League play and the regular season culminated last Friday night with a win and you’re in, lose and you’re out scenario for both Loyalton and Hayfork as both fought for a playoff bid. The long 4.5 hour trip to Hayfork was mitigated by an early departure and wonderful, healthy lunches provided by Mrs. Espana and company. The weather was perfect. Starters Jack June and Polo Lopez didn’t make the trip due to injury and illness. Despite three big plays being called back by penalties early in the game Loyalton still established a 14-0 lead going into the half with big outside runs provided by Case Emsoff, and a long pass and reception between Gus Petterson and Adam Smeltzer. Gus also ended a last second goal line scoring attempt by Hayfork to end the first half with an interception.
The 3rd quarter saw both teams trade touchdowns as Jed Espana and Case added another pair of touchdowns. The Grizz entered the 4th quarter with a 26-20 lead and the issue very much still in doubt despite the feeling that they had controlled the game throughout.
However, the defense once again rose to the occasion and made several key stops on 4th and short situations as well as gathering in another interception. The defensive line, lead by Andrew Jordan was in the backfield all night. Clinton Maddalena was stellar on special teams making several key tackles.
With 5 minutes remaining the Grizzly Offense faced 4th and long themselves in the Red Zone after another penalty negated a 1st and goal play. Adam got around the end and essentially sealed the game 32-20. The defense still had to take the field and play
ing with pride stopped the Timber Jacks on 4th down once again which allowed Loyalton to kneel out the clock for the victory. Drew, our only senior, played what could have been his last game, like his hair was on fire. On defense he dominated and on offense carried defenders on his back downfield every time he touched the ball. Loyalton finished the game with 354 yards of offense. The win guaranteed a 3rd place finish in League, a 6-3 record and a playoff bid versus Herlong.
Statistically, for those interested, the Grizzlies thru 10 games have over 2,500 yards of offense and 35 touchdowns. Four players gained more than 500 yards of total offense. 6 hit the 100 yard mark. Gus led the team in passing, Adam in receiving and Case in rushing. Jack did a bit of everything. Gus led the team with 12 total TD’s followed by Jack and Adam with 8 , and Case with 7. Drew also added 400 yards of offense and 6 Touchdowns. Defensively the team caused 27 turnovers, 14 sacks and 42 TFL’s. Jack led the team in Solo Tackles, Sacks and TFL’s. Case led the team in Total Tackles.
Saturdays playoff matchup vs Herlong featured a large contingent of Grizzly fans. In fact, traveling fans significantly outnumbered the Herlong home crowd. Polo Lopez returned to the team which was a welcome relief but Jack June remained unavailable. The Vikings featured several quick players that were difficult to tackle but Loyalton still managed to establish a 14- 0 halftime lead after long touchdowns by Adam Smeltzer and Drew Jordan. Adam went out with injury on the first drive of the second half trying to prevent Herlong’s only score of the day and did not return. Loyalton’s defensive line stifled Herlongs running game and the 14-0 early lead forced the Vikings to pass which was equally unproductive.
Loyalton’s offense struggled a bit in the 3rd quarter as it strove to overcome Adams loss and Case Emsoff’s minor but nagging injuries. However, they continued producing first downs during a long clock chewing drive under Gus Petterson's leadership but stalled in the red zone which led to a highlight field goal by Case. Field goals are extremely rare at this level of football. It was the first by Loyalton in many years and gave the Grizz a 17-6 lead going into the 4th quarter.
Herlong had no answers for the Loyalton defense all day and when the Grizzlies got the ball back Case rose to the occasion, overcoming his discomfort, not for the first time this year and closed the game out with several key first down runs and the final touchdown of the contest. His runs were interspersed with punishing fullback dives by Jed whose style of play never fails to inspire his teammates and demoralize opponents. At that point, all the youngsters got in to play and stopped Herlong’s final frenzied attempt to drive the field and score as the clock wound down. The game was sealed by Clinton Madallena’s interception at the goal line. Connor O’Rourke, Dominic Houdyshell, Nate Jordan and Wyatt Kellner all made key plays on that drive.
Overall, Polo lead the team in tackles while the defense recovered 3 fumbles and netted two interceptions. Those turnovers allowed the offense play ball control and burn clock. Drew led the team in rushing and receiving which garnered him MVP game honors. The win vs Herlong catapults the Grizz to the Northern Section Semi Finals where they faceS the #1 seeded Chester Vocanoes in the aftermath of a snow storm expected to bring 1-3 feet. The game was played Thursday the 10th at 6 PM in Chester instead of the usual Friday night game due to Veterans Day though, Marines in the region will be noting that the 10th is the Marine Corps Birthday. Go Grizz!