The Elizabethtown Area High School football team was in a jam. Down 37-19 at halftime in their game at Solanco on Friday, Sept. 28, the Bears had to come all the way back in order to avoid a fourth straight loss.
Against all odds, they succeeded in climatic fashion. Elizabethtown pulled off a 45-44 victory over the Mules, highlighted by a touchdown throw via a halfback pass from junior Cole Rice to senior Cole Livingston with 8 seconds to go to give the team the lead for good.
“We were on that losing streak, and we knew this was a big game for us,” Rice said. “We had to pull through. We played our hearts out, didn’t give up on each other and finished it out.”
“It means a lot,” head coach Andy Breault said. “They were kind of down at halftime. A couple of players stepped up and said ‘We’re still in this (and) we have to play four quarters.’ They didn’t give up. They haven’t given up all season. Tonight, we were able to make some plays on offense to keep us in the game.”
After both teams went three and out on their initial possessions, Solanco steadily drove down the field on its next series, ending in a QB sneak touchdown for senior Joel McGuire from one yard out. Elizabethtown answered soon after, with senior quarterback Cole Patrick tossing a 25-yard score to fellow senior Alex Diahn. The point-after try was blocked by Solanco senior Cole Lewis, however, keeping the score at 7-6 in favor of the Mules.
Solanco utilized the triple option after getting the ball back, scoring early in the second quarter on a 5-yard rush from senior Nafis Moore. On the ensuing kickoff, Rice returned a squib kick into Mules territory. The Bears needed just two plays from there, scoring after Patrick hooked up with Livingston for a 35-yard TD. Sophomore kicker Cade Denlinger missed the following extra point wide left though, leaving Solanco up 14-12.
Moore went 60 yards on an option toss for a score on the Mules’ next drive, but a holding call brought the ball back. Sophomore Shaneef Carter converted a third and long, however, and McGuire finished things off with an option run from 17 yards out. The following Bears series was once again short; Livingston ran a jet sweep 65 yards to the house to narrow the gap to 21-19.
On the following kickoff, Moore ran all the way down to the Bears 14-yard line, with Livingston preventing a TD. Three plays later, McGuire found the end zone from 3 yards out. A holding call on the ensuing kick return put Elizabethtown at its own 10. That led to disaster, as Patrick getting sacked in his own end zone by senior Joe Petersheim for a safety, giving the Mules a 30-19 lead. Solanco then drove 45 yards for another score, with Moore diving in from 18 yards out and a 37-19 advantage leading into halftime.
Elizabethtown started the second half by converting a third-and-10 with a Patrick pass to senior Dylan Sweger. However, Patrick was then sacked on another third down try, forcing the Bears to punt. In a fourth and short attempt on the next drive, Moore dove for a Mules first. McGuire got another first down on a separate fourth and short try. However, he was later stripped by junior Jacques Mortha for a fumble just outside the end zone, with the Bears recovering for a touchback to prevent a score.
On third and long, Patrick found sophomore Luke Pierson, who made a juggling catch and ran 80 yards for a score. The snap on the following extra point went over the holder’s head, however, keeping the score at 37-25. Pierson then forced a fumble on the second play of Solanco’s next drive, which Rice recovered and returned to the Mules 38 at the close of the third quarter.
Patrick connected with Pierson again for a 29-yard TD, but the score was wiped out by a Bears holding penalty. He threw an incomplete pass on fourth and long afterward, but a roughing the passer call on Solanco gave Elizabethtown a first. Some short passes to Sweger put the Bears inside the Mules 10, where Patrick found Livingston on a 9-yard TD throw to decrease Solanco’s lead to 37-32.
McGuire extended the lead to 44-32 on the next series, going 60 yards to the house on another option run. Elizabethtown fired back, with Patrick finding Livingston for 30 yards on a third and long, Sweger for 19 on the next play and finally scrambling into the end zone himself from 3 yards out, narrowing the gap to 44-39 with just over two minutes left.
Denlinger’s onside kick was recovered at midfield. Elizabethtown proceeded to stop the Mules on three straight plays, with Livingston making a huge tackle for loss on a third down pitch, and exhausted all of its timeouts. Solanco elected to punt, and Pierson made them pay for it, returning the ball all the way down to the Mules 30-yard line with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
“Last year, I didn’t have a very good game against Solanco,” Livingston said. “The pitch really killed me. They told me I had to be aggressive on it, and I was just determined to stop it because I knew it was coming.”
“We were mixing everything up that we had, trying to find something that would work and keep them off balance,” Breault said. “We were going with three-, four- and five-man fronts. The kids still have to make plays. That third down there, that was big.”
Patrick found Diahn for 26 yards to put the Bears inside the 5-yard line, though the next three plays failed to get into the end zone, leaving Elizabethtown at fourth and goal. With time running out, Breault brought out the big guns, calling the trick play that resulted in the game-winning score to Livingston. Amazingly enough, the play wasn’t designed that way.
“It was supposed to go to Dylan,” Livingston said. “Normally, I just run out of the play. I don’t know why, but Cole threw it to me, and I was just so overwhelmed with emotions.”
“To be completely honest, it was the gloves,” Rice said. “The ball stuck to them, and thank God, he was there to make the catch.”
“We had it for a couple of weeks and just didn’t get to use it yet,” Breault said. “I tried to get the ball into the middle of the field and throw it to the right to make it a little easier, but on fourth down, we didn’t have a choice. We went to the left, and it worked.”
Elizabethtown tried a two-point conversion to make it a 3-point game, though the attempt failed. Denlinger’s ensuing kickoff pinned Solanco deep in its own territory with just a few seconds to go. A Hail Mary attempt fell incomplete, leaving the Bears with a one-point victory.
Livingston had the game of his life, catching 7 passes for 125 yards and 3 TDs, plus another 58 yards and a score on 3 carries. He also had 6 tackles on defense, including the aforementioned third-down stop to give the Bears one last chance.
“It feels great,” Livingston said as his teammates chanted “MVP!” from nearby. “This is the first time I’ve cried in a while, but it’s a good cry.”
Patrick returned to form through the air, finishing with 362 yards and 4 TDs on 19 for 33 passing. He added 25 yards and a TD on 5 carries. Pierson (4 catches, 110 yards, TD), Diahn (4 catches, 67 yards, TD) and Sweger (5 catches, 66 yards) were all key parts of the passing game as well.
“It’s a good thing we’re running our offense (instead of) theirs,” Breault said. “We love throwing the ball a lot. We’re built for that. Other than the breakdown on the safety, we had a lot of time to throw back there. They tried to rush four and cover with seven, and our guys were getting behind them.”
Defensively, senior linebacker Tyler Lanza led the way with 15 total tackles. Mortha and Pierson added 8 and 5, respectively, with both forcing a fumble each as well. Rice recovered one of those fumbles and had 8 stops of his own in addition to throwing the go-ahead TD pass.
McGuire ran a whopping 33 times for 182 yards and 4 TDs on the ground, though he was 0 for 6 through the air. Moore added 88 yards and 2 TDs on 13 carries, while Carter had 91 yards on 12 carries.
Now 3-3 on the season, Elizabethtown will return home to Thompson Field on Friday, Oct. 6, to play Garden Spot. The Spartans have yet to win a game this year but have been competitive at times across all six weeks. The Bears know that no team can be taken lightly, especially after a thriller like this one.
“You have to play week in and week out in Section Two,” Breault said. “We’ll watch some film and correct some stuff. We had some penalties, which has been a theme all year. We got to eliminate those, because it puts us in a bind. We’ll bring it back down to Earth and get some improvements on those mistakes we made.”