BY HERB SMITH
Thanks in large part to its defense and special teams, Susquehanna jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead and held off a late rally to pick up the 32-19 victory over Lackawanna Trail Saturday in a Division III game.
“The defensive effort in the first half was huge,” Susquehanna coach Dick Bagnall said. “Our defense has been our forte most of the year. Today we really struggled offensively and our defense really saved us.”
In the first half, Cole Mallery created havoc on defense and special teams as the sophomore blocked a punt for a touchdown, caused and recovered a fumble that set up a second score and intercepted a pass.
“We practiced the punt block all week,” Mallery said. “I came in unblocked, got the ball and just stretched it over the goal line.”
After the punt block gave the Sabers the 7-0 lead, Susquehanna forced Lackawanna Trail to punt on its next possession. Susquehanna was then stopped on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Lions. On Trail’s second play of the drive, Mallery caused a fumble and fell on the loose ball.
“I just came up to make the tackle and swiped at the ball,” Mallery said. “I saw the ball on the ground and I thought it’d be a pretty good idea to fall on it.”
Two plays later, quarterback Dan Kempa ran 33 yards for the score to give Susquehanna the 14-0 lead. After another Lions’ punt, Susquehanna was again stopped on fourth down. Lackawanna Trail took over at the 30 but on its first play from scrimmage, Mallery reached over the middle for a one-handed interception. The sophomore returned the ball down to the 7.
“I just put my hand up for the ball and I couldn’t believe it stuck,” Mallery said. “Our defense is a lot stronger this year.”
Susquehanna couldn’t cash in on the good field position and again turned the ball over on fourth down. Three plays later, Lackawanna Trail fumbled in the end zone and Brandon Saddlemire fell on it for the score. The extra point was blocked and Susquehanna led 20-0 at halftime.
Susquehanna forced another punt on Lackawanna Trail’s first possession of the second half and, on fourth-and-9, Kempa found Steve Skurski over the middle for a 33-yard score. Lackawanna Trail rallied by scoring on its next three possessions, two touchdown passes of 9 and 15 yards by Caleb Darling and a 4-yard run by Chris Dixon.
“Lackawanna Trail’s record (2-6) is not indicative of the team,” Bagnall said. “We knew we were going to be in for a dog fight. We grabbed the lead and then I think maybe our guys got tired in the second half. Trail made a few plays and all of sudden they are back in the game.”
Lacka. Trail 0 0 13 6 – 19
Susquehanna 14 6 6 6 – 32
First Downs 9 12
Rushing-Yards 34-126 38-75
Comp-Att-Int 8-21-2 8-17-0
Passing Yards 110 131
Total Yards 236 206
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards 7-42 4-22
Rushing: SUS – D. Kempa 16-64, 1 TD; N. Marco 10-35; G. Price 8-6; Team 4-(-30).
Passing: SUS – D. Kempa 8-17-0, 131, 2 TDs.
Receiving: SUS – C. Mallery 4-58; S. Skurski 1-33, 1 TD; A. Cowperthwait 1-23; S. Stanley 1-8, G. Price 1-9.
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