SOUTHERN LEHIGH MIDDLE SCHOOL – Southern Lehigh’s homecoming festivities got off to a rough start here Friday night, as Spartan faithful sat in the cold bleachers watching their team flounder against Pen Argyl. Led by senior halfback Matt Gotzon’s gutsy, Ironman performance and twin Luke Gotzon’s powerful running however, the Spartans rallied from a 7-0 halftime deficit to pull ahead 12-7 with 6:09 left in the game. But with a first-and-ten near midfield with four minutes remaining, the Spartans beat themselves as they had all night long: with ill-timed penalties and a failure to convert on critical third and fourth downs.
Pen Argyl made Southern Lehigh pay for its mistakes. Quarterback Nathan Hood connected with senior wide receiver Joey Wagner for a gain of eight and called timeout with 1:25 to go. Matt Gotzon, who fought off leg cramps twice during the game, made a crucial tackle on Wagner, and then later on a scrambling Hood, as the Knights drove deeper into Spartan territory. But Gotzon and Southern Lehigh just couldn’t find a way to stop Pen Argyl’s star running back, Dylan Evans. The lanky, 6’2” 186-pound junior who scored one touchdown earlier in the game, and found his way past the first-down markers time after time, used his finesse to get Pen Argyl to the Spartans’ 21 yard-line. It proved the perfect position for Hood to find junior wide receiver Kyle Muller in the end zone with 26.3 seconds left. Ahead 13-12, Evans then found open space between several Spartan defenders for a key two-point conversion catch, putting the Knights ahead 15-12.
The Spartans’ last possession summed up the whole night. A bobbled kickoff return, nearly fumbled away, put the Spartans on their own 15-yard line with 22 seconds to go. Knight defenders J.D. Rabenold and Scott Beltz sacked Spartan junior quarterback Ty Edmond after blitzing him uncontested. Despite frantic calls by coaches to hurry up and get off a play – since the Spartans apparently were out of timeouts – Southern Lehigh couldn’t line up and snap the ball until only 4.6 seconds remained. When they did get the play off, it was immediately whistled dead because of a false start penalty. Backed up to near his own goal-line, Edmond ended the Spartans’ last possession the same way he had ended their first: by throwing an interception to junior defensive back Conor Gum.
It was a sad ending to the homecoming team’s valiant second-half comeback. Despite a sluggish start full of drive-killing penalties and turnovers, Southern Lehigh went into the locker room at halftime only down 7-0. After the faithful honored this year’s homecoming court members, their team entered the second half focused and fired up. Beginning on their own 30-yard line, the Spartans gained ground with their feet. First Edmond ran 14 yards to the Southern Lehigh 44. Then, after another gain of four, Gotzon broke three tackles on an inspiring 14-yard gallop to the Pen Argyl 38. A few unsuccessful runs and a sack later, the Knights got the ball back on their 21-yard line.
Evans picked up yardage on a perfectly-executed screen to make it 3rd-and-1. After Hood’s quarterback sneak barely got Pen Argyl a first down, he got the ball to
Evans once again through the air to the Pen Argyl 48. The Spartans sucked it up and held the Knights to only three more yards, forcing a punt.
After a pass to senior halfback Nick Kirsch for eight yards, Edmond rolled to his left and gained a first down on a pass to senior fullback Luke Gotzon. Edmond immediately went back to the air, finding Matt Gotzon once and handing it off to him on the next play for another first down. Southern Lehigh called timeout with 1:40 left in the third quarter. Whatever head coach John Toman said to his players worked, because on the next play Edmond rolled to his left again, and from the Knights’ 34-yard line, found senior wide receiver Jeff Smillie open down the left sideline for the Spartans’ first score. The extra point had the distance but went just outside the left goalpost, leaving Southern Lehigh behind, 7-6.
The Spartans forced Pen Argyl to punt again after two tackles by senior linebacker Ray Durkin. Spartan fullback Luke Gotzon broke free for a 44-yard sprint to the Pen Argyl 17, inspiring the home fans now anticipating a comeback victory. Two runs by Edmond and Luke Gotzon made it 3rd-and-1 for the Spartans. Then Southern Lehigh made a crucial mistake, fumbling the ball away to Knight defensive end Scott Beltz at the Knight 6-yard line. After two short runs by Evans, junior linebacker Jake Meluskey batted away a pass on 3rd-and-5 that forced Pen Argyl to punt.
Snagging a high snap on first down, Edmond rolled left and connected with senior tight end Sam Terlingo for a gain of ten yards. Kirsch ran left for a gain of eight and then Luke Gotzon went up the middle to the Pen Argyl 25 for a first down. Matt Gotzon ran left for a seven-yard gain, and then Kirsch again gashed the Knight defense, putting the Spartans at the Pen Argyl 9-yard line. Edmond made sure the opportunity was not wasted, finding Kirsch near the left sideline for a go-ahead touchdown.
The Spartans’ miscues got the better of them, though, as the two-point conversion was moved back five yards for a false start penalty, and then on the second try Edmond scrambled right, found no open receivers, dropped the ball, and recovered it only as he slid out of bounds. The 12-7 margin left the door wide open for Pen Argyl’s winning score.
Southern Lehigh got the ball back after forcing a Pen Argyl turnover on downs. But the Spartans were themselves stymied in the attempt to convert a 4th-and-1. Edmond’s quarterback sneak never got close to the first-down marker, as Rabenold and a swarm of Knight defenders threw him back and gave their team the chance to make their winning drive.
The Spartans’ next game is scheduled to be held in Easton against Notre Dame-Green Pond on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.