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Zephs notch first win

Thursday, September 13, 2012 by STEVE ANDRES Special to the Press in Sports

Last Friday's win over Liberty High School by the Zephyr football team was filled with enough subplots to satisfy any number of amateur sleuths.

While it really wasn't a mystery how the Zephs dismantled the Hurricanes 38-19, the plot lines swirling around the game were enough to fill up a good Who-Run-It … er … make that a Who-Done It.

First, it was the Zephyrs home opener and that's always a big deal for a school that's produced a number of renowned football players.

Secondly, it was head coach Brian Gilbert's first win, igniting his stewardship in front of the home crowd.

Thirdly, they avenged last year's 42- 35 loss in the Eastern Conference Championship to the Hurricanes, a team that's been a perennial thorn in their side in the Lehigh Valley Conference.

Finally, they got an important league win that will help them in their quest to reach the playoffs.

As indicated in last week's article, Gilbert stresses getting off to a fast start, whether it's at the start of a game, or the beginning of the second half, he wants his team to seize the momentum and establish the tempo. It was their goal as they entered the game against Liberty.

That was clearly evident as the Zephs wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, capitalizing on a 51-yaard scoring pass from Nick Shafnisky to Nick Sommer on their second series to open the scoring.

Gilbert's own tenure at home also got off to a fast start, defeating a tough league opponent to record his first win, something that will stay with him throughout his life.

"I'll always remember the first one, that's for sure," said Gilbert. "It's great to win any home game, and the crowd was outstanding. All the players noticed how full it was and it really helped."

Gilbert said accomplishing those goals was the key to the game. While they had some bumps in the first half, leading only by seven at the half, the Zephs took the reins and tamed the 'Canes, outscoring them 24-12 in the final two quarters.

Their offensive effort was led by Shafnisky who had a superb game, both on the ground and through the air. The senior signal caller riddled the Liberty defense with his arm for 176 yards and two touchdowns. He was also the main protagonist in the Who-Run-It saga, gaining 182 yards on 19 carries, including two TDs.

Shafnisky credited the offensive line, first for creating running lanes for all the backs, including James Wah who gained 36 yards before leaving with an injury. He was replaced by Ryan Bonshak who also gained 36.

"Up front our line started real well," said Shafnisky. "They opened up huge holes for the running backs."

Still, Shafnisky had to find daylight, and the senior made the most of his opportunities, averaging nearly 10 yards per rush. He also said that their playbook favored his huge night on the ground.

"When I do a fake handoff to Wah, they'll key on him, and that'll usually open up a big hole," said Shafnisky.

And when the 'Canes loaded the box with seven and eight players, Shafnisky burned them with the pass, connecting with Nick Sommer for 160 yards and two scores.

"Nick had an awesome game," said Gilbert. "He was our leading rusher and he threw it well, too.

"He ran the ball tough and physical and made good decisions. He improvised and created things on his own."

Shafnisky was the key to unraveling the mystery of the 'Canes who hoisted last year's EC trophy.

Gilbert also sang the praises of the offensive line which gave Shafnisky ample time to complete his passes.

"They played a well all night," said Gilbert.

Another player who had an impact was Nick Sommer who gave the 'Canes fits every time he handled the ball. e was able to turn short passes into long gains, utilizing his legs as well as his hands.

"Nick Sommer had a great game receiving," said Gilbert. "He made a number of big plays throughout the game. He did a really good job.

In fact, the entire offense did a good job, amassing 512 total yards. They were also able to control the time of possession, nearly doubling the 'Canes in that department.

A lot of that was due to a number of sustained drives that Gilbert said was another key to victory.

"We put some long drives together that took some time off the clock," said Gilbert. "We got them out of their comfort zone and we accomplished that by throwing the ball."

The significance of the win wasn't lost on Shafnisky who was behind center in the championship game.

"That was the last team we lost to," said Shafnisky. "That was big to beat Liberty. It was huge to come out with a win."

While it was a big win, Gilbert still saw areas where they needed to improve. They bogged down in the second quarter, noting they want to maintain that momentum for four quarters.

The Zephs also played solid defense, adding that twist to the plot line. They surrendered only 299 total yards. That effort was led by Jake Kerchner whose highlight reel included a 34-yard touchdown scamper on a recovered fumble. also had nine tackles, including 2.5 for losses.

Bonshak, Zachary Delp and Jacob Wygant also had stellar games, with each player recording a tackle for a loss.

Gilbert said that the defense played well, keeping the 'Canes bottled up and kept them from lighting up the scoreboard.