HERSHEY >> Governor Mifflin’s dream of winning a District 3 football championship came up tantalizingly short Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium.
Evan Simon’s brilliantly-executed pump-faked hook ‘n go with wideout Vinny Lester resulted in a 33-yard scoring strike and the topper to a wild fourth quarter as Manheim Central escaped Chocolatetown with 30-29 victory — and a 17th district title, all-time, for one of the storied programs in Pennsylvania high school football.
“We saw on film during the week that their cornerbacks really see the ball well in the air and they’re aggressive,” Simon said,”and did exactly what we thought they would. They bit. and Vinny scored his first-ever touchdown.”
For the Mustangs (11-2) and head coach Mick Vecchio, they came up 3:51 short of celebrating their first, the time showing on scoreboard when Lester crossed the goal line. Placekicker Niko Gavala’s point-after conversion gave the Barons the lead and shortly thereafter, the title.
Trailing 23-21, the Mustangs had taken a 29-23 lead with 4:52 left when senior quarterback Kam Wolfe found Michael Franks on a straight fly down the sideline for 49 yards and a touchdown. Bryce Stubler finally hauled in a 2-point conversion pass on the third try, following a pair of penalties.
But Manheim Central (13-0) showed its championship pedigree by marshaling a 6-play, 71-yard response in just 1:01, ending with Lester’s catch, to take it back.
“We had the opportunity to hold them and we just couldn’t,” Vecchio said. “They’re a terrific all-around football team and they’re sure as hell not going to give up. We had no time outs left when they scored and they knew we were in a bit of a panic and had to pass.
“It’s a shame for the kids and a shame for the community, to play this well and fall short.”
Fullback Isaac Ruoss, the 38-carry hero of Mifflin’s stunning upset a week ago against Harrisburg, did not the display the same kind of explosive battering ram effect that wore down the heavily-favored Cougars six days ago.
Ruoss managed 63 yards and 20 attempts, but his longest run from scrimmage was for nine yards; the Barons allowed a 1-yard plunge from him for Mifflin’s first score but contained him at the point of attack. Ruoss was slightly hurt in the second half Saturday night, according to his head coach.
“What happened was Isaac hurt his leg a little bit and he wasn’t full speed, so we had to get to get away from our regular stuff a little bit,” Vecchio said.
Still, the Mustangs nearly pulled it off — this, after trailing 20-7 at halftime. A flat first quarter mixed with an opportunistic Manheim Central club saw the Barons grab a 14-0 lead on pair of 4-play forays ending in touchdowns 1:33 apart.
Mifflin rallied to cut the deficit in half with 10-play, 65-yard culminating in Ruoss going over from the 1 with 28 seconds left in the first. Then the coaching got weird for a bit.
The Barons passed up points from Gavala from the Mifflin 8 on a fourth-and-4, instead giving it to back Gio Lester, who featured in place of injured starter Tyler Flick. Gio Lester (18 carries, 86 yards) was stuffed and Mifflin took over.
But the Mustangs returned the favor almost immediately, when a quick pass to the wide-side flat, intended for Tyshaun Weaver, on fourth-and-1 at their own 17 fell incomplete. Manheim Central made Mifflin pay three snaps later, with Gio Lester going in from 3 yards out to give the Barons a 20-7 lead.
“One coach said (Weaver’s) open, just throw it out there and I went with it and I shouldn’t have,” Vecchio said. “And the reason I shouldn’t have because in high school, that’s a very difficult throw to make. I screwed up. At that point I’m saying to myself ‘holy hell, I lost the game.'”
But Mifflin rallied in the third quarter and it started with an on-sides kick, something the Mustangs tried twice at Harrisburg a week ago. The Mustangs recovered the kick to open the second half. It faltered momentarily when Weaver was popped on a pass reception from Wolfe and fumbled it away at the Barons’ 48; however, Wolfe picked his mate up three snaps later by intercepting Simon on defense at his own 44.
From there, Wolfe engineered a quick 3-play, 56-yard — the chunk of it coming on a 40-yard strike to Weaver on first down — and Mifflin got in on Darius Copeland’s 13-yard jaunt to end zone.
The Barons gifted Mifflin’s go-ahead score by attempting a fake punt from its own 44 on fourth-and-6. The Mustangs plugged it, took over, and grabbed a 21-20 lead eight plays later when Wolfe and Weaver hooked up again, this time from 12 out, with 3:03 to play in the third.
The senior signal-caller ended his career 9 of 17 for 191 yards and two scores in his final game.
Manheim Central took a 23-21 midway through the final stanza on Gavala’s 23-yard field goal, setting up final frantic six minutes.
Vecchio was asked to sum up his team’s postseason run, which included a victory the program will long remember and recall.
“Well, up until 30-29 it was a dream,” he said, with a slight chuckle. “You know, we haven’t watched that film from last week (Harrisburg) yet. I’d like to get the radio call from that while we watch it. The kids sure as hell didn’t deserve to have it end like this.”
District 3 5A championship
at Hersheypark Stadium
Manheim Central 30, Governor Mifflin 29
GM – 7 0 14 8 — 29
MC – 14 6 0 10 — 30
MC – Gio Lester 39 run (Niko Gavala kick), 5:55
MC – Jake Novak 13 pass from Evan Simon, 4:22
GM – Isaac Ruoss 1 run (Ben Myers kick), :28
MC – Gio Lester 3 run (run failed), 6:29
GM – Darius Copeland 13 run (Myers kick), 9:17
GM – Tyshaun Weaver 12 pass from Kam Wolfe (Myers kick), 3:03
MC- Gavala 23 FG, 6:10
GM – Michael Franks 49 pass from Wolfe (Wolfe pass to Bruce Stubler), 4:52
MC – Vinny Lester 33 pass from Simon (Gavala kick), 3:51
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