Lehighton runs over Thorpe
Old habits are hard to break.
So after four straight weeks of approaching every game like it was a playoff game, Lehighton's Wyatt Clements wasn't going to change even if it meant blocking out an actual playoff game.
"I honestly didn't even think about that," replied Clements when he was asked about the Indians' 'win and in' district playoff scenario heading into their season finale with rival Jim Thorpe. "Since we lost to Governor Mifflin, we knew that we had to win every game we had left.
"So they have all been playoff games. We've been focusing on taking it one game at a time and not looking ahead. So that's what I wanted to keep doing. I was just focused on beating Jim Thorpe and not thinking about what it meant if we did beat them."
Thanks in large part to an outstanding game from Clements, Lehighton will now have a 'real' playoff game. The Indians clinched the fourth and final spot in the District 11 Class AAA postseason field on Friday night by routing Jim Thorpe, 41-6.
Clements did his part by rushing for 140 yards and three touchdowns. He also led an outstanding defensive effort from his linebacker position as Lehighton limited Thorpe to just 124 yards of offense.
While Clements' focus wasn't on the district playoff berth that awaited Lehighton if it won, coach Tom McCarroll said the Indians were well aware of what was on the line.
"Considering where we were at the midway point of the season, we couldn't have asked for a better situation," said McCarroll. "To be in control of your own destiny in week 10 is what you want as a football team.
"I thought our kids went out and played like they weren't going to be denied a district playoff berth. I was really happy with how we performed offensively and defensively."
Offensively, Lehighton couldn't be stopped not even by itself. The Indians scored on their first six possession of the game and only a couple of kneel downs from inside the Olympian five-yard line to end the game prevented a perfect night.
But while the Indians dazzled on the ground (258 yards rushing) and through the air (200 yards passing), their biggest obstacle might have been themselves as they had to overcome nearly 100 yards of penalties.
That meant in order to score, they had to execute some difficult conversions.
On Lehighton's first touchdown, a 10-yard run by Tyler Cann with 7:19 left in the opening quarter, it overcame a 1st-and-20 situation. On their second TD drive, which ended with another Cann scoring run, the Indians converted a 2nd-and-19. On the fourth scoring drive, which was capped by Clements' three-yard run, the Indians turned a 2nd-and-26 into a first down.
"We talk to our kids all the time about overcoming adversity ... even when it's self inflicted like tonight," said McCarroll. "I'm not happy with all the penalties we had on us tonight, but I am happy with how we overcame them.
"The kids found a way to grind it out, stay focused, and overcome the mistakes."
Clements scored Lehighton's third touchdown on a powerful 18-yard run that made it 20-6 with 8:05 left in the half.
The Olympians took the ensuing kickoff and drove from their own 38 to the Indian 8-yard line. But the 16-play drive, that consumed all the remaining time in the half, came up empty when the Indians' Connor Frey came up with a big third down sack and a fourth-and-long pass into the end zone was knocked down.
"If we score on that drive, it might have changed the momentum," said Jim Thorpe coach Mark Rosenberger. "Unfortunately we came up empty and then didn't do anything with the opening possession of the second half.
"After that, Lehighton took control. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't play better defensively, but give Lehighton credit. We weren't able to stop them."
Actually, no one has been able to stop Lehighton down the stretch. The win was the Indians fifth straight and improves their record to 8-2. They will meet Bethlehem Catholic next week in the District 11 Class AAA semifinals.
"Jim Thorpe is a huge rivalry game for us," said McCarroll. "To be able to stay focused and play as well as we did says a lot about our players."
Beating their rival and earning a district playoff berth in the process was plenty of reason to celebrate for the Indians
Even for Clements.
"It feels really good," said Clements. "I guess now I can think about the district playoffs."