BY JOBY FAWCETT
Lakeland cashed in on its opportunities and is headed back to the District 2 Class AA championship.
Capitalizing on six Susquehanna turnovers, the second-seeded Chiefs won, 20-3, Friday night in the semifinals.
Lakeland displayed an efficient running game, spearheaded by Nichols, who had 119 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown.
Using six different ball carriers, the Chiefs rolled up 247 yards rushing against Susquehanna, which had yielded an average of just 126.2 yards per game this season.
Lakeland’s defense also contained the Sabers’ veer-option offense on all but five carries that totaled 107 yards. On its other 29 attempts, Susquehanna gained 14 yards and lost three fumbles.
Susquehanna entered the game averaging 235 yards rushing.
Lakeland grabbed the early lead after Nichols, who saw limited action last week because of an injury, burst free for a 53-yard gain. He finished the drive with a 1-yard score and added the extra point.
A Steve Munley sack – his second of the game – forced a fumble that Kyle Kiehart recovered early in the second quarter.
Three plays later, Kiehart found Alex Filarsky, who weaved his way for a 33-yard score and a 13-0 lead.
Susquehanna got on the board with its best drive that started with 5:34 remaining in the half. Two 32-yard runs from Dan Kempa helped setup his 23-yard field goal and the Sabers trailed 13-3 at the half.
Until that march, which totaled 67 yards, Susquehanna had managed 25 yards on 13 plays and two turnovers, including a Josh Guzzi interception.
“Turnovers were our downfall all season, and we were getting better and better at not turning it over,” Susquehanna coach Dick Bagnall said. “We said before the game, the team that turns the ball over will lose the game.
“What did we have, 7 or 8? I lost count, we had so many.”
Lakeland advanced to the Sabers 30-yard line on its initial drive, but turned the ball over after a fumble recovery and 36-yard return by Cole Mallery.
It was the fourth time in the game that the Chiefs penetrated the Susquehanna 30-yard line and came away with zero points.
Lakeland halted Susquehanna’s final two drives with fumble recoveries. Kevin Carito, who would later seal the game with an interception, and Tyler Brady each pounced on loose balls.
Then Hanley recovered a punt that hit the returner, setting up his own 38-yard run that completed the scoring.
Susquehanna, which had won 27 games in the last 10 years, ended the season 9-2 and the champions of the Lackawanna Football Conference Division II with both of its losses coming at Lakeland.
“I’m very happy with these kids,” Bagnall said. “They put us back on the map. We beat some good football teams and I am very, very proud of them.”
Susquehanna 0 3 0 0 – 3
Lakeland 7 6 0 7 – 20
First Downs 9 16
Rushing-Yards 34-121 48-247
Comp-Att-Int 3-9-2 4-15-0
Passing Yards 53 70
Total Yards 174 317
Fumbles-Lost 7-4 3-1
Penalties-Yards 1-5 8-67
Rushing: SUS – D. Kempa 18-79; G. Price 7-33; S. Stanley 1-9; N. Marco 4-3; C. Mallery 2-2; Team 2-(-5).
Passing: SUS – D. Kempa 3-9-2, 53.
Receiving: SUS – C. Mallery 2-36; S. Stanley 1-17.
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