JOHNSONBURG – The Johnsonburg Rams (0-10) were locked in a heated battle late in the second quarter Friday night against visiting Keystone (3-7) before a string of miscues sent the Rams reeling in a 35-6 loss.
Down 7-0, Johnsonburg came up with a huge fumble recovery after a turnover on downs to set up shop at the Keystone 3-yard line late in the first half.
Johnsonburg senior starting quarterback Jaryd Servidea would toss a 3-yard score to junior running back/defensive back Frank Kocjancic with 1:01 remaining in the half to cut the lead to 7-6; an extra point try from senior Michael Shuey sailed wide left.
After a kickoff return near midfield burned some time off the clock, the Rams seemed to get another momentum-changer as Kocjancic swiftly picked off an offering from Keystone junior starting quarterback Josh Eberhart to set up shop on their own 30-yard line.
Seventy yards away from the end zone, a Servidea pass fell incomplete on first down with 38.8 seconds remaining. Rushing attempts on the next two plays prompted Keystone head varsity football coach Josh Stiglitz to burn consecutive timeouts to force a punt with 15.4 seconds before halftime.
"We figured we were safe with the 15 seconds left on the clock as the instructions were to punt it away and I don't know what else to do differently," said Johnsonburg head varsity football coach Jesse Schreiber following the game. "We didn't want them to return the football and we said 'punt away,' but the ball went right to him."
Johnsonburg junior Kyle Sheldon's punt was fielded by Keystone senior wide receiver/defensive back Tanner Hannold, who quickly broke several tackles on his way to a 60-yard return for a score with no time left on the clock.
"What are you going to do?" Schreiber said as he recalled the series of plays. "I thought we could get a 6-route [on the pass], the 6-route was open but we dropped the football."
Despite a 13-6 halftime lead, the game was far from over.
After Johnsonburg junior split end/defensive back Shane Bickford ran the kickoff back 19 yards to open the third quarter, the Rams started at their own 29-yard line.
Back-to-back running plays proved fruitless and a Servidea incompletion prompted another punt. Keystone came up gold on this attempt as well as senior running back/linebacker Josh Lencer blocked the kick and teammate Colt O'Neil scooped it up in the end zone for another score. Eberhart then tossed a 2-point conversion pass to senior wide receiver/defensive back Stephen Barchetti for a 21-6 lead with 10:12 to play in the third quarter.
Keystone then called for an onside kick but were flagged for offsides; on the re-kick, Johnsonburg sophomore Justin Haupright fumbled an awkward bounce on a squib kick as Barchetti recovered the ball.
The Panthers immediately went for the jugular with a halfback pass from Hannold to senior wide receiver/defensive back Layton Greenawalt who took it 23 yards to the Johnsonburg 6-yard line.
A 6-yard touchdown run by Eberhart was called back on an apparent holding call on Keystone; the spot foul would have backed the Panthers up 10 yards but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Rams gave Keystone 1st-and-goal on the Rams' 11-yard line.
"It's been the same thing all year with mistakes, some penalties that I take blame for, some turnovers along the way, but the mental mistakes just killed us all year," Schreiber said.
A 5-yard offsides call sent the Panthers back to the 16-yard line and after an incompletion and two short running plays, Eberhart scrambled out of the shotgun formation after surveying the coverage and sprinted 10 yards to the left pylon for the score. Keystone faked the extra point and sent place-kicker senior Ryan Roddy up the middle but he was unable to break the plane for a 27-6 lead.
Johnsonburg had negative yardage on the ensuing possession and had to punt. The Rams' defensive unit showed up as the Panthers succumbed to negative yardage as well, culminating with Eberhart losing 12 yards on a sack by Shuey and senior tight end/defensive lineman Troy Padasak.
The teams traded possession with neither gaining a first down before the Rams started with the ball at midfield to open up the fourth quarter down by three touchdowns.
"Both teams struggled offensively in the second half but the mental mistakes killed us once again," Schreiber said.
