By Rob Kiser
Wyatt Long got the tip — Jared Rourke the pick and Lehman was able to hold off Riverside 35-30 in a battle of unbeatens in NWCC play Friday night at Alexander Stadium/Purk Field.
Lehman had taken a seemingly safe 35-18 lead midway through the third quarter, before an onside kick and a fumble inside their own 10 put the Cavaliers in a tough spot.
Riverside was trailing 35-30 and driving in the final two minutes and inside Lehman territory.
Troy Helmlinger’s pass attempt was tipped by Long as a receiver came across the middle.
“I was trying to intercept it,” Long said with a laugh. “But, I am a lineman, so I come by that honestly.”
The ball deflected to Rourke, who returned it to the Riverside 30-yard line.
“I couldn’t believe I intercepted it,” Rourke said. “Even after I caught it, I was in disbelief. I looked down at my hands to make sure I had the ball. It feels great to make a play like that.”
Dylan Arnold, who had to step in at quarterback, ran for a first down to seal the victory.
Lehman improved to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the NWCC, while Riverside dropped to 4-2 and 2-1,
“We knew this was a big game,” Arnold said. “I was just trying to do anything to make up for the fumble. To be honest, I was a little nervous on that final drive (on defense).”
But, Lehman coach Richard Roll knew the Cavaliers could make the stop.
“Our defense had played well the whole second half,” Roll said. “Then we had the onside kick and the fumble. Coach (Tim) McGill does a great job. We knew this was going to be a tough game.”
The game started as an offensive shootout.
It took just five plays for both teams to get on the scoreboard.
On Riverside’s second play, Caleb Stevens went 47 yards for a touchdown, but the PAT was wide, a problem that would haunt the Pirates all night.
On Lehman’s third play after the kickoff, Elliott Gilardi hooked up with Brandon Barhorst for a 60-yard touchdown. Michael Denning booted the PAT to put Lehman up 7-6.
Riverside then put together a 56-yard drive, with Gaven Anderson running it in from 5-yards out. Lehman stopped a run on the PAT to keep the score at 12-7.
Arnold then had a 64-yard kickoff return to the Riverside 18 and Gilardi would find the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from the three. Denning’s kick gave Lehman a 14-12.
Two plays later, Riverside was back in front.
Hayden Robinson went 78 yards down the sideline for the score and after another failed PAT, Riverside led 18-14.
“They came out and scored three times in a row on us,” Roll said. “Then, our defense settled down after that.”
Lehman answered with another score.
Gilardi had a key 12-yard completion to Michael Bunker on fourth-and-7 to keep the drive alive, but Gilardi was injured on a run on the next play and did not return. On the next play, Arnold ran into the end zone from six yards out and Denning’s kick made it 21-18 Lehman.
“That was a big throw by Elliott (Gilardi), but then he got dinged,” Roll said. “But, I have said all along with have three of the top five quarterbacks in the league.”
Riverside fumbled on the first play after the kickoff and Sam Young recovered at the Riverside 11.
Arnold threw an 11-yard TD pass to Barhorst on the next play and Denning’s kick made it 28-18.
Lehman then had a stop on the two-yard line late in the half to preserve the 28-18 margin at the break.
With 6:41 to go in the third quarter, Lehman seemed to have the game under control, taking a 35-18 lead.
Seth Brown made a leaping catch in the end zone on a 28-yard pass from Arnold and Denning booted the PAT.
“That was a big play,” Roll said about the catch. “But, then we had the onside kick and the fumble.”
With 11:18 to go, Riverside took advantage of a fumble at the Lehman eight and Anderson ran in from one-yard out. Arnold blocked the PAT to keep Lehman’s lead at 35-24.
Riverside then recovered an onside kick. With just over six minutes remaining, Stevens ran the ball in from five yards out to make it 35-30. The PAT again failed.
“That was the difference,” Roll said. “We have been pretty fortunate with kickers and they never made a PAT.”
That set up the dramatic finish, capped by Lehman’s tip-and-pick to take control in the NWCC.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.