Tomahawks punch back, punch ticket for Keystone Bowl game

LEWISTOWN — Boxing legend Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

The Mifflin County Tomahawks came out with a plan in their Great Eastern Football Association semifinal game against Cumberland Valley. Instead of the expected success, the Tomahawks got hit hard in the kisser — but like all championship-caliber teams, they regrouped and rallied for the 56-42 victory Saturday evening at Rec Park.

Mifflin County (12-0) gets its long-awaited rematch with Mount Joy (11-0) in Keystone Bowl XIII, set for 7 p.m. Jue 24 at Shippensburg High School. The Cyclones defeated the Tomahawks in last season’s championship, 72-30.

“It’s great to be back in the Keystone Bowl. We needed a game like this. We’re going to get four quarters of this next week against Mount Joy,” Mifflin County coach Brian Rodgers said. “We need to have a perfect game and be good on both sides of the ball. We need to limit our mistakes and take advantage of our opportunities. We are in much better shape health-wise than we were a year ago when we faced the Cyclones.”

The Hitmen (9-2) busted out to an 18-6 lead in the first quarter, putting Mifflin County on its heels trying to stop wide receiver Jermell Flemming — who gashed the Tomahawks with eight catches for 190 yards and four TDs in the first half, including the first two to start the contest. Flemming was the lone offensive star for Cumberland Valley, finishing with 11 grabs for 225 yards and 234 of the Hitmen’s 333 total yards.

Mifflin County flat-lined on four of its drives inside the 10 in the first half, including two stopped at the one.

“We came out tense. We didn’t seem confident. When they scored twice in the first quarter, we clenched up,” Rodgers said. “We got some scores right before half and we relaxed a little. We came together, especially in the second half, and executed better. Give the guys credit for hanging in there and not giving up.”

The Tomahawks withstood the Hitmen barrage, taking the lead for the first time with back-to-back touchdowns. The first was a four-yard TD catch from Matt Short and a 19-yard strike from Leshawn Brown to Tim Beck, giving Mifflin County the 22-18 advantage.

Cumberland Valley regained the lead when QB Brandon Ellis connected with Flemming for 16 and 30-yard touchdown grabs, giving the Hitmen a 30-22 lead. The never-say-die Tomahawks answered with a 10-yard scoring run by Kyle Kahley, cutting the deficit to 30-28.

Mifflin County got a momentum-changing turnover 50-seconds before halftime when Ellis fumbled and Tomahawk linebacker Brian Reinhart recovered at the Cumberland Valley 7-yard line. On the ensuing play, running back Harry Lowber scored the first of his three touchdowns to give the home team a 34-30 lead at the half.

“The fumble was a key play in this game coming right before halftime. After that, Cumberland Valley wasn’t the same. We took the momentum from them,” Rodgers said.

Cumberland Valley snatched the lead for the final time in the third quarter on a pair of touchdown runs to make it 42-40. Sandwiched between the Hitmen scores was a 10-yard TD toss from Brown to Robert Albro for the Tomahawks. Brown finished with four touchdowns and 155 yards through the air, while Albro had three receptions for 37 yards and two touchdowns. Beck led all Mifflin County receivers with five grabs for 63 yards.

Mason Sweitzer, once again, was a disruptive force on the defensive line for the Tomahawks.

“We came out a little cocky and didn’t expect to be punched in the mouth. Our game plan in the second half was to finish tackles and go after loose balls,” Sweitzer said. “We missed Jordan (Bell) on offense. No doubt about that. I’ve been waiting all year for this, to get another chance at the Cyclones. I can’t wait.”

Rodgers moved Sweitzer to defensive end in the second quarter. The switch worked to perfection.

“The defense did its job in the second half. We shifted Mason to end because we weren’t getting through with our pass rush. When we did that, it changed the whole complexion of the game. Mason dominated his guy and our pass rush started to work,” Rodgers said.

The Tomahawks owned the fourth quarter, forcing three turnovers and outscoring the Hitmen 16-0 in the final frame for the victory.

Lowber, fresh off a 94-yard, four-TD performance last week, was just as effective against Cumberland Valley. He finished his evening with 84 yards on 19 carries with three touchdowns, including both scores in the fourth.

Lowber gave Mifflin County the lead for good with a three-yard TD run. A Brown to Kevin Grenoble pass conversion made it 48-42. After linebacker Joe Moher forced a Hitmen fumble, Lowber sealed the deal with a 28-yard scamper to daylight with a stiff-arm that would make Adrian Peterson proud. Albro cleared the way with a crushing downfield block. A pass conversion from Brown to Albro set the final at 56-42.

“Cumberland Valley came out ready to fight. I told the guys this was going to be a war. We got down early, bounced back, and stuck to our game plan. We fought to the end and fought through adversity,” Lowber said. “We needed this type of challenge to get ready for Mount Joy. It was a heck of a game. I would go to war with these guys any day.”