ALLENTOWN – With the playoffs one week away, Southern Lehigh’s varsity football team could have easily overlooked winless Salisbury. But Head Coach John Toman’s players did their best to execute a balanced game plan here Friday night, resulting in a 67-14 demolition of the home team.
While Southern Lehigh’s defense continued to be a tough nut for opponents to crack, the Spartan offense scored early and often. After the defense forced a Salisbury punt on their first possession, senior fullback Luke Gotzon jogged down to the 2-yard line to set up an easy touchdown by senior halfback Nick Kirsch. Pressure by senior linebacker Ray Durkin resulted in sophomore quarterback Michael Abraham throwing an interception to senior safety Keaton Eisenhauer in Falcon territory. Luke Gotzon turned on the burners again, running for 33 yards to the Falcon 12-yard line. Two more carries by the agile fullback resulted in a touchdown, and a 12-0 Spartan lead with 6:17 left in the first quarter.
Salisbury showed signs of life on their next possession. Abraham completed a 40-yard bomb to sophomore wide receiver Trent Clay to put the Falcons at the Spartans’ 25-yard line. Despite lots of pressure by the Spartan defense, on 4th-and-10 Abraham connected with Clay again for a 25-yard touchdown to make the score 12-7.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they wouldn’t get any closer for the rest of the night. Instead, the Spartans scored 42 unanswered points in the next 17 minutes. Kirsch started things off with a 43-yard kickoff return to the Salisbury 45-yard line. Luke Gotzon then turned a pass from junior quarterback Ty Edmond into a 45-yard touchdown catch. Senior kicker D.J. Williams converted the extra point to make the score 19-7.
Abraham came out firing on the next possession, finding Clay for four yards and junior Dakota McKelley for 21 yards to put Salisbury at their own 47-yard line. On 2nd-and-10, Luke Gotzon sacked Abraham for a 13-yard loss. Two plays later, Salisbury punted to senior wide receiver Jeff Smillie, who put his team in great position at the Spartan 44-yard line.
Smillie gained eight more yards on the next play when Edmond found him at the Salisbury 48-yard line. Not to be outdone by twin brother Luke, senior halfback Matt Gotzon ran 48 yards past a staggering Salisbury defense to the end zone. Williams’ kick made the score 26-7 with 1:44 remaining in the first quarter.
Despite the 19-point deficit, Abraham and the Falcons did not stop fighting. With so much time left to play, Salisbury did its best to respond to the Spartan assault. A 28-yard catch by McKelley put Salisbury at the Spartan 42-yard line. Freshman running back Dominic Rossetti picked up three yards on first down. Senior safety Dylan Phillips broke up Abraham’s ensuing pass downfield. On 3rd-and-7, McKelley dropped an easy catch. But on fourth down, Abraham made a great play by recovering a fumbled snap and throwing a screen pass to pick up a first down at the Spartan 29-yard line. Durkin and Matt Gotzon sacked Abraham for a four-yard loss two plays later. On 4th-and-14, Durkin tackled Rossetti after a 10-yard reception. Rossetti was shaken up but did return to play.
Once again, Southern Lehigh struck fast. From his own 23-yard line, Edmond threw a bomb to Smillie that seemed to hang forever. But Smillie got behind his defender, caught the ball, and ran it in for a 77-yard touchdown that put the Spartans ahead 33-7 with 10:40 left in the second quarter. Referees assessed a defensive pass interference penalty against Salisbury on the kickoff.
Salisbury continued to misfire on their next possession. After an intentional grounding penalty put the Falcons on their own 2-yard line, a low snap to senior punter Chad Heidecker forced Heidecker to squib the ball out of bounds to prevent a Spartan touchdown. The safety put Southern Lehigh ahead 35-7 and gave Kirsch the opportunity to return the ensuing kickoff to the Salisbury 7-yard line. Remarkably, the Falcons stopped the hot Spartan offense on this possession. The Spartans didn’t help themselves, though, as a false start made it 1st-and-goal at the Salisbury 12-yard line. Eisenhauer ran for three yards to make it 3rd-and-goal at the Salisbury 9-yard line. An Edmond incompletion forced senior kicker Sam Terlingo to attempt a 26-yard field goal, which he missed. The Falcons took over at their own 20-yard line. Phillips deflected Abraham’s pass on first down. On second down, the Spartans dropped Rossetti for a two-yard loss. On 3rd-and-12, Phillips made a diving interception at the Salisbury 43-yard line.
