Lehighton comeback falls short
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Lehighton's Wyatt Clements breaks loose for a touchdown as teammate Kyle Troch runs along side to block.
It could have been the perfect ending for Lehighton on Senior Night.
But for Jacen Nalesnik and the rest of the Indians' upperclassmen, it just wasn't meant to be.
Trailing by two points with 2:19 left to play, Nalesnik led his team on a late drive to set up a possible game-winning field goal. But his 38-yard attempt as time expired was wide left, allowing visiting Pocono Mountain West to escape with a dramatic 16-14 Mountain Valley Conference victory.
"I gathered them on the 50-yard line after the game and told them I couldn't be more proud of them," said Lehighton head coach Tom McCarroll . "They fought. With the effort they put forth, I'm so disappointed for them because an effort like that deserves a win.
"The kids put themselves in position to win. There was plenty of distance on that field goal. It just wasn't the right angle. I can't say enough about how our kids battled. I'm proud to be their coach regardless of the outcome."
The Panthers, coached by McCarroll's uncle Jim, extended a slim halftime lead by scoring less than two minutes into the second half. A 47-yard scamper down the right sideline by Matt Shelter set up Amir Blair's four-yard touchdown run that made the score 16-7.
After Lehighton (2-7) came up empty following a long drive and the game moved into the final quarter, the Indians chances were starting to dwindle.
A big defensive stop, though, gave the hosts the ball back and an opportunity for a comeback.
Nalesnik tossed a 36-yard strike to Nick Newton and Wyatt Clements broke loose for a 22-yard run to eventually lead to Nalesnik's four-yard touchdown run that narrowed the gap to 16-14 with 5:31 left.
The Panthers (4-5) managed three first downs, but couldn't run out the clock and were forced to punt.
Lehighton took over on its own 28 and moved 51 yards on 14 plays. The key play was a pounding 25-yard run by Nalesnik that put the ball in Panther territory.
"That capsulized what Jacen is all about," said Lehighton's McCarroll. "He's a warrior, a competitor and he'll do anything to win. You saw it in that kind of run. He just willed himself to get that first down. He refused to go out of bounds and he refused to go down. It just speaks of the character he has as a senior, an individual and a leader."
With six seconds left, Nalesnik tried to pull it out for his team but his kick just went wide.
"It's hard to swallow for them, but they did an excellent job," said Jim McCaroll. "We're lucky to escape here with a win.
"Nalesnik is a bull and their offensive line did a nice job on us. For their young kids to be that physical, that's impressive."
The Indians marched down the field on the game's opening possession and took a 7-0 lead on Clements' 13-yard scoring run.
West came right back, though, as its quarterback Jeff Krisiak reached the end zone on a 15-yard scamper. Later in the second quarter, Mike Gaudette booted a 41-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 9-7 advantage.
"These games always have two sides," said the Indians' McCarroll. "There's going to be a winner and a loser. It was unfortunate for us tonight. I'm just proud they put themselves in a position to win the game. That was all you could ask."