Falcons fall to JT in EC title game
The Salisbury football team hadn’t gotten off to many fast starts this season. The Falcons had been a second-half team for much of the fall campaign.
But on Friday night in their first playoff game in two seasons, the Falcons raced out to a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Jim Thopre, however, was able to respond.
The Olympians scored 21 unanswered points and never trailed the rest of the way. They held off Salisbury in the fourth quarter for a 41-26 win in the Class 3A Eastern Conference championship game.
“It was a back-and-forth game, and they pulled away at the end,” Salisbury head coach Andy Cerco said. “Give credit to them. They made some really good plays, and we had kids there. I think we had a third-and-nine and our cornerback was right on their [tight end]. We swatted at the ball, and their kid caught the ball. That’s how it works.”
With Jim Thorpe clinging to a 34-26 lead, the Olympians got the ball deep in their own territory with just under seven minutes left to play. Not only did Jim Thorpe eat up nearly five minutes of the clock, Salisbury’s defense couldn’t come up with a key defensive stop.
Faced with a third-and-nine on their own 18-yard line, Olympian quarterback Davier Calcano lobbed a perfect pass to tight end Collin Binder that went for 30 yards and kept the clock moving. The pass was just over the outstretched hands of Falcon cornerback Timmy Buda.
“With their tendencies, we had it that they were going to throw a play-action pass,” Cerco said. “We were all aware that it was a play-action pass. We were there. It was a great throw.”
Jim Thorpe running back CJ Selby ran for a 41-yard gain two plays later, and two plays after that, Selby scored from four yards out to put the game out of reach by a score of 41-26 with 1:59 to play.
A pass from Salisbury quarterback Quintin Stephens was tipped in the end zone and intercepted by Ethan Gavornik. He was quickly tackled and lost the fumble in the end zone, which would have resulted in a Salisbury touchdown. Instead, a facemask call brought the ball out to Jim Thorpe’s 35-yard line where the Olympians ran out the clock.
“That was a great start,” Cerco said. “I think that’s the thing that we need to focus on, that when we get into a situation where we are up two scores to capitalize on that and put it away.
“I feel like we could have put this one away early, but they did a great job of having that vision for them and coming back to score a couple touchdowns.”
Salisbury came out of the gates running. Buda scored on the Falcons’ first possession on a 9-yard run around the right side.
After a quick Jim Thorpe punt, Chad Parton returned the ensuing punt 72 yards for a quick 14-0 lead not even six minutes into the game.
But Jim Thorpe had an answer. Dom Madera scored from 10 yards out on Jim Thorpe’s next drive to cut Salisbury’s lead in half. Then, after a quick three-and-out from the Falcons, Selby capped a six-play drive with a 26-yard touchdown run to the tie the game late in the first quarter.
Salisbury turned the ball over on downs on its next drive, and it didn’t take long for the Olympians to tack onto their total. Madera took the first handoff of Jim Thorpe’s third drive 61 yards to the house to tie the game with 8:27 left in the half.
The Falcons got within 21-20 after Stephens hit Buda on a 30-yard touchdown pass late in the half to give Salisbury back the lead.
The teams would exchange touchdowns in the second half. After Calcano scored on a 7-yard keeper to give Jim Thorpe the lead, at 27-20, Stephens hit Parton to get Salisbury within a point after the failed two-point conversion.
Two plays later, Calcano hit Noah Snisky on a flee-flicker pass for a 53-yard touchdown to put the Olympians back in front.
“And they had the reverse pass that they threw,” said Cerco. “We had our free safety standing right next to their receiver. They were just standing there together, and their kid caught the ball and we didn’t. That’s how the game works. It was a tight game all the way through.”
It may be a bit early to look into the future, but the Falcons will return plenty of talent in 2020 during the first year of the Colonial League and Schuylkill League scheduling cooperative.
“We qualified for a playoff game,” Cerco said. “We came up here and it was a competitive game all the way through. I think our kids took a step in maturing as athletes.
“We have some skill players coming back. We have some freshmen and sophomores that are going to develop well. And I think our entire offensive line comes back. It should put us in a good position in the future here.”