The Rams were hit with a delay of game penalty on second down and a Servidea pass on 2nd-and-16 fell incomplete. Facing a long 3rd-and-16 on their own 44-yard line, Servidea was dropped for a 14-yard loss after a high snap from center.
After another punt, Keystone would get one first down from a Hannold pass to Keystone junior tight end/defensive lineman Kyle Servey for nine yards. Hannold replaced Eberhart, who left the game in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury, and Servey had four receptions for 31 yards.
After an 8-yard run from Hannold, the Rams' defense again ignited as they victimized the Panthers for three straight plays resulting in negative yardage, including consecutive sacks for losses on six and 11 yards, respectively.
But despite having possession after the punt with 5:13 on the scoreboard, the Rams were unable to move the ball against the Panther defense to go three-and-out.
"I give Keystone a lot of credit because their defense played well and their linebackers blitzed us extremely well," Schreiber said. "We just couldn't block them.
"We got down [into the red zone] and tried a couple things that we thought would be open but they got to our quarterback before we could establish something. I give Keystone credit because they were aggressive and we had difficulty blocking them."
Keystone took over on their own 43-yard line with time dwindling and managed a first down after a 5-yard run from senior offensive lineman/linebacker Jake Siegel on 3rd-and-4 to seal the deal. Needing another snap to drain the clock, Lencer broke away for a 41-yard run on a dive play and scored with 3.9 seconds remaining in the game. Senior offensive lineman/defensive lineman Ben Dehart ran up the middle for a 2-point conversion for the 35-6 win.
The game started out promising for Johnsonburg as Keystone's initial 9-play drive resulted in a turnover on downs at the Rams' 20-yard line. However, a three-and-out Johnsonburg offensive series prompted Sheldon's first punt of the game.
Starting out near midfield, Keystone managed two first downs before Shuey laid out Eberhart for a 12-yard sack to bring up 2nd-and-22; a subsequent holding penalty on an incomplete pass play pushed the Panthers back to 2nd-and-32. Eberhart's next offering was nearly intercepted by Johnsonburg sophomore running back/linebacker Eric Bevacqua.
Facing a long 3rd-and-32 from the Rams' 45-yard line, Hannold caught an Eberhart pass and beat Kocjancic in a foot-race for the score. A Roddy extra point gave Keystone the early 7-0 lead.
"We got burnt on mental mistakes again," Schreiber said. "It's 3rd-and-32 and we get burnt on the pass and before the half, we want to kick the ball away but it goes right to him and then we don't make a tackle, he shrugged three or four tackles, and that killed us right there."
The Rams went right back to work as Kocjancic caught a 22-yard pass from Servidea on the next possession; after short gains on the ground, Shuey converted a fourth-down play with a 3-yard run to move the chains as the first quarter ended.
Servidea and Kocjancic later hooked up for a 21-yard pass play to again move the chains but a 2-yard Servidea run and three straight incomplete passes turned the ball over on downs with 9:18 remaining in the first half.
Keystone started on their own 12-yard line and after rushes of two and four yards, they were hit with a 5-yard false start penalty. Unable to make up the yardage, the Panthers had to punt the ball away.
Kocjancic returned the punt to the Keystone 30-yard line after a 15-yard return and the Rams later took advantage of a horse collar call to set up shop on the Keystone 12-yard line. Servidea was sacked for a 13-yard loss on the Rams' next play and after a 12-yard pass to Kocjancic nearly nullified the defensive play, Keystone junior wide receiver/defensive back Brandon Guntrum picked off a third-down throw with 4:06 to play in the half to change possession again.
Bevacqua would come up big two plays later as he scooped up a loose ball on the Keystone 26-yard line. An 8-yard pass to Kocjancic set the Rams up on the 18-yard line and Shuey's 5-yard run on a fourth-down play moved the chains again. After consecutive incompletions, a 6-yard grab by Kocjancic set up a 4th-and-4 and prompted a Johnsonburg timeout. Shuey's next run earned him half the necessary yardage as the Rams again turned the ball over on downs.
Keystone would then fumble on their own 3-yard line and Servidea then found Kocjancic from three yards out for the Rams' only score of the night.