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Blue Raiders beat Lancaster Catholic to reach Saturday's district title game vs. Wyomissing

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

717-944-4628
Posted 11/10/19

Lancaster Catholic rolled into Middletown’s War Memorial Stadium with a 10-1 record and the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s Section Three title in its pocket.

The Crusaders were confident …

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Blue Raiders beat Lancaster Catholic to reach Saturday's district title game vs. Wyomissing

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Lancaster Catholic rolled into Middletown’s War Memorial Stadium with a 10-1 record and the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s Section Three title in its pocket.

The Crusaders were confident as they took on the 9-1 Blue Raiders in the second round of the District III 3A football playoffs.

And, although the Blue Raiders pushed them into an early 12-0 hole, the confidence rose for the visitors following a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter on a cold night at the fabled Middletown field. That obvious confident air surrounding the Crusaders hung around while the two teams battled to a scoreless standoff through the game’s second stanza that ended with the Blue Raiders hanging onto their 12-7 lead.

But, after going nowhere following the second-half kickoff, all that confidence evaporated in a hurry for Lancaster Catholic as the Middletown team scored two third-quarter touchdowns and added another in the fourth to nail down an impressive 33-15 victory.

No. 2 seed Middletown now will travel to No. 1 seed Wyomissing to play for the district title at 1 p.m. Saturday. The undefeated Spartans easily beat No. 4 seed Annville-Cleona on Saturday, 62-28. Middletown beat Wyomissing in 2016 (48-20) and 2017 (49-0) for the championship. Last year, the Raiders topped Bermudian Springs 42-20 for their third straight district title.

With his 161 yards rushing in the game, Jose Lopez broke the 6,000-yard barrier for his career, the first ever Middletown player to do so.

Against Lancaster Catholic, Middletown’s big strike was a 92-yard touchdown run by junior Tymir Jackson early in the third quarter that followed a three-and-out series by the Middletown defense.

“That run by Jackson really seemed to break their spirits, and our defense played really well all game,” said Middletown head coach Brett Myers after the win.

Senior linebacker Arthur Dash led the defense that held Lancaster Catholic’s running game to just 29 total yards. The Crusaders did throw for 180 yards, but 60 of that came on the first-quarter touchdown and 76 came in the fourth quarter with the game already out of hand.

For the Raiders, Lopez and Jackson teamed for 312 yards on the ground and Tony Powell threw for 134 yards. Credit for all that offense, of course, goes to the work of the offensive line, a group that took control of the line of scrimmage and never let up.

On the game’s opening offensive series, the Blue Raiders marched 69 yards in 9 plays for the early score. A key play was a Powell-to-Jackson connection of 42 yards.

On the ninth play, Lopez burst through the left side from the 2 with 8:56 left. The extra point try missed, as did the next one, when the Raiders scored following a pass interception by Chris Joseph.

On first down from the 34, Lopez ran for 10 yards, but a holding penalty erased another good run a play later. Undaunted, Lopez turned in one of his signature efforts, breaking free of a logjam at the line and sprinting 33 yards to the end zone for the tally. With 2 minutes left, the home team led 12-0.

But the Crusaders struck quickly in response, scoring on a 60-yard pass from Gavin Sullivan to Alex Cruz out of the backfield on the final play of the opening quarter. 

Two minutes into the second period, the Crusaders set off on a solid drive that reached the Middletown 31, using 11 plays to get there. But, on second and 7, Lancaster Catholic’s Jeffrey Harley lost the ball when he was smothered in the backfield. Middletown safety Tim Wagner was there to claim the fumble.

The Raiders could not cash in, however, and were forced to punt. On third down, Dash sacked Crusader quarterback Gavin Sullivan for an 11-yard loss (one of four recorded by the Raiders). The half ended with the Raiders in front 12-7, giving all indications the game could go down to the final minutes.

But with Troy Walko, Jackson and Tajae Broadie coming up big on defense and Jackson lighting up the home crowd with his blazing 92-yard touchdown run two minutes into the third, that scenario changed in short order. Jules Nester’s two-point pass to Damion Williams pushed the Middletown lead to 20-7 with 10:13 left.

More key defensive plays by Lopez, Joseph and Dylon Zettlemoyer forced another Lancaster Catholic punt, and the Middletown offense was back in action.

Starting at their 42, the Raiders ran five straight times, picking up 40 yards and three first downs. A short pass of 6 yards from Powell to Joseph broke the string before three more runs set up Lopez’s 2-yard dive for the touchdown. With 2:27 left in the third the Middletown lead had grown to 26-7.

The Raiders scored again on a drive that started on the final play of the third. A pass interference call against the Crusaders and a 33-yard run by Jackson moved the ball to the Lancaster Catholic 18, but a personal foul against the Raiders backed them up to the 33.

A 10-yard run by T.J. Daniels got some of the yards back, but a false start following an incomplete pass had the Middletown offense facing a fourth and 18 at the 26. Going for it at that point, Powell showed just how far he has come this year as a sophomore quarterback. He fired a perfect strike to Joseph on a left-to-right crossing pattern. Joseph made a juke move at the 7 and dashed into the north end zone for the touchdown with 8:03 left in the game. Nolan Sessa’s PAT was good and the home team was on the plus side of a 33-7 score.

The Crusaders made things interesting, however, scoring on a four-play drive of 65 yards that was capped by a 9-yard run around left end by Harley at 6:20. Adding more excitement to the visitors’ side of the stadium, the Crusaders recovered an onsides kickoff at the 47 and threatened to score again.

Broadie dropped Nevin Roman for an 8-yard loss on second down, but the Crusaders converted on fourth and 10 to keep the drive alive. Four plays later, the Blue Raiders slammed the door when Zettlemoyer and Walko sacked Sullivan for an 11-yard loss on fourth and 3 to lock up the victory.

Center Collin Heffner, guards Amir Potter and Walko, tackles Brock Welsh and Quincy Reinnagel, and tight end Williams kept the ball moving forward for Lopez as the Blue Raiders ran off the last 3:12 to guarantee another game.