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Right place, right time: Lobban’s punt return provides spark Upper Merion needs in 24-21 win over PJP

ROYERSFORD >> Upper Merion’s Taiyan Lobban was at the right place at the right time.

His team up a field goal over upstart Pope John Paul II midway through the fourth quarter, Lobban headed to the wing on a Panther punt, setting up shop right along the sideline in preparation of a Panther fake.

The fake never happened. Instead, a present fell right into his lap as a low-line punt went straight to him and the freshman did the rest, going 42-yards for what ended up being the game-deciding score in the Vikings’ 24-21 victory over Pope John Paul II on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Upper Merion's Taiyan Lobban looks back as he returns a 42-yard punt for a touchdown during the fourth quarter. (Sam Stewart - Digital First Media)

Upper Merion’s Taiyan Lobban looks back as he returns a 42-yard punt for a touchdown during the fourth quarter. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

“Felt like a Christmas gift, it came right to me,” Lobban said. “I had to run as fast as I could, I didn’t know if anyone was behind me. That was pretty big. I just happened to be there.”

“We were in a safe punt situation preparing for a fake so he was right there on the wing,” Upper Merion head coach Harold Smith said. “For him as a freshman to have the presence of mind to grab it and go was huge for us. That broke the game our way and had the kids going.”

Lobban’s punt return mixed with a sensational effort on defense by the Vikings’ (1-2 PAC, 2-5 overall) front seven was enough to give them their second win of the season. Upper Merion limited the Golden Panthers — who came in averaging 214 rushing yards in their past three wins — to just 25 yards on the ground. Jake McGrath, Kenny Luckasavage and Anthony Sheppard each registered sacks in the win.

Upper Merion's Charles Sanders muscles his way for extra yards during the Vikings' 24-21 victory. (Sam Stewart - Digital First Media)

Upper Merion’s Charles Sanders muscles his way for extra yards during the Vikings’ 24-21 victory. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

“We’ve been busting our butt all season,” McGrath said. “Things haven’t been going our way and our offense hasn’t been moving the ball like we would want to but our defense came out today played well. Our offense played well. Late in the game coach told us to stay together and we did, we played as a family.

“Coach didn’t really mention about their recent success in the rushing game. He just said for me and Mark Picariello (linebacker) to keep doing our thing. Our defense has been playing well, keeping them off the board. We just did our jobs, filled the holes and made tackles.”

Upper Merion's Tyrese Leach breaks through the line for a gain of 12. (Sam Stewart - Digital First Media)

Upper Merion’s Tyrese Leach breaks through the line for a gain of 12. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

PJP’s Brandon Knox, who came in after rushing for 168 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Phoenixville, was limited to just 14 yards on the ground. If not for the arm and legs of quarterback Matt DeLaurentis, the Golden Panthers would have been in worlds of trouble. The junior signal caller threw for 297 yards and two scores, one to Ryan Kormos to make it 14-7 PJP right before the half, the second to Dan Cirino to make it 24-21 with 3:15 left in the fourth.

Cirino finished with a game-high 12 receptions (84 yards). Kormos finished with a game-high 95 yards receiving on four catches.

The loss snapped PJP’s (2-1 PAC, 3-4 overall) three-game winning streak. The Golden Panthers have never won four straight in school history.

Upper Merion's Taiyan Lobban knocks the ball free from the hands of Ryan Kormos in the end zone. (Sam Stewart - Digital First Media)

Upper Merion’s Taiyan Lobban knocks the ball free from the hands of Ryan Kormos in the end zone. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

“Our strength on offense is to control the football and run the football,” PJP head coach Rory Graver said. “They shut down our run game and then we had to go in our pass game and that’s not how we’re going to win football games this year.

“Matt (DeLaurentis) carried us today. Without him we would have been in pretty big trouble.”

Upper Merion grabbed a 7-0 lead on the team’s first possession due in large part to a critical fourth-and-eight completion from quarterback John Paul Batten to Lobban. The completion set the Vikings up at the one-yard line where Charles Sanders did the dirty work, plunging in for the score.

DeLaurentis answered the next drive, DeLaurentis running 22-yards for the score to tie it at seven. 

Preston Hampton made it 17-14 Upper Merion in the fourth before Lobban’s punt return gave them the game deciding score before the Vikings held on to a last-minute drive from PJP, a Hail Mary at the end of the game falling incomplete in the end zone.

“They are a resurgent team and the kids from PJP play hard for Rory and those guys,” Smith said. “Watching them on film, they aren’t the biggest guys but they played hard. We knew we had to follow the plan. All the games throughout the year we would follow the plan for the first three quarters and then start to do our own thing in the fourth and the score would get out of hand. Today we stuck to the plan and the kids played hard.”

NOTES >> Upper Merion’s Anthony Littlewood converted a 32-yard field goal in the fourth to cut the Golden Panthers’ deficit to 14-10. … Dave Brown had an interception for UM; Jacob Bildstein one for PJP. Bildstein is now tied with Upper Perkiomen’s Ryan Kendra and Spring-Ford’s Dan Cassidy for the overall lead in interceptions (3). … Denver Francis had two sacks for PJP; Nick Yerger one.

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