SCHUYLKILL HAVEN - Opportunity, meet Kevin Schaller.
The Panther Valley senior defensive back watched as the pigskin squirted from the grasp of Dajone Fairell on the Panthers 20 during a Schuylkill Haven drive late in the first half.
Whether the play would be ruled a fumble or incompletion, Schaller didn't wait to find out. He scooped up the loose ball and raced 75 yards up the sideline in the opposite direction.
That set up a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback Casey Lawrence, and the stunning turnaround gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead en route to a 34-13 victory over the defending Anthracite League champion Hurricanes Friday night on the artificial turf at Rotary Field.
The win kept the Panthers (4-1 overall) undefeated in the league at 3-0 and ended a decade of frustration against host Schuylkill Haven (3-2, 2-2).
"It's been 10 years since we've beaten them, so we've done it for all the people who wore the Black and Gold before us that got their butts whipped by them. It feels good," said Lawrence, who rushed for 82 yards and two TDs and threw another 15 yard score to Jake Dunn on a fade pattern.
Lawrence used his ball-handling wizardry to perfection in directing a Panther offense that racked up 268 yards rushing against the normally tough to run against 'Canes. Senior Kyle McAvoy took advantage of great blocking by the Panther offensive front with 19 carries and 148 yards, including a four-yard TD run.
"With our offense, you have to be ready for everybody," said Panther Valley coach Frank Damian about his "pistol" attack. "They kept sucking their ends in on the dive play, and on the zone fakes, Casey knew he would get one to break. He knows we're going to count on his legs or in the air, whatever it takes to win."
After a scoreless first quarter, Lawrence faked out the 'Canes with an option left that saw him dash 55 yards to paydirtwith 11:34 remaining in the second quarter. The conversion run attempt failed, keeping it at 6-0.
"We keep defenses guessing all the time whether McAvoy's going one way and I'm going to go in the other," related Lawrence. "That keeps them on their heels so we can also go up top, too."
Haven's Mike Georgevic missed a 27 yard field goal that appeared to be tipped, but Brian Murphy's interception of Lawrence put the 'Canes back in business on the Haven 47.
Murphy would hit Fairell for 20 yards down to the PV 20, but Schaller had other ideas.
"That play changed the whole momentum of the game," said Damian. "Everybody was standing around, and we didn't know if was alive or dead, and Kevin made a head's up play to help us go up 14-0.
"Kevin's a great kid who works hard, and we keep telling kids like him that their chance is going to come. It came tonight for him, and he made a big play for us."
"The school district plays the officials, and I respect the job they do. He obviously saw a fumble, and it's a fumble," said Schuylkill Haven coach Mike Farr. "That's not why we lost. We've lost the swagger we had. We're not executing and making plays."
The Panthers tacked on two more TDs in the third when Jake Dunn hauled in a 15 yard TD on the fourth down fade, and McAvoy turned a Jake Dunn fumble recovery into a four-yard score for a 28-0 lead. Kevin Dunn added a 35-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
Haven scored two fourth quarter TDs, with Evan Marceau catching a five yard Murphy TD pass and reserve back Jared Guldin scoring on a one-yard plunge.