Tomahawks defeat Hitmen in GEFA heavyweight contest

LEWISTOWN — It was a day ready-made for football. Awesome weather, an enthusiastic crowd and two undefeated teams squaring off in a premier Great Eastern Football Association (GEFA) battle.

Mifflin County — first place in the Mountain Division — took the field against Cumberland Valley — tops in the Valley Division — in their first meeting since the 2017 GEFA semifinals.

The game lived up to the hype as the Tomahawks rallied from a two touchdown first quarter deficit to defeat the Hitmen, 40-34, Saturday afternoon at Rec Park.

Mifflin County coach Brian Rodgers lavished praise on his team’s defensive performance. After giving up 28 points in the first half, Mifflin County allowed only six in the second half.

“The defense stepped up. The first quarter, (Brandon) Ellis had all day and picked us apart. After that, we got him on the move, forced turnovers, sacks and incomplete passes. That’s Tomahawk football,” Rodgers said. “We were picked to lose and give up 66 points. Look at that scoreboard – 34 points – this defense stepped up and gave only half of what was predicted. This is probably one of the best defensive outings we’ve had in a couple of years. Just a great team effort on both sides of the ball.”

Mifflin County (4-0) sealed the victory late in the game on a gutsy fourth-and-1 call from its own 19. Kyle Kahley followed the lead block of Harry Lowber and the offensive line opened a huge hole. Kahley scampered 27 yards, allowing the Tomahawks to run out the clock for the hard-fought win.

“The coaches weren’t going to put me in. I had my bell rung a little bit and didn’t know where I was at for a couple minutes, but when it comes down to it, you are a leader on this team and you have to set an example,” Kahley said. “The line did a great job for me, the hole was huge, and Lowber made a great block and it was there. I just tried to go to the races with it. What’s great about this group of guys is you can get a big lead on us, we may bend, but we don’t break.”

Rodgers had no doubt he was going to go for it. His team made sure he would.

“To be honest, I don’t know if it was gutsy or stupidity. The guys have said to me all year, ‘have faith in us.’ We needed eight inches and there’s a time when a coach has to hand the team over to his players and have faith in them,” Rodgers said. “Credit to our offensive line and credit to everybody for getting this done.”

The Tomahawks started their comeback with three touchdowns in the second quarter. Quarterback Lashawn Brown connected with scoring strikes to Jordan Bell from one and two-yards out and a seven-yarder to Robert Albro to make it 28-24 in favor of Cumberland Valley (3-1) at the half.

Despite the deficit, Rodgers was confident heading into the break.

“I kept saying to the guys to hang in there because this team is going to die. I kept watching their big linemen and they were gassed by the end of the first quarter,” Rodgers said. “I knew if we could just hang in there, just hang around, we’re going to get right back in the game. That’s exactly what happened. They had nothing left in the fourth quarter.”

The Tomahawks took the lead for good when Kahley ran it in from two yards out and the two-point conversion made it 32-28 heading into the fourth.

Mifflin County picked up two insurance scores with Bell getting his third touchdown of the game – this time from four yards – and a safety by Kahlyl Carrington to make it 40-28. Bell finished with seven catches for 61 yards. He also had a huge sack that forced a fumble in the fourth quarter with the Hitmen on a first-and-goal at the Tomahawk 6.

“We came out slow defensively, we had to group up, and after halftime, we just came together. We gave up that one touchdown late in the fourth but’s that all they had in the second half,” Bell said. “Cumberland Valley plays a lot of zone read on defense, but they throw a lot of man too and bring pressure, so the middle was open all day. Once the coaches started seeing that, we started looking in the middle and it came to us.”

Brown was 23-of-41 for 221 yards with four touchdowns but threw his first two picks of the season. He now has 22 touchdowns on the year.

Timmy Beck collected six grabs for 68 yards and Kahley ran for 45 yards on seven carries. Receiver Jermell Flemming led the way for Cumberland Valley with nine receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns.

“This is a huge win for us. If we lost this, we would probably have to travel come playoff time,” Rodgers said. “Not only that, I think these guys (Cumberland Valley) are going to be in it, so in essence, this is a two-game swing for us. As long as we don’t slip up down the stretch, we’ll be just fine. All I want is the number one or two seed heading into the playoffs.”

Mifflin County goes on the road to face Upper Dauphin Comanche on Saturday.