BY JOBY FAWCETT
With seconds ticking away and tension mounting, Susquehanna’s Dan Kempa and Andrew Cowperthwait wrestled away a thrilling Homecoming victory.
Both players came through in the final three minutes to lead the ninth-ranked Sabers to a 28-22 win over Holy Cross on Saturday in a Lackawanna Football Conference Division III game.
“This means we can come back and that we are a good team,” Kempa said. “We pulled it out.”
Before there were any heroics from the offense, Susquehanna’s defense, which was led by Nick Marco, came up with a stand.
As Holy Cross tried to seal away the win, it went for a fourth-and-1 from the Sabers’ 20-yard line. But a bobbled snap resulted in no gain.
“We knew what we had to do and we did it,” Marco said. “Wow, Holy Cross is a good team. They got so much better. We knew we had Kempa and we have a good offensive line. I just knew we would come through and win the game.”
Then, Kempa finally found some daylight.
On second down, the quick quarterback, who had been contained for 19 yards on 11 carries, broke into the secondary for an 18-yard gain, but fumbled. George Wilkes leaped on the free ball, keeping Susquehanna’s drive alive.
Two plays later, Kempa launched a deep pass that Cowperthwait tipped into the air, and came down with at the Holy Cross 25.
“That was all concentration,” Cowperthwait said. “I tipped it up and I looked up. I saw it and caught it. I just said thank you.
“We handled the pressure.”
Facing third-and-9, Kempa dropped back to pass, and then scrambled for a 24-yard touchdown. Cole Mallery caught the 2-point conversion and the Sabers celebrated, improving to 5-1 overall and 1-0 in the division.
“Austin came up with a big play and we all stuck together to drive down the field,” Kempa said.
Susquehanna jumped out to a 20-8 lead in the first half before the Crusaders got going.
Capping a three-play drive, Kempa scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter.
In the second, Mallery scored on a 25-yard run after he intercepted a Dane Addley pass.
Holy Cross (3-3, 0-1) cut into the deficit on a Joe Merli 1-yard run, but fell behind by 12 again when Wilkes recovered a fumble in the end zone.
Coming right back, Merli burst through the line for a 55-yard run and that momentum carried into the second half when he added a 45-yard score with 11:42 left in the third.
After seizing the lead, Holy Cross used all of the play clock on every play and ground out 124 yards on 20 carries, but the failed attempt on fourth down gave Susquehanna one last chance.
“We were starting to contain (Kempa),” Holy Cross coach Ben Tolerico said. “What happened was, they passed and we rushed. You can’t let him get outside. He’s too good. Too good.
“I thought coming in that they would be the class of the division. If we can play this team this tough, we have a good road ahead of us.”
Holy Cross 0 15 7 0 – 22
Susquehanna 6 14 0 8 – 28
First Downs 11 9
Rushing-Yards 43-220 36-173
Comp-Att-Int 3-6-3 3-7-1
Passing Yards 37 81
Total Yards 257 254
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 5-1
Penalties-Yards 5-42 3-12
Rushing: SUS – C. Mallery 13-95, 1 TD; D. Kempa 14-62, 2 TDs; N. Marco 7-18; S. Skurski 0-6; G. Wilkes 0-1.
Passing: SUS – D. Kempa 3-7-1, 81.
Receiving: SUS – A. Cowperthwait 2-40; S. Stanley 1-41.