Friday, December 7, 2012

Defense holds its own against heralded opponent


DOWNINGTOWN -- In the box score it goes down as one of La Salle College quarterback Chris Kane’s 13 incompletions, but in the flow of the contest, it was a game-changer.
On La Salle’s third drive, fullback Mike Eife was streaking down the sideline as Kane’s pass arced perfectly towards his hands. Just as the ball made contact with Eife, Coatesville cornerback Jason Totoram made contact with Eife. The ball flew straight up, Eife ricocheted straight back and the game swung the opposite way.
“That gave us some momentum,” Coatesville coach Matt Ortega said. “That play was huge and showed the heart of the team. The first quarter, with all the penalties, we battled and showed the character of the team and we wanted it more.”
The drive prior, Eife had a 44-yard catch and run, to set up the first touchdown,on the same fullback wheel that Totoram blew up when the Explorers went to the well again.
It was the Coatesville defense that gave the team life early on when La Salle was about to go up two TDs, and it was the defense that picked Kane off on the Explorers’ final drive to seal a trip to Hershey. After riding shotgun to the offense all year long, the defense finally had its magical moment.
“I knew I needed to make a play for my team,” Totoram said. “(La Salle) tried to spread the ball around and throw it deep, but I was able to read it and make a play on the ball.”
All week, heading into the game, Coatesville heard about La Salle’s defense and how it had 12 sacks against Parkland the week prior. But at Kottmeyer Stadium, the Red Raiders outsacked the Explorers 2-0, getting one by Mike Boykin on the game’s first drive.
La Salle had a chance to expand its 7-0 lead on its third drive, but Kane overthrew star wideout Sean Coleman when he was open on a post pattern. The Red Raiders, however, became the more physical team. Coleman left the game with a bum leg a few plays later, and La Salle’s big lineman Tom Spiteri was forced out of the game with a knee injury.
“We made some mistakes down there on the third drive in the red zone and it took out all our momentum,” Kane said. “Once they got up two touchdowns, you can’t ask the defense to get two stops in a row.”
When Coatesville finally did get rolling on offense again, the defense kept pace and its swagger was hard for La Salle to match.
“We practiced hard all week,” Coatesville linebacker Tyler Burke said. “We knew (La Salle) was more confident than us and they thought they would just walk in and win. And that didn’t happen.”
Burke was a large reason for that not happening. After the Red Raiders took their first lead of the game, Burke broke up two passes on La Salle’s next possession. He was a menace to block, and made a huge tackle on a screen pass against three blockers in the third quarter.
But then came the fourth quarter. Up 42-21, Coatesville let the Explorers back in with a long TD pass from Kane to Jimmy Herron. The unit forced a turnover on downs, only to see La Salle breathe again when it recovered an Emmett Hunt fumble moments later.
It was then that Coatesville thought it had made the play to finally end it. Steven Pawling blitzed and appeared to have his second sack of the night. But Kane barely flicked the ball away on his descent and the referee called it an incomplete pass instead of a sack or an intentional grounding.
The Explorers went on to score on that drive and all of a sudden a 21-point lead was down to seven.
“We’ve been down and we’ve faced adversity all year and we know how to overcome it,” Totoram said. “We had to make a big play.”
When the Explorers got it back with 2:48 to go, keeping them out of the end zone become Coatesville’s priority. A tie game to send it to overtime would favor a hot La Salle team, so the Red Raiders knew they had to end it then and there.
La Salle drove the ball down to the Coatesville 19, but after two straight drops by tight end Jon Naji, the pressure was on Kane to make a play. On third down, Boykin got to Kane and wrapped his legs up before Kane heaved up a desperation pass. With nothing on it, the ball floated in the air and softly into the arms of Coatesville’s Devonte Suber, to end any comeback.
While Suber braced himself for one of the easiest, and most important, interceptions of his career, he could think of just one thing.
“I was thinking, we’re going to Hershey,” he said.
How sweet it was.

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