Saucon edges Tribe
That one word probably swims around the mind of Lehighton head coach Tom McCarroll before he goes to bed and is still there when he wakes up in the morning.
Throughout a trying year, his Indians have consistently not been able to make the most of them and it has resulted in a losing season.
On Friday night, despite battling visiting Saucon Valley to the end, McCarroll’s club came up just short, falling by a 20-14 score.
“This a tough one,” said McCarroll, whose team is now 1-7. “First of all, I’m very proud of the effort that our kids put out today. We’ve been asking them week-in and week-out to keep fighting through the adversity and I think you saw that tonight. We had a lot of opportunities to make plays, not taking anything away from Saucon. Give them credit, they made a few more plays than we did.
“But again, the story of our season has been not taking advantage of opportunities. I think we had eight or nine dropped balls. We had a couple untimely penalties. And then we also had turnovers. You’re not going to win games that way, with a combination of those mistakes. It’s just not going to happen.”
Despite some chances falling by the wayside, Lehighton did have a last gasp to pull out a victory and end its five-game losing streak.
It just wasn’t meant to be.
An interception by the Panthers’ Jack Robertson led to a 1-yard touchdown plunge by backup quarterback Travis Riefenstahl to break a tie game and give Saucon (4-4) the lead with 2:50 left in regulation. But a missed PAT, which clanged off the upright, gave the Indians some life.
Taking over at its own 30, Lehighton’s Brady O’Donnell - who threw for 221 yards in the contest - ran three straight times to move the ball into Panther territory. A key fourth-down conversion on a pass from O’Donnell to Hunter Crum (7 catches, 100 yards) lept the drive alive. Two more throws to Brayden Lutz put the home team in the red zone with a minute to play.
But a sack and three incompletions, in which Saucon’s defenders had very tight coverage, ended the comeback bid. It also marked the fourth time the Indians moved inside the 35 without scoring any points.
“Defensively, we answered the bell all night,” said Panther mentor Brad Trembler. “We held them to two touchdowns, and one was on an (interception return).
“I’m happy for our kids. Any win is great, but I’m heartbroken for some of our guys that got hurt tonight.”
One of the players that was banged up for Saucon was starting QB Dante Mahaffey. The skilled senior got hurt late in the first quarter with the game scoreless. That left things up to Riefenstahl.
“Travis did an admirable job,” said Trembler. “More than admirable. He doesn’t get a whole lot of reps during the week, and so much of our stuff is designed for (Mahaffey). He did a great job. His showed composure, he competes, and he works hard.”
He proved his worth late in the first half after a controversial situation went against the Indians.
Receiving a Saucon punt, Lehighton’s return man was hit just as the ball arrived. The Panthers recovered the muff, while the home side was looking for an interference call that never came.
A few plays later, Riefenstahl tossed a 7-yard scoring pass to Braden Weiss to give his team a 7-0 lead.
Lehighton nearly tied the score before the half, driving 64 yards on five plays in just 30 seconds. But a throw to the end zone was ruled an interception as players from both teams seemed to come down with the ball.
The Indians did knot the game on their first possession of the second half as O’Donnell connected with Crum on a 22-yard score, and they took their first lead less than three minutes later when Deven Armbruster picked off a pass and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown.
Riefenstahl, however, reached the end zone on a 10-yard run three plays into the fourth quarter to make it 14-14.
“We just have to get over the hump and learn how to win,” said McCarroll. “I thought we had opportunties tonight. We were close. We can tell our kids we were close, and there’s two ways they can go. If they don’t kind of continue to rally, it’s going to be more of the same. But if they build off the way they played, I think we can definitely compete in the last two weeks.”
UP NEXT ... Lehighton travels to Southern Lehigh on Friday before ending the regular season the following week at Jim Thorpe.
FROSH STEP UP ... The Indians’ Armbruster, who recorded a pick-six, is just a ninth-grader, as is Saucon’s Robertson, who finished the game with two interceptions.
INJURIES ... Besides the Panthers’ Mahaffey leaving the game early, Lehighton also lost a key player when Aiden Rarick suffered an apparent knee injury and had to be taken off the field.