Kick return sparks Trojan victory

LEWISTOWN – The Mifflin County football team experienced its own version of Pickett’s Charge Friday night in the form of Chambersburg tailback Jamal Pickett.

Pickett tore out the hearts of the Huskies and the home fans at Mitchell Field by racing 92 yards on a kickoff return with no time on the clock right before halftime.

The play turned a slim 14-7 lead by the Trojans into a momentum-crushing moment for Mifflin County, which had scored with just one second left in the half on a beautiful, diving catch by John Michael Maclay.

The end result was a 28-7 Mid-Penn Commonwealth victory for Chambersburg (6-4, 3-4) and a berth in the District 3-AAAA playoffs.

“This is a huge win for us and now that we got it, it means a lot. This is our second straight winning season and getting into the playoffs shows our program is on the rise,” Chambersburg coach Mark Saunders said. “I thought our kids played well. They played hard and that’s all you can ask for. We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’ve played hard all year and tonight they showed their character.”

The Huskies (4-6, 1-6), down 14-0 late in the second quarter, got back in the game with an interception by Maclay that gave them possession on their own 29. Mifflin County, with just 1:10 left in the half, went on a five-play, 71-yard drive ending with Maclay’s acrobatic 23-yard touchdown grab. Heath Hidlay sparked the drive with 27- and 23-yard receptions.

Inexplicably, the Huskies didn’t squib the ensuing kickoff and paid a heavy price for the mistake. Pickett sucked the air out of the crowd and any momentum the home team had going into the locker room.

“I was surprised they kicked it to him,” Saunders said. “He’s been a clutch player for us all year and when he’s in a groove it just makes us a lot more balanced and versatile.”

Pickett was surprised as well.

“I got beat for the touchdown. I got mad about that and went off. I was surprised they kicked it too me. I thought they would squib it or something,” he said. “I had a nice block by Dymond Thomas and I just went off of that and took off. Our team gives a lot of effort, we never quit. Now that playoffs are coming it’s time to kick it up a notch.

Mifflin County coach George Miskinis said confusion over a penalty call against the Trojans was the reason for the problems on the kickoff.

“If it was a 15-yard penalty we would have kicked it into the end zone. When it was just a five-yard penalty the message never got relayed out,” Miskinis said, “We were already lined up and the official blew the whistle, so what are you going to do? You can’t call a timeout because the play already started. We thought it was a 15-yard penalty and that would have put the ball on their side of the 50. Instead it was a five-yard penalty and that was a big difference.”

In the end, the Huskies ended the season with six straight losses and now must go on the road next week to face State College, which defeated Mifflin County 26-21 just a week ago.

“What you have now is everyone is starting new next week. In the playoffs, everyone is zero and zero. It’s a one game season now,” Miskinis said. “We have to practice hard, get hot and try to make a run. It’s not impossible.

“A few years back I remember Bellefonte went into the playoffs with a losing record, ended up winning the district, and went on to the first or second round of states. So, it’s not impossible. Teams have done it before. It’s just getting hot at the right time and I believe we have that capability.”

Chambersburg also came up big on the defensive side of the ball with a plan focusing on stopping Mifflin County’s run game.

The plan worked to perfection.

With eight and nine men in the box, the Trojans limited the Huskies to just 34 yards rushing on 35 carries. Mifflin County came into the contest averaging 199 yards per game on the ground. When the Huskies had to throw in the second half, Chambersburg pinned its ears back and rang up eight sacks, with Thomas picking up four.

“Our defense had a great effort. Our kids did a great job plugging holes. It was a great all-around team effort,” Saunders said.

Mifflin County missed a golden opportunity that set the tone for the game early on in the first quarter.

The Huskies drove down inside the Chambersburg 10 and found themselves staring at a third-and-1 from the four. Two tries yielded nothing. The Trojans took over and drove it 96 yards for the score and 7-0 lead. Jonathan Hopple, who finished the game with five catches for 107 yards, scored on an 11-yard toss from Ryan Martin.

“What happened was we had run that play with the wing motion earlier in the drive and Kyle Kahley ripped off a 13-yard run. We figured we’d come back to it if they adjusted the same way with the motion,” Miskinis said. “They did not so therefore they left a person at the point of attack we didn’t account for. If we would have left the wing there, we had everybody blocked. When the wing ran out of there, we had an extra person we couldn’t account for.”

Hopple made it 14-0 in the second quarter by picking of a Hunter Walker pass and racing 54 yards for the touchdown.

Mifflin County had another opportunity starting with the opening drive of the second half, but stalled out on the Chambersburg 28.

“Our kids played hard. We had opportunities and didn’t convert. We have to work hard. We have to work at getting better and eliminating our mistakes,” Miskinis said. “We didn’t convert early and we didn’t convert to start the second half and they were two critical drives. If we convert both of those, we could have had 21 points on the board. We have to be able to finish those shots.”

Martin, who threw for 209 yards on 13-of-18 passing, ended the scoring with a 20-yard run off the read option with six minutes left in the third quarter.

The Trojans finished with 340 yards of total offense, while Mifflin County had just 125 yards.