Zephs win, but also miss opportunities
While the Zephyrs walked out of J. Birney Crum Stadium with a win last Friday night, head coach Brian Gilbert felt the game served as a cautionary tale.
"It was a lot of missed opportunities, that's the headline," said Gilbert after their 28-19 win over Allentown Central Catholic High School. "We didn't capitalize on the opportunities we had."
One of those missed opportunities looked like a surefire touchdown when Saquon Barkley caught a short pass and raced 76 yards through the Viking defense, only to drop the ball at the one-yard line, resulting in a touchback once the ball scooted out of the end zone.
That score would have given the Zephs some breathing room in a tight Lehigh Valley Conference battle that had Whitehall leading 14-13 at the time.
And no one knew that more than Barkley whose usually ebullient nature was a bit subdued after the gaffe.
"I was dumb, I should have ran to the back of the end zone," said Barkley. "It was a mistake on my part."
Barkley said he thought he was over the end zone when he tossed the ball to the official, and that lapse in judgment had the potential to be a game-changer, with ACC taking advantage of that mishap, driving to the Zephyr 18-yard line before Fouad Haddad stopped them on a fourth and three.
Not much needed to be said after that play, but it was still points taken off the board for the Zephs.
"He's got to hand the ball to the official," said Gilbert. "He knows that. That's a coaching point I haven't coached him up on, so I'll take the responsibility for that. He knows now, after that, that he has to hand the ball to the official so there's no discrepancy that he crossed the plane."
When the Zephs got the ball back after their defensive stand, Gilbert went right back to his stellar running back. Barkley quickly made amends, needing only two plays, covering 82 yards on their ensuing possession to give them that two-score cushion.
"I knew that he wanted to make amends for it, and he sure did," said Gilbert. "He had two runs and was gone."
For his part, Barkley couldn't wait to take the field again on offense.
"I was so upset," said Barkley. "I just said to myself, when I touch the ball, I'm going to score. My line made great blocks, gave me great holes, and I just ran through them."
And this time he ran through the back of the end zone.
While a play like that will bring the most scrutiny, Barkley's other 25 touches spoke even more loudly, finishing the game with 319 total yards against the Vikes. He had five rushes over 15 yards, his longest the 57-yard romp that put the nail in the coffin. He now has 1,005 rushing yards on the season, including 16 TDs.
He also should have charged the Viking defenders a transportation fee, as he carried many ACC tacklers with him en route to his 219 yards on the ground.
He helped the Zephs (6-1) stay atop the LVC, tied with Parkland, Easton, and Emmaus who each have one loss.
The Zephs bolted out to an early lead, with Barkley scoring on a 14-yard run. That six-play drive saw a steady diet of Barkley and Bonshak, the latter finishing the game with 61 yards.
Quarterback Jeff Charles spread the ball around to six different receivers, finishing the game 10-of-20 for 207 yards. Besides Barkley who caught three passes for 100 yards, Darius Young was also a threat on the outside, hauling in four passes for 61 yards.
Still, it was another missed opportunity, this time in their passing game, that served as a cautionary note. With Whitehall driving to the CCHS 18-yard line in the second quarter, Charles was picked off by Ryan Beville who raced 90 yards for the score.
The Zephs also fumbled the ball at midfield to start the fourth quarter that set up a Viking score.
With the Zephs dominating the Vikes in total yards (513 to 254), those plays kept Allentown Central Catholic in the game.
That's when the defense bailed them out of those precarious situations, with Haddad anchoring the middle of the line. His stop of quarterback Mason Kholi on that crucial fourth down turned the tide.
"It was a combination of me and my teammate Danny Roustic," said Haddad. "He actually made the initial stop and I was just there to finish him off."
Central was able to convert a number a few fourth downs, but Haddad said stopping them in those situations is just a mindset.
"You just have to be stingy," said Haddad. "If they have a sense of urgency, especially when they get in the red zone, cause they only have a certain amount of space, then you just have to execute."
That defensive effort allowed them to walk away with the win.
"Our defense made plays when they needed to," said Gilbert. "Central had a good game plan, and we made some plays when we needed to."
The defense also relied on the play of Jacob Buskirk (6 tackles,), Kerchner (5 tackles) and Bonshak (5 tackles) who kept the Viking offense from making that big play.
With the Green Hornets traveling to Zephyr Stadium next week, Gilbert knows his team will have to clean up.
"We can't leave opportunities out on the field like we did tonight," said Gilbert "We can't have touchdowns taken off the board, and we can't have pick sixes, and we can't have drive-killing penalties.
"We'll prepare, and then be ready for next week."
Barkley also knows that they have areas they still need to address.
"We have to come out and play better," said Barkley. "We are a way better team than we showed today. We have a great team coming against us next week, and we cannot come into the game with the attitude we came in tonight. We have to step it up and play to the best of our ability."
Haddad also said it was about learning from this tight LVC contest.
"We have to go back to work Sunday night, see what we did wrong, and obviously we can do a lot better than we did tonight," said Haddad.