Coach Mike Schuback jumped in the arms of big lineman Ryan Paulish as the senior said words that no one would have argued with.
“We shocked the state, Coach,” Paulish said.
The Old Forge Blue Devils did just that.
Senior tailback Brandon Yescavage had another big game, rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns as the District 2 champ upset undefeated and No. 1-ranked Southern Columbia, 19-14, at Shamokin’s Kemp Memorial Stadium.
Old Forge moves into next week’s quarterfinals to play District 11 champion Schuylkill Haven, which knocked off Bristol on Friday to advance. The game will be played at 7 p.m. Friday at Blue Mountain.
“I believe we can play with anyone in the state, and I think we proved it tonight,” Old Forge quarterback Jake Manetti said. “Nothing went our way in the first quarter, and we just had to stay focused. We knew if we kept that focus, things would start going our way.”
It didn’t look good, to be honest.
Southern (12-1) took advantage of some timely calls and time-consuming drives to build a 14-0 lead after the opening quarter.
Usually, when the Tigers jump out like that, it’s ballgame.
Then again, they probably didn’t face a running back like Yescavage all season
“Brandon is a workhorse. He’s an amazing running back,” Paulish said. “And we were confident that we would stop them on that last drive to win the game. Coach reassured us at halftime that we were going to come back and win this game. We bought into everything he said. We love him like a father and we knew we could win this game. Maybe we shocked people tonight, but we always believed we would win this game.”
Old Forge was sensational defensively, holding Southern scoreless for the remaining three quarters and buckling down in the season’s biggest moment.
Yescavage’s 50-yard sideline tip-toe run gave Old Forge a 19-14 lead with six minutes left.
Southern, though, didn’t back down. The Tigers started at their own 20 and converted a big third down and even-larger fourth down to put themselves in position, driving all the way down to the Old Forge 15.
The District 4 champ never reached the end zone as the Blue Devils stopped two runs and forced two incomplete passes.
“I thought that their defense was the biggest key in this game,” Southern head coach Jim Roth said. “We took advantage of some things that went our way in the first quarter, and then, we can’t score for the next three quarters. We just couldn’t get enough consistency to turn those drives into touchdowns. It’s tough to win when you are shut out for three quarters.”
Yescavage was his normal self.
He busted an 80-yard run in the second quarter, and added a short 3-yard burst with 17 seconds left in the first half to trim Southern’s lead to 14-13 at halftime.
“Right now, I feel like I am on top of the world,” the tailback said. “My line is so amazing. I can’t give those guys enough credit.”
Southern finished with 303 yards, while Old Forge almost racked up 300 yards offensively.
“This is like a good old-fashioned rivalry we have with these guys,” Schuback said. “We finally got them after they beat us a few times. Honestly, I don’t think these kids care who they have to play next. They believe we have the team to get this done.
“Brandon, I can’t say enough about him. Big-time players make big time plays in games like this. And he made a few of them tonight.”