Two-point conversion the difference in Bobcats' 25-24 defeat. Teddy Feinberg/GameTimePA.com
Cocalico gambled on a two-point conversion and cashed in, beating Northeastern, 25-24, on Friday night in a District 3 Class 5A quarterfinal at Northeastern High School.
Northeastern held a seven-point lead when Brady Sawyer scored on a short touchdown run to pull Cocalico within 24-23 with 45 seconds remaining. The Eagles elected to go for two. Bruising running back Brandon Brubaker got the call, and he cashed in the go-ahead score.
"You got a horse in the backfield," said Cocalico coach Dave Gingrich. "I thought, if we're going to lose, we might as well go down with the ship."
There were defenders in the area on both Sawyer's scoring run and the two-point score, but ultimately Cocalico got in each time.
"Our kids were there, he made a great play," Northeastern head coach Jon Scepanski said regarding Brubaker's two-point conversion. "They needed 3 yards and they got it."
It was a tough loss for the Bobcats. Following the hard-fought game between two evenly matched teams, players were in tears on the field as Scepanski addressed the club.
Third-seeded Northeastern finished the year with an 8-3 overall record. Sixth-seeded Cocalico is now 8-3 and advances to the semifinals against Manheim Central.
"We didn't play a bad game," Scepanski said. "We played a good football team. We expected this to be a very, very good football game. And that it was.
"Cocalico is coached very well. I wish them the best the rest of the year."
Both teams had contrasting styles on the evening.
Cocaclico played the role of smash-mouth football team, relying on the tough Brubaker (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and big-play sophomore Colton Goodman (5-10, 160 pounds). And they rumbled tough in the first half. Brubaker carried the load in short-yardage situations, converting a handful of fourth downs and scoring runs.
Scepanski said it was an adjustment facing Cocalico's veer-option running style, and it took a few possessions for his team to settle in. Early in the season, the Bobcats cruised past a Solanco team that ran a similar system, earning a 47-7 victory. But Cocalico is bigger, faster and stronger than this year's Mules squad.
"It's very hard to practice against that," Scepanski said. "You're playing a team that does it every day. It's very hard for our kids to mimic it in five days. It took us a little bit to get up to speed."
The Bobcats found themselves with a 10-point halftime deficit, but made a second-half push through the air.
"It was the best we threw the ball all year," Scepanski said.
Hayden Seifert hit a 29-yard field goal to open the third quarter. After the teams exchanged possessions, Northeastern got on the move once again to start the fourth period.
With the ball on their side of the field, wide receiver Fred Mulbah caught a pass along the near sideline, made a man miss and brought the ball down the Cocalico 42-yard line. Another completed pass advanced the ball to the Eagles' 16. Set up near the goal line, senior Chris Whack took in a short scoring run to tie the score at 17.
The Bobcats kept the momentum by forcing a three-and-out. Then Brubaker shanked a punt, giving Northeastern possession at the Cocalico 33. Quarterback Shannon Valenti wasted no time, going up top to Mulbah for a long scoring toss that gave Northeastern a 24-17 lead with a 6:04 to go.
But Cocalico went the length of the field. Goodman supplied a big blow on the possession, taking it from the Eagles 40 down to the Northeastern 22 on a fourth-down run.
From there, Cocalico got a third-down conversion on the legs of Brubaker, a 6-yard scoring run from Sawyer and the deciding two-point try from Brubaker. The senior finished with two touchdowns on the evening
"He was a tough runner," said Mulbah, who finished with five catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns. "He runs the ball really hard. I respect him."
Mulbah's other score came in the first half, also on a long Valenti pass from 45 yards.
"Me and my teammates and my seniors have been friends since I was little," an emotional Mulbah said after the game. "They all push me to be better. They joke on me, tell me I'm bad. It motivates me to be a better player and person, everything. They're basically my life."
"He's a great athlete for us," Scepanski said. "He's a junior for us. He'll be back."