The game of life is a lot like football.
You have to tackle your problems, block your fears, and score your points when you get the opportunity.
That was the message delivered last night in Lansford, as Lehighton walked away with a 41-0 victory over Panther Valley in the inaugural Bo Tkach Foundation Under the Helmet Football Classic.
It was the first shutout for the Indians since September 7, 2007, when they posted a 41-0 victory over Tamaqua.
"It's an honor to win the Bo Tkach Trophy," stated Lehighton head coach George Ebbert. "The kids knew tonight's game was important on so many levels and I'm just so proud of how they played and handled themselves tonight."
It was a total team effort, as the Indians scored touchdowns in all three phases of the game (offense, defense and special teams) and used three touchdowns in a span of 4:28 in the second quarter to blow the game wide open.
"We're down a quarterback (Josh Agosto), so for us to come in and score in several different ways is really big," added Ebbert. "Hopefully, we can ride this wave of momentum into the start of MVC play, which begins next week."
After a scoreless first quarter, the Indians got on the board with a 10-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Zellers that capped off an 11-play, 68-yard drive with 8:34 remaining in the second quarter.
The Indians forced a punt on Panther Valley's ensuing possession and Zellers returned the punt 73 yards to pay dirt to give Lehighton a 14-0 lead.
Entering the game, Zellers had just three carries for six yards, but ended the night with five carries for 23 yards, including two touchdowns.
Just three plays after Zellers returned a touchdown, defensive back Billy Angst got in on the action when he picked off Nick McArdle for a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"We only ran 23 plays in the first half and 11 of them came on our first touchdown drive," said Ebbert. "It was a matter of getting the big plays at opportune times and we got them tonight with the big punt return and the interception return."
Despite trailing 21-0 at halftime, Panther Valley actually had 17 more yards of total offense in the first half (78-61). The Panthers drove inside Lehighton's 30-yard line on two separate occasions in the first half, but came away empty both times. On a fourth-and-one play late in the first quarter, Rich Smith was tackled in the backfield by Alex Storm, and on fourth down play late in the second quarter, Anthony Farole intercepted Anthony German.
"It should have been 7-0 at the half instead of 21-0," stated Panther Valley head coach Lon Hazlet. "We're trying every day to get better fundamentally, but it just can't come fast enough right now."
After getting only two touches in the first half, Lehighton turned to its biggest playmaker, Jacen Nalesnik, to start the third quarter. Operating out of the wildcat formation, Nalesnik rumbled 8 yards and 34 yards, before capping off the three-play drive with a nine-yard TD run.
Following a Panthers' punt, Nalesnik opened Lehighton's second possession of the second half with a 43-yard run. He then connected with Farole for a 24-yard reception down to the 1 yard line, before taking it in himself for the one-yard score to up the Lehighton lead to 35-0. Nalesnik ended the night with 106 yards on just seven carries to earn the Offensive MVP award, while Angst was tabbed at the Defensive MVP of the contest.
"We wanted to get Jacen more involved in the second half and one of the ways to get him the ball was to run some wildcat," added Ebbert. "He's a tremendous athlete and he can make a play every time he touches the ball."
Lehighton's final touchdown came late in the fourth quarter when Tom Ruzicka marched in from nine yards out.
In the second half, the Indians held Panther Valley to just 49 yards of offense and one first down. Rich Smith led the Panthers with 43 yards on 17 carries.
"I've been down this road before. We just have to keep our heads up and keep doing the right things," concluded Hazlet. "As long as we keep working hard, good things will eventually happen."