drive in the first quarter by catching a 22-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence on fourth-and-13 and Dunn's touchdown reception on the first play following a punt.
"We had been able to loosen up their defense just enough by running the ball, so we though the pass would be open," Dunn said of his touchdown reception. "I was wide open coming across the middle and Casey made a perfect pass."
Lawrence completed 5-of-14 passes for 146 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Brock Mitchell to cap an eight-play, 45-yard drive midway though the third quarter. With the Devils keying on running back Kyle McAvoy (9-36), Panther Valley was limited to 107 yards on 28 carries, but the ability of Lawrence and his receivers to make big plays in a cold, driving rain was the difference.
Midway though the second quarter, the Devils used the power running of Whalen and Bob Conrad (13-80) for an 18-play, 79-yard drive that featured 17 running plays. A 12-yard run by Whalen set up a first-and-goal at the 2, but after Conrad was stopped at the 1, the Devils spiked the ball to stop the clock and save their final timeout, Whalen lost 2 yards and was then stopped at the 1 as time ran out.
Shenandoah scored late on an eight-play, 43-yard drive on a 2-yard run by Whalen, and the Devils were stopped on their next possession when on fourth-and-goal, Whalen was thrown for a 2-yard loss to the 5. By then, however, the outcome had been decided after Dunn scored on the fake punt, hurdling a defender at the 25 on his way to the end zone.
Shenandoah finished with 195 yards rushing on 48 carries, but the Panthers harassed quarterback Dan Merva into a 2-for-10 passing performance, with John Onisick making both receptions for 38 yards. Linebacker Ryan Richards had an interception for the Panthers for the game's only takeaway, stopping a third-quarter Shenandoah drive at the 19.