Clutch defensive performances – in the pressure of overtime in the semifinal and throughout a championship game – carried the Lake-Lehman football and Dallas girls soccer teams to road playoff success on consecutive days last week.
Dallas shut out host Abington Heights, 3-0, Nov. 2 in the District 2 Class 3A girls soccer championship game to advance into state tournament play.
Lake-Lehman reached the District 2 Class 3A football final when it went to Western Wayne Nov. 3 and stopped a two-point conversion attempt a yard short in overtime to post a 27-26 victory.
Abington Heights 0
Rachel Nelligan made 10 saves and got help from the defense as Dallas blanked top-seeded Abington Heights in a battle of teams that went unbeaten in their divisions while taking regular-season championships.
Abington Heights went 12-0 while winning Lackawanna League Division 1. Dallas was 11-0-1 to claim the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 title.
“Our sophomore and junior years, we lost in the semifinals,” Nelligan said. “Basically, we said, ‘this is our last time as seniors to prove that we mean something and that we belong here.’
“We played our hearts out.”
The teams were equal in shots but Nelligan kept Abington Heights from scoring while Samantha Mazula and Hollie Holthaus connected for the Mountaineers.
The Lady Comets had won a 6-2 non-league meeting between the teams Sept. 21, but first-year Dallas coach Nikki Pekarski said she could see the determination in Nelligan before the game.
“She said she wasn’t leaving with anything but a district gold medal around her neck,” Pekarski said. “She said, ‘Listen coach, I’m ready, I’ve never been more focused and I’ve never wanted something so bad in my life.’”
Dallas opened the scoring 13:04 before halftime after Abington Heights was called for handball in the penalty area, giving the Mountaineers a penalty kick that Mazula placed in a top corner.
“We’ve been practicing PKs just in case it happened and the practice really paid off,” Mazula said.
Abington Heights had a shot at the tie later in the half, but Nelligan got a hand on a Hannah Kowalski shot, sending it off the post. Kanisha Cheshire cleared it out of trouble from there.
“Good thing Kanisha was there,” Nelligan said. “She played amazing.”
Mazula helped set up both second-half goals.
The Mountaineers stretched their lead 4:15 into the second half after a Mazula cross was deflected by the defense. Holthaus was there to put it in the net.
Dallas had an 8-4 edge in corner kicks and Mazula sent one toward the front of the net 2:18 later, leading to a goal when it bounced off an Abington Heights player. Pekarski said Kristen O’Malley’s pressure on the play may have contributed to the Lady Comets being unable to play the ball properly.
Western Wayne 26
Western Wayne answered a Lake-Lehman touchdown in overtime, but rather than trying to match the extra-point kick, the Wildcats played for the winning two-pointer.
Trey Borger was there, with some help from his defensive teammates to allow the third-seeded Black Knights escape with a win over the second-seeded Wildcats.
Borger made the hit on a keeper by Western Wayne quarterback Dylan Walck.
T.J. Meehan assisted on the tackle and Josh Durling also helped bring Walck to the ground a yard short on the attempt from the 3. Kaleb Konigus and Matt Kurtz held their ground against double-team blocks on the play to help keep their teammates free to make the stop.
“We knew they were going to run that keeper because they had success on that play in the second half,” Lake-Lehman coach Jerry Gilsky said. “Our kids made one great stop there.”
Western Wayne had rallied with a 10-yard Walck touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to force overtime.
Lake-Lehman got the ball first in the National Federation 10-Yard Line Tiebreaker Procedure.
Kurtz scored on a 6-yard run on third down and Henry Selingo added his third extra point in four tries for what proved to be the winning point.
The Black Knights originally pushed the Wildcats back, but they reacted quickly to coach Randy Wolff’s decision to go for the win after Matt Valanda’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Brumgard.
“I give him so much credit on that call,” said Gilsky, who speculated that he would have made the same decision in the same scenario. “I bet you 90 percent of the coaches wouldn’t make that call.
“As a coach, you want to put your kids in position to get that win.”
Borger and teammates spoiled the play.
The Black Knights did not appear as if they would need such later heroics when Nate O’Donnell scored on two short touchdown runs for a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
Western Wayne closed within 14-13 in the third quarter, but Casey Kaminski answered with a 90-yard kickoff return.
Borger ran for 104 yards on 20 carries to help Lake-Lehman to a 183-83 advantage in rushing yards.
With Dallas poised to host the first two rounds of the District 2 Class 4A playoffs, seventh-seeded Coughlin executed a 75-point turnaround from the season opener to upset the second-seeded Mountaineers.
The Mountaineers had defeated the Crusaders, 54-7, on opening night of the season.
Dallas finished 7-4.
Vincent Todd carried 16 times for 241 yards, including touchdowns of 63 and 98 yards, and returned a punt 62 yards for another touchdown.
“The thing was, they were our first game,” said Jake Cole, who added 160 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. “We had a lot of young starters playing their first varsity game.”
Michael Starbuck passed for 121 yards for Dallas, but was intercepted twice while the Crusaders pounded the Mountaineers, 378-79, on the ground.
Times Leader Media Group writers Rob Tomkavage, Tom Fox, Tom Robinson and John Erzar contributed to this report.
Reach the Dallas Post newsroom at 570-704-3982 or by email at email@example.com.