By Ronald Hanaki
The kick went wide left, and ESU’s sideline erupted in celebration. On Saturday afternoon, Lock Haven’s 44-yard field goal attempt to tie the game with 12.6 seconds to go sailed wide left to give the Warriors a hard-fought 37-34 victory at Lock Haven’s (LHU) Hubert Jack Stadium.
The Warriors were led by two-time Harlon Hill candidate Matt Soltes.
The redshirt senior quarterback went 25-46 passing for 314 yards and 5 touchdowns. With 1:32 left in the game, Soltes hit senior wide receiver Gerard Wendowski with a 9-yard touchdown pass to cap off a 7-play, 80-yard game-winning drive.
For his heroics, Soltes was named the PSAC East Offensive Player of the Week.
Soltes was a dual-threat through the air and on the ground. Lock Haven’s defense knew that Soltes was playing with a sprained left ankle, and they dared Soltes to run.
Soltes made Lock Haven pay by running 15 times for 115 yards.
Junior tailback Robert Healy added 14 carries for 76 yards. Healy also grabbed 5 passes for 91 yards. Healy now has 2,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 career receiving yards at ESU.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Jon Schnaars had 9 catches for 88 yards, and senior wide receiver Joe Welk had 3 catches for 71 yards. Wendowski made his fantasy owners very happy by catching three touchdown passes.
There were a lot of fireworks in the first half. Lock Haven scored on their first possession to take the early lead, 7-0.
On the ensuing possession, the Warriors drove the ball down the field and had a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line. However, Lock Haven’s tremendous goal-line stand forced ESU to turn the ball over on downs.
Lock Haven was now starting its drive with its back to the end zone. Lock Haven was called for a holding penalty in the end zone that resulted in a safety. The score was now 7-2 Lock Haven.
A mediocre punt by Lock Haven gave ESU the ball at midfield. Given a short field to work with, ESU capitalized when Soltes did his best Ben Roethlisberger impression to extend the play and threw a back-shoulder pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Tommy House for ESU’s first touchdown.
The play was a bit controversial because House first went out-of-bounds before catching the touchdown pass, but the rule says that if a player is forced out of bounds and comes back in-bounds and establishes himself in-bounds, then he is an eligible receiver. Therefore, the touchdown stood. ESU had its first lead, 9-7.
With 10:40 left in the second quarter, Schnaars put a veteran move on a Lock Haven defensive back and scored ESU’s second touchdown of the game. ESU now led Lock Haven 16-7.
Following a three-and-out for Lock Haven, ESU’s Wendowski made a sliding catch in the end zone to make the score 23-7 ESU. The pass also marked the 100th career touchdown score for Soltes.
It was now Lock Haven’s turn to go on a scoring run. On the ensuing possession, the jet sweep was working for Lock Haven as the Bald Eagles were able to march the ball down the field on the Warriors. Lock Haven was able to extend its drive when a late hit penalty was called on ESU.
Lock Haven’s redshirt junior quarterback Caleb Walton ran a gadget play and hit 6′ 2” backup quarterback Shaun Jones, who was playing wide receiver, over the middle for Walton’s 30th career touchdown pass. The score was now 23-14 ESU.
Lock Haven’s defense forced ESU to go three-and-out. Lock Haven would complete a 23-yard pass to midfield, and a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty gave Lock Haven a first down from ESU’s 35-yard line.
The penalties were starting to accumulate for ESU. By halftime alone, ESU had committed 11 penalties for 114 yards.
A controversial play would follow. Lock Haven senior running back Beau Swales would run the ball into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. However, it looked like Swales fumbled the ball as he was scoring, and ESU came away from the scrum with the ball.
The question was whether or not the ball broke the plane of the goal line before Swales fumbled the ball or after he fumbled the ball. If Swales had possession of the ball when the ball broke the plane of the goal line, it was a touchdown. If Swales lost the ball before the ball crossed the plane of the goal line, it was a fumble, and ESU would take possession of the football.
Five officials discussed the play, but they could not come to an agreement. Unfortunately, there is no instant replay in Division II football, and the official ruling was to redo the play. Nobody was happy with that result.
It would not matter for Lock Haven. Lock Haven’s Walton faked the ball to Swales and scored on a quarterback-keeper, but ESU still led 23-21 with 1:45 left in the first half.
Lock Haven’s defense forced ESU to punt, and Lock Haven’s 2-minute offense resulted in another touchdown pass for Lock Haven before halftime. The Bald Eagles had now scored 21 unanswered points to retake the lead, 28-21.
Both teams made adjustments at halftime, and the second half settled into more of a defensive struggle. There was no score in the third quarter, but that was just the calm before the storm.
After struggling in the third quarter, the Warriors put together a sustained drive to Lock Haven’s 5-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Soltes rolled right and threw the ball to the back of the end zone that Wendowski grabbed for his second touchdown catch of the game. ESU’s 2-point conversion failed, but ESU retook the lead 29-28.
On the ensuing possession, ESU junior safety Jimmy Verzicco intercepted a Caleb Walton pass, but that mistake would not hurt Lock Haven as ESU’s Healy was stopped on a fourth-and-three. ESU turned the ball over to Lock Haven on downs.
Throughout the game, Lock Haven had success running the football. Lock Haven’s Beau Swales had 27 carries for a career-high 193 yards in this game.
ESU’s defense was overcommitting to stop the run, and that left the middle of the field open. LHU’s Walton exploited this opening. His throw found redshirt junior wide receiver Shawn Seif over the middle, and Seif scored on a 38-yard touchdown pass. Lock Haven went for two but could not convert, so the score was 34-29 LHU with 8:32 left in the game.
Lock Haven’s defense forced ESU to punt. Lock Haven drove down the field, but the drive stalled at ESU’s 15-yard line. Lock Haven’s field goal attempt was blocked by ESU, and the score was still 34-29 Lock Haven with 3:20 left to go. The stage was now set for ESU’s game-winning drive.
The Warriors started from their own 20-yard line. Soltes had all day to pass but chose to run to the 35-yard line. A quick 11-yard pass to Schnaars to the far side and another 17-yard pass to Schnaars got the Warriors down to Lock Haven’s 37-yard line.
A 6-yard toss to Wendowski and a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty by Lock Haven gave ESU a first down at LHU’s 16-yard line. Soltes then ran the ball 7 yards to the LHU 9-yard line.
On the very next play, Soltes found Wendowski on a flag route to the far side of the end zone for an ESU touchdown. ESU would get the 2-point conversion to make the score 37-34 with 1:32 left in the game.
The game wasn’t over, though. Lock Haven had one last chance. Aided by having the wind at their backs, the Bald Eagles quickly flew down the field.
Facing a third-and-nine from ESU’s 27-yard line with 12.6 seconds to go, Lock Haven decided to go for the game-tying field goal. The kick was short and wide right, but it was ruled that ESU called a timeout to ice the kicker. Because there was no play, Lock Haven had another chance to tie the game. The second kick had plenty of leg, but it was wide left giving the Warriors their second win of the season and their first win in the PSAC.
The victorious Warriors (2-2, 1-0) will play Shippensburg at home on Saturday evening, Oct. 3.
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