Panthers pull out OT win
bob ford/times news Panther Valley's Richie Smith (31) turns the corner and heads up field as Jim Thorpe's Mike Harleston (16) and Ryan Saunders (10) try to run him down.
Through 48 minutes of run-and-gun, high-octane, edge-of-your-seat football, Panther Valley produced 42 points and 379 yards of offense and exactly one of those 379 yards came through the air.
But with the game on the line in the first overtime, Panther coach Lon Hazlet didn't hesitate to turn to his passing game.
That's probably because he knew he had the perfect play.
The call was "298 Sideline Exchange." The result was the tying touchdown. Seconds later, Joe Ficocelli split the uprights with a clutch conversion, touching off a wild celebration in the center of the field as Panther Valley escaped with a pulsating 49-48 victory over Jim Thorpe on Friday night.
"We have a lot of confidence in (quarterback) Matt (Levitt) and in our receivers," said Hazlet. "We also have a lot of confidence in the play we ran. We call it 298 Sideline Exchange.
"We probably ran that play about 100 times over the summer and it seemed like it worked almost every time. Kyle Ferryman is the primary receiver on the play and he is so electric. He's almost impossible to cover. They called a time out right before the play, but we didn't even think about changing the call. I knew that Matt and Kyle would make deliver and that's exactly what they did."
The play and subsequent conversion capped a game that featured a season's worth of big plays by both teams, a furious Jim Thorpe fourth quarter comeback, and enough penalties to drive both coaches crazy. It was also punctuated an emotional week for the Olympians who were playing without standout Khaaliq Lynch, who was seriously injured an an automobile accident last weekend.
In the end, however, it was the Panthers who found a way to pull out the win.
"It was a great high school football game," said Jim Thorpe coach Mark Rosenberger. "Our kids didn't take one play off. They battled hard the entire game.
"We played great offensively. Unfortunately, we had trouble stopping them from scoring. But give Panther Valley credit. They made some big plays. They just were a little bit better."
Panther Valley relied on its own version of "thunder and lightning" to do most of its offensive damage. Richie Smith provided the thunder as he carried the ball 23 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns. Ferryman was the lighting. He needed just seven carries to gain 123 yards and score a pair of touchdowns on the ground. He also added the TD reception in overtime. All six of the Panthers' regulation scores came on runs of at least 35 yards.
Meanwhile, Jim Thorpe got huge games from quarterback Patrick Duvigneaud and flanked Mike Harleston. Duvigneaud carried 19 times for 211 yards and three touchdowns. He also passed for 177 yards and another score. Harleston caught five passes for 116 yards and one touchdown and then added a scintillating 30 yard TD run where he went from sideline to sideline, breaking close to a half dozen tackles along the way.
"We didn't play really well at some points in the game, but we played really hard the entire game," said Hazlet. "It made for some exciting football.
"I know this is a cliche, but this was definitely one of those games when it's a shame someone had to lose."
After trailing a 21-14 at halftime, the Panthers battled back to go ahead 42-28 when Levitt bolted 35 yards for a touchdown with just 7:07 remaining.
Jim Thorpe answer right back as two big Duvigneaud to Harleston pass plays produced a touchdown with 6:06 left. Thorpe's two-point conversion pulled it to within 42-36.
The Olympians got the ball back and drove 64 yards in just five plays, tying the game at 42-42 on Duvigneaud's two-yard TD run on a fourth down play. The extra point sailed just wide, however, setting up the overtime.
Thorpe had the first possession of OT and scored on a Deonte St. Hill three-yard run. But with kicker Harleston battling cramps on the sideline, the Olympians went for two and failed.
Harleston got the cramp on the final play of regulation when he was inches away from a dramatic game-winning Hail Mary pass on a ball that Duvigneaud threw over 50 yards in the air.
Trailing by six in overtime, the Panthers felt confident they would find a win to win.
"I told our kids that the short field is our game" said Hazlet. "I was confident we would find a way to score and I knew when we did that Joe Ficocelli was going to drill the conversion. He has been so consistent for us this year. Because of those things, I never doubted we would find a way to win the game."