The Bermudian Eagles entered Friday's District 3 Class AA semifinal contest against rival Biglerville at York Springs in a familiar position.
For the third year in a row, the Eagles were playing in the semifinals, but in the past two years, they failed to move on.
On Friday night, the Eagles got the proverbial monkey off their back by defeating the Canners 34-14 and earned their first trip to the district championship game in Hershey since 1998 when they won the Class AA title. They will face number-one seed Wyomissing.
"It is awesome," head coach Jon Defoe said. "Our first goal was to defend the league title and see if we could somehow run the table again, which no one thought was possible, and our kids did that. Earned the right to play at home, which was big and won two playoff games. I mean that's huge. It's a great opportunity and I am excited for our kids."
Biglerville's defense set out to stop the highly effective running game of Bermudian right from the onset.
After the Eagles' first possession, a three and out, the Eagles realized they might have to air the ball out a little more than usual.
"Give their defense credit," Defoe said. "They controlled the line of scrimmage tonight. We couldn't get it going in the ground game."
The Eagles were able to find some success in the ground game on their second possession. Running back Zach Stroup capped a nine-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run right up the middle. The big play of the drive came on third-and-11, when quarterback Michael Moore was flushed from the pocket, proceeded to avoid defenders and scrambled for a 14-yard gain.
The Eagles controlled the clock for much of the first half. On their next possession, they held the ball for more than six minutes.
Twelve plays after the drive started, the Eagles were facing fourth-and-7 from their own 15-yard line. They lined up to kick a field goal, but Moore, who is also the holder on field goals and extra points, took the snap, scrambled to his right and then threw across the field to wide-open Austin Felts, who found nothing but green grass ahead of him after he hauled in the catch.
"It was something we had in and practiced," Defoe said. "We never had the right opportunity to run it. We were probably on the edge of our range. If we kicked it and missed, they would have gotten the ball right back there anyway, so it was no risk. Mikey did a great job of letting the rush get to him."
"I had a good feeling about that play from the very beginning of it," Felts added. "I really think that got our game started. The defender covering me went to block the field goal and then went right after Mikey and I was wide open. Once I caught it, I looked down the field and saw nothing but end zone. That was a great feeling. That sparked everything. When we scored that touchdown, it got everyone ecstatic."
Biglerville responded less than one minute later when running back Oakley Fissel rushed in from two yards out to put the Canners on the board.
Unfortunately for the Canners, the momentum did not last long as Bermudian came right back and scored on a beautiful 28-yard touchdown pass to Stroup. One the drive, Moore was 3-for-3 for 66 yards.
"We throw the ball better than people realize and I think they overcommitted on the run a bit and we were able to have success passing."
The Canner defense held Bermudian's ground game to 54 yards on 20 carries.
Down 20-7, Biglerville had driven down to the Bermudian 18-yard line and were looking at fourth-and-8. The Canners handed off to Fissel, who was met by a wall of Eagle defenders, forcing a turnover on downs.
On the next possession, Bermudian put the icing on the cake.
After a botched handoff attempt in which Moore almost fumbled, recovered, and ran into five Biglerville defenders who appeared to have him tackled. Moore pulled out the back of the pile and sprinted 54-yards to the end zone.
Minimizing the Eagles' celebration was that, in the fourth quarter, Stroup was stopped behind the line of scrimmage and was tackled hard. The tackle caused Stroup to suffer a broken collarbone.
Biglerville 0 7 0 7 -- 14
Bermudian Springs 7 13 7 7 -- 34
Ber -- Zach Stroup 4 run (Aaron Rebert kick), 3:20.
Ber -- Austin Felts 15 pass from Michael Moore (pass failed), 5:56.
Big -- Oakley Fissel 2 run (Jordan Trostel kick), 4:08.
Ber -- Stroup 28 pass from Moore (Rebert kick), 1:59.
Ber -- Moore 54 run (Rebert kick), 2:04.
Big -- Fissel 4 run (Trostel kick), 11:55.
Ber -- Felts 19 pass from Moore (Rebert kick), 3:23.
First downs -- 16 -- 16
Rushes-yards -- 40-106 -- 38-160
Passing -- 8-16-0 -- 9-13-1
Passing yards -- 134 -- 152
Total yards -- 240 -- 312
Punts -- 5-28.0 -- 3-35.0
Fumbles-lost -- 2-0 -- 0-0
Penalties-yards -- 8-90 -- 6-50
Rushing -- Biglerville, Joe Hurda 14-46, Tanner Cool 13-32, Fissel 11-28, Jordan Wenk 2-0; Bermudian Springs, Moore 7-68, Tristan Sponseller 19-64, Stroup 8-21, Ryan Markle 4-7.
Passing -- Biglerville, Cool 8-16-0-134; Bermudian Springs, Moore 8-12-1-152.
Receiving -- Biglerville, Tyler Lieberum 3-65, Fissel 2-47, Wenk 2-12, Jacob Heiland 1-10; Bermudian Springs, Stroup 6-99, Felts 2-34, Markle 1-19.