Notes from an incredible night of football
Wow. How do I even begin to describe the game I saw last night in Dallastown? It was, in my two years on this beat, the wildest game I've ever seen. And people there who have seen much more high school football than me tended to agree. Dallastown's 38-36 win against Red Lion last night to clinch a Division I title truly had it all: An incredible comeback, a down-to-the-wire finish, amazing individual performances, controversial calls, trick plays and as big a crowd as I've seen at a high school football game. As I said in my game story, it was game that you didn't think could possibly live up to the incredible amount of hype it received. And then, somehow, it did. Unfortunately, the pressures of deadline and constraints of print space limit what did and didn't make it into my game story. Truthfully, I could have written about 2,000 words on this one. Here are a few stream of conscious notes from last night's game. Red Lion's first half dominance: I didn't fully address in today's story just how incredibly superior the Lions were in the first half on Friday. The numbers best tell the story: Before Dallastown's touchdown drive late in the first half, the Wildcats had run 15 plays for a total of minus-2 yards and one first down. Red Lion, meanwhile, had run 35 plays for 238 yards and 15 first downs. Red Lion's lead could have been even greater if not for a pair of interceptions, both of which were made by Dallastown linebacker George Christas. The Lions could truly do whatever they wanted against the league's top defense. Dallastown came into the contest allowing just nine points per game. "I don't know what the deal with our defense was in the first half," Wildcats coach Kevin Myers said after the game. Lions quarterback Tanner Klinefelter finished 15-of-21 for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, Dallastown's defense regrouped the start the second half. Red Lion went three-and-out on its first three possessions of the half, as the Wildcats stormed back to take control. The comeback begins: There was little doubt where Dallastown's comeback started. After a brilliant offensive call by the Lions -- a halfback pass from tailback Jeremy Knaub to Klinefelter -- put Red Lion up 22-0 with 42 seconds left in the first half, most no doubt expected Dallastown to sit on the ball. Instead, the Wildcats darted downfield, and decided to take one more shot with seven seconds left from the Lions' 33-yard line. Josh Luckenbaugh lofted a deep ball down the left side to Ryan Behrmann, who had come out of the backfield on a wheel route. Behrmann caught the ball around the five and plowed into Red Lion's Erik Althoff. The Wildcats back was ruled to have crossed the goal line, and Dallastown's sideline exploded. It was something of a controversial call. (Don't believe me? Check out our comments section.) Red Lion's players and coaches certainly thought Behrmann was stopped short, and replays on TV appeared to back up that claim. But it was a very close call, and the official had to make a point-blank decision. Regardless, it was a play that undoubtedly changed the course of the contest. "Totally different game," was Red Lion coach Pat Conrad's response when asked about the play's impact. Big day for Luckenbaugh: That play was the start of a huge night for Luckenbaugh. In my preview of the game posted on this blog, I made the point that I was waiting for a big game from Luckenbaugh, who I would argue is one of the league's more underrated signal callers. The senior had the best game of his season, completing 9 of 18 passes for 198 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Luckenbaugh had only thrown for more than 100 yards in three of his team's previous nine games. Part of that, his coach explained, was simply play selection. "He's actually thrown the ball pretty well all season," Myers said, "but we just haven't thrown the ball a lot." "I wasn't having my best year, but I was just doing my job and I have great guys around me," Luckenbaugh said. "I do what I can do to make the team win." Kessler shines: Just how good was Red Lion receiver Branden Kessler on Friday? Scary good. He was a matchup nightmare for Dallastown's secondary, reeling in 10 catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns. The most incredible of those catches came in the fourth quarter, when the 6-foot-3 Kessler basically rose up and snatched away a potential interception from Dallastown corner Andrew Heird. Oh, and Kessler also had an interception in the second quarter. The senior is a dynamite lacrosse player who I know has received some looks to play at the next level. But he's a pretty darn good football player, too. Lawicki runs hard: For the second straight week, Dallastown's running game got a much-needed boost from Adam Lawicki. The bruising senior back was and effective option against Spring Grove in Week 9. And he was even better against Red Lion on Friday. He finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. All but two of those yards came in the second half. Lawicki scored what turned out the be the game-winning touchdown with 1:13 remaining. He looked like he would be stopped just beyond the line of scrimmage, but kept churning and dragged a trail of defenders into the end zone. "That was just sheer will power right there," Myers said. Then again, it sounds like all that effort came with a price. "The funny thing is, laying there face down, I threw up right in the end zone," Lawicki said, smiling. New name: Starting this year, this local rivalry was given a name: The Football for Freedom Classic, with the winner taking home the Apple Ford Freedom Trophy. Both teams wore commemorative stars and stripes patches on their jerseys. Nice touch, though we'll see if the name actually catches on in the years to come. Huge crowd: I'm not sure exactly how many people showed up at Dallastown on Friday, but it was the most I've seen at a high school football game. Fans stood all around the field, lining up three or four deep in some spots. Here's a video by our own Matt Goul on that atmosphere. Rematch, anyone?: We might see one again in two weeks. Dallastown and Red Lion were seeded No. 1 and No. 8, respectively, in the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs, which begin next week. That means if both win, these two teams will play again at Dallastown in two weeks, this time with a spot in the District 3 semifinals on the line. It won't be easy for either team. Dallastown plays a Conestoga Valley (5-5) team that just knocked off potential Class AAA No. 1 seed Lampeter-Strasburg. Red Lion, meanwhile, must beat a J.P. McCaskey (7-3) team that throttled William Penn earlier this year. Still, hard not to get excited at the prospect of a rematch between these two teams.