SPRINGFIELD — Last week La Salle High's football team was introduced to the loss column by Imhotep Charter, in a contest void of both an ineffective running game and a few positive breaks.
Those factors were not absent Friday night, however, when the Explorers bounced back with plenty of both to defeat Cardinal O'Hara, 28-14, in a non-league contest at O'Hara's Lions Stadium.
Jordan Meachum led a devastating rushing attack with 179 yards on the ground and the Explorers used a crazy play at the end of the first to get back in the win column.
"We practiced real hard all week, we were going at 110 percent,' Meachum said, "and I think that brought us up to our A game.'
But initially, it was O'Hara that took control, rumbling 70 yards on nine plays to take the lead on the game's series. Quarterback Dashawn Darden was 3-for-3 on the drive, including a 20-yard strike in the left corner of the end zone to a leaping Thaddius Smith for the touchdown.
La Salle quickly answered, however, with a seven-play, 62-yard scoring drive capped by Jordan Meachum's 6-yard score around left end. Shurmur was 3-for-3 on the jaunt for 37 yards.
After La Salle's David Geppert spilled Darden for a 5-yard loss on third down on the Lions' next possession, forcing a punt, the Explorers put together a 15-play drive that got as far as the Lions 12-yard line before a holding penalty helped bring it to a halt. A missed 36-yard field-goal attempt then turned the ball over to O'Hara.
Once more the Lions threatened, due primarily to a 66-yard scramble by Darden, who bobbed and weaved all the way to the Explorers 11.
But this time it was the Explorers' defense that stood firm. And helped by a sack by linebacker Ryan Brady, the home team came away without points when a fourth-down pass from Darden to JT Blyden fell short of both a touchdown and a first down.
The stand, however, did not deter O'Hara, which, keyed by a big punt return by Lamont Veal, came right back to take the lead.
Beginning at the Explorers 40 with 1:00 minute left in the half, it took the Lions three plays to take the lead, the final snap being a 25-yard slant from Darden to Smith to put O'Hara on top with 23 seconds left before halftime.
Then things got bizarre.
Taking over after the ensuing kickoff at their own 36, Shurmur threw to Charles Headen for seven yards and Meachum ran for 15 more, with La Salle taking timeouts after each play.
The Explorers were at the O'Hara 42 and went with the Hail Mary for the final play of the half.
This time, La Salle's prayers were answered — but not in the traditional way.
Shurmur's long heave to the end zone was intercepted by Smith. But instead of taking a knee, Smith tried to run the ball out, and fumbled.
The ball was recovered in the end zone by Headen, and La Salle had a touchdown — and a tie.
"After the interception, (Smith) came across, Charlie Hencher hit him and he fumbled,' Meachum said, "and Charles Headen picked up the ball.'
"We dropped some passes and made a few mistakes,' O'Hara head coach Dan Algeo said. "We hurt outselves, offensively.'
The Explorers carried the jolt of that gift into the third quarter and scored on their first possession when Shurmur deftly lofted a pass over a Lion linebacker's outstretched paw and into the grasp of Meachum, who sashayed into the end zone for a 21-14 La Salle lead.
"(The play at the end of the first half) gave us a lot of momentum,' Meachum said. "It definitely gave us a jump.'
After a Meachum 52-yard touchdown was negated by penalty on the next La Salle possession, the Lions had life.
And near the end of the third quarter it appeared as though the Lions may make the most out of their second gasp.
But La Salle had one more big play in its arsenal — and this one was defensive.
After a 40-yard run by Veal and a 14-yard scramble by Darden got O'Hara within the shadow of the Explorers' goal line, O'Hara had a first-and-goal at the La Salle 7.
But on the very next snap the Lions fumbled before reaching the goal line and La Salle recovered,
O'Hara would not threaten again.
"We were exactly where we wanted to be,' Algeo said of the untimely turnover. "But hey, I was proud of our guys. I thought they gave a great effort.
"It seems like every week we're looking at a great running back, and we saw another one tonight. And that Shurmur is a heck of a quarterback. He's going to be tremendous.'
Two series later sophomore Nick Rinella capped a nine-play, 76-yard drive with his first varsity touchdown, 12-yard TD run with 4:29 left in the game.
And the Explorers had successfully rebounded — with some help from a couple of factors that had been MIA just a week ago.