Perhaps Southern Lehigh’s running backs simply prefer a challenge, but whereas they were unable to score from seven yards out on the previous possession, they quickly marched 43 yards for another Spartan score. Matt Gotzon made the first move with a 17-yard run to the Salisbury 26-yard line. Luke Gotzon followed that up by running 25 yards to the 1-yard line. Eisenhauer then benefited from his offensive line’s dominating performance on a 1-yard walk into the end zone. Williams’ missed extra point attempt left the score 41-7 with 5:51 to go in the first half.
Salisbury’s only gain on their next possession was a five-yard catch by McKelley. On 4th-and-5, a fumbled snap gave Southern Lehigh the ball at the Falcon 39-yard line. Edmond threw to Smillie for an 11-yard gain on first down. Kirsch then ran for 20 yards, but had much of it negated by an illegal block in the back. With 1st-and-2 at the Salisbury 20-yard line, Luke Gotzon picked up two yards for another first down. Kirsch then took the ball in for an 18-yard touchdown run. On a night of fumbled snaps – perhaps attributable to the cold weather – none was more interesting than Edmond’s fumbled snap on the extra point attempt, which he picked up and threw to Matt Gotzon for an apparent two-point conversion. However, referees ruled that Southern Lehigh had an illegal man downfield, forcing a second extra point attempt. Williams easily converted the extra point to make the score 48-7.
Salisbury gained nine yards on its next possession on a Rossetti run and a McKelley catch. But on 4th-and-1, Durkin tackled Abraham on a quarterback draw for a two-yard loss to give his offense the ball one more time in the first half. Junior fullback Jake Meluskey took advantage of the opportunity by scoring on a 27-yard touchdown scamper to make the score 54-7. Once again, the extra point attempt snap was fumbled, but to no effect. Southern Lehigh went into the locker room at halftime ahead by 47 points.
Comfortable with his lead and perhaps looking ahead to next week’s playoff matchup, Toman sat his starters during the second half. It gave an interesting preview of how next year’s squad might fare without the remarkable graduating class of 2011. Junior halfback Jared Gerhard, freshman halfback Dylan Schmidt, and Meluskey all got to carry the ball to start the third quarter. The Spartans punted to Salisbury’s 21-yard line after a three-and-out. Salisbury dominated time of possession during the second half. The Falcons marched downfield on a 79-yard drive that ended in a touchdown by Clay to make the score 54-14 with 11:44 left in the fourth quarter.
Freshman Trent Silfies had an electrifying kickoff return to the Salisbury 41-yard line. On 2nd-and-17, Gerhard moved the ball 12 yards to the Salisbury 36-yard line. Junior halfback Matt Durkin broke tackles on the next carry to score a 36-yard touchdown. With the score 60-14, junior offensive lineman Adam Glassic came on to attempt the extra point, but the kick sailed below the crossbar.
Southern Lehigh players and staff were clearly in a good mood on the next Salisbury possession when teammates and coaches jokingly yelled at Gerhard for letting an easy interception bounce off his chest incomplete. But the junior cornerback redeemed himself two plays later by picking off Abraham and returning it to the Salisbury 29-yard line. Gerhard then put on his halfback hat and carried the ball in for a 29-yard touchdown run. Junior safety Ben Harmony converted the extra point attempt. Schmidt intercepted Abraham on the final play of the game to seal the Spartans’ 67-14 victory.
The Spartans will next visit Pottsville in the first week of playoffs at 7 p.m. on Nov. 12.