Lock Haven football were unable to capitalize on five defensive points in a 35-13 loss to Division foe West Chester at home on Saturday. The Bald Eagles held a 13-7 lead midway through the second quarter but allowed 28 unanswered points as they lost their eighth straight game.
After allowing West Chester to advance the ball inside the red zone in the game’s first practice, Lock Haven (1-8, 0-6 PSAC East) forced a fumble at his own 15-yard line. . Junior linebacker Shane Scott cleared the ball for Golden Rams (6-3, 4-2 PSAC East) quarterback Shane Dooley, and it was picked up by first-year defensive end Haseem Johnson.
Lock Haven suffered a long drive after that, holding the ball for almost five and a half minutes, but the dog pulled him away from West Chester 35 inside the four-yard line. Two games later, the defense is huge again. This time around, first-year cornerback Darryl Pollard intercepted a pass from Dooley in midfield and sent it back 52 yards just below the goal line.
Lock Haven coach John Kelling opted to bring in first-year quarterback Jordan Heisey for this streak, as he and junior redshirt starter Ethan Persa alternated each streak throughout the game. Heisey took advantage of the goal territory to go and ran it for a three-yard score two games later. LHU took a 7-0 lead with 5:12 left in the first quarter.
“I really wanted to put the two (quarters) there”, Kelling said. “I think both have earned the right to keep competing and keep playing. The game plan was if someone got a hot hand or something, we would continue with that. Both have done a good job at times.
Lock Haven attempted a firecracker kick that went awry and West Chester picked it up in midfield. Former Lock Haven All-American tight end and Williamsport native Jalen Jackson was the player who recovered the kick. With a short pitch, West Chester finally got on and tied the game on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Dooley to tight end Dan Neuhaus.
LHU’s next possession filled the first and second quarters and ended with another punch from Persa that brought the visitors back to their sevens. The Bald Eagles were solid defensively at this advantageous spot, forcing a three. -and-out.
As the Bald Eagles began their next possession near midfield, Heisey was called into action and once again delivered. This time, he connected with junior tight end Isia Gonzalez on a six-yard touchdown pass. The extra point that followed was missed, as LHU took a 13-7 lead at 8:04 of the second quarter. This happened against a team that is only two seasons away from winning the PSAC title.
West Chester responded, as his powerful rushing attack flipped the switch. Second-year running back Jaden McKenzie rushed down the left sideline for a 45-yard touchdown. The Golden Rams scored their extra point to take a 14-13 lead with less than six minutes left in the first half.
After Lock Haven wasted the next practice, the defense made another turnaround. Junior safety Kahari Kirklin-Whitfield released the ball from McKenzie, and first-year defensive tackle Alfred Manyeah picked it up at West Chester 47. With 3:40 left in the half, it offered a great chance for LHU to take the advantage. At the very least, it would allow the Bald Eagles to avoid West Chester having plenty of time to run a two-minute drill and then recover the ball to start the second half. But the Bald Eagles had to send the ball back to the Golden Rams with 1:35 remaining and the three timeouts still haven’t been used.
West Chester took it to the next level and completed an 84-yard practice. It ended when Jackson caught a four-yard pass from Dooley in a vacant right-front corner in the end zone. The Golden Rams entered the halftime 21-13, and Kelling knew his side had missed a chance late in the half.
“There was a five minute segment that really hurt us”, Kelling said. “No different from last week, when we gave up a late touchdown (in the first half). It gave them momentum to enter the locker room. Unfortunately for us, I feel like we did the same. Again, drop a delay.
The second half started with Lock Haven who only managed one possession of the ball. Persa took an 11-yard sack on the second play of the scrum, and LHU was quickly forced to kick. The Bald Eagles defense held West Chester off the board for a practice, but Lock Haven kicked again soon after.
The Golden Rams’ next record brought in another turnaround. This time Kirklin-Whitfield knocked out Dooley and put the Bald Eagles with the ball at West Chester 35. Lock Haven only advanced the ball seven yards from there and eventually returned it downs.
West Chester was almost a seven minute drive from there and almost hit him again. But alternate quarterback Desmon Johnson – who was mostly used on power runs with his 6-foot, 2-inch, 250-pound frame – spat it out at the goal line, as Haseem Johnson recovered his second fumble. of the match after Manyeah stripped the ball away. With the score still 21-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, LHU had forced its fifth turn-over of the match, and had a chance to equalize the score.
“I thought (the defense) had done a very good job making plays”, Kelling said. “It was nice to see the kids stepping up and playing games that we knew they were capable of all year round. I’m really proud of them and really happy for them on that side.
Heisey led the Bald Eagles in an exciting series, where he ran for 23 and 37 yards. But the freshman eventually returned it himself to West Chester 10, after throwing an interception at Golden Rams linebacker Jackson Taylor.
After West Chester scored on a 30-yard touchdown from Dooley at Neuhaus, followed by a fumble from Ethan Persa, the visitors led 28-13 midway through the fourth quarter. The air was apparently released from the ball, and West Chester backup quarterback Yahmir Wilkerson rushed 39 yards to put the game on the ice. 35-13 was the final, as West Chester finished Lock Haven as the sky over Hubert Jack Stadium darkened.
While LHU had their moments on both sides of the ball, the young Bald Eagles were outscored 522-315. Heisey led Lock Haven with 97 rushing yards. He also went 7-12 for 68 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception. Persa was 7-13 for 58 yards and a fumble. Gonzalez had the most productive game of his first season at LHU, catching 7 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Lock Haven had four sacks, three fumbles recovered and two interceptions. Haseem Johnson had two of the sacks.
LHU has a lot of work to do, but Kelling commends the work and preparation that his group continues to do.
“What’s great is that I haven’t noticed anything other than positive attitudes and a positive work ethic from these kids.” Kelling said. “They tried to improve themselves, to try to do the right things.”
The Bald Eagles will look to return to the winning column next week at Shippensburg, as the team enter their final divisional week of the season.