SWIFTWATER - The Lehighton football team might have been down after last week's loss to East Stroudsburg South, but it certainly wasn't out.
The Indians bounced back in a big way against Pocono Mountain West, defeating the Panthers 30-28 in a critical Mountain Valley Conference game for both teams.
The win moves Lehighton to 5-4 (4-4 MVC) on the year and gives the Indians a chance at the District 11 playoffs with one game left.
After last week's setback against the undefeated Cavaliers, Lehighton coach Tom McCarroll knew his team could play strong for a half. After the win against the Panthers, he knows his team can play hard for all four quarters.
"We went against a very good East Stroudsburg South team last week and we played with them for a half, so our kids knew that we could play with very good teams," McCarroll said. "We knew we were going to have a battle on our hands today.
"We got up on them quick and had a decent lead early. But things didn't go our way and it doesn't always go your way. But our kids handled the adversity and bounced back. They accepted the challenge and I'm so proud of the effort they put forth tonight."
Lehighton built a 17-7 halftime lead on the strength of two rushing touchdowns from Tyler Cann and Wyatt Clements to go along with a Nick Newton field goal late in the second quarter.
But the Panthers (3-6, 3-4) answered on their first drive of the third quarter, as Elias Borrero broke free for a 42-yard touchdown to make it a one-possession game after the extra point was missed.
The Indians wasted little time getting the points back, as Tyler Crum took the ensuing kickoff to the end zone to extend the Lehighton advantage to 24-13 with just under 10 minutes to go in the third quarter.
Lehighton appeared to have the game back under control, forcing a three-and-out on PM West's next possession. But momentum changed quickly after Elias Borrero returned a Tyler Cann interception for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 24-21.
The Panthers' defense stopped the Indians on their next drive, giving the ball and momentum back to an offense that was looking to make a play and take command of a back-and-forth game.
Facing a fourth and two from the Lehighton 20-yard line, PM West's Qmac Quiteh took the ball up the middle and carried Lehighton defenders into the end zone to give the Panthers their first lead of the contest at 28-24 with just over 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
With the game and potentially the season on the line, the Indians turned the ball over to sophomore tailback Wyatt Clements, who ripped off a 49-yard run on the first play of ensuing drive to put the ball in PMW territory.
Lehighton would benefit from a 15-yard personal foul penalty on PM West on a 3rd-and-15 to keep the drive alive.
The Indians continued to plow away and Clements would finish what he started, scoring the go-ahead touchdown from one-yard out to with 6:22 remaining.
PM West's final chance was cut short when Quiteh fumbled the snap on the next possession, giving the ball back to Lehighton and allowing the Indians to run off the remaining six minutes of the contest.
For the Indians, the victory is just another step towards their goal of reaching the district playoffs.
"This win is very satisfying but we can't worry about this anymore; we have to move on to next week," said Clements. "We have to prepare like it's a one-game season right now. We just have to prepare for next week."
With rival Jim Thorpe on the horizon, McCarroll knows his team can't get complacent now.
"They're going to pose a phenomenal challenge for us," McCarroll said of the Olympians. "But we're just going to worry about getting us better and I think if we do that we'll have a good shot next week."