LOYSBURG - Northern Bedford's outstanding 2012 football season ended in disappointing heartbreak Friday night.
The Black Panthers overcame four turnovers in regulation to tie their District 5-A semifinal playoff game with North Star just two minutes before time expired, and force overtime. But Northern Bedford fell victim to a blocked conversion kick in the second overtime period that proved pivotal as North Star punched its third straight berth in the district championship game with a 21-20 victory at the Northern Bedford Community Stadium.
Northern Bedford, which entered the playoffs as the district's top seed, closed the books on a 9-2 season. Two-time defending District 5-A champ North Star (10-2) meets the winner of tonight's Berlin Brothersvalley-Windber game in the district title game next weekend.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Northern’s Duelin Douglas, Drew Gartland, Wes Foor and Jourdan Miller react to the loss.
"It was a great season,'' Northern Bedford coach Jeff Batzel said in the aftermath. "Sometimes, little things make a difference. In the second overtime, we both scored. But they blocked our extra point, and we didn't get theirs.''
With the score tied at 14-14 entering the second overtime, Northern Bedford got first possession and also took its first lead of the night when 6-4 senior tight end Tayler Pressel outjumped a North Star defender in one-on-one coverage in the left corner of the end zone to haul in junior quarterback Blake Over's third-down, 7-yard touchdown pass.
Ahead, 20-14, Northern saw its collective toes get stubbed when a higher-than-average center snap and North Star's strong line surge created a block of junior Jonas Bequeath's conversion kick.
North Star, the third seed in the district, used junior running back Thomas Miller's 1-yard touchdown slice off left tackle on fourth down to tie the game, 20-20. After North Star was penalized five yards for having too many players on the field, Batzel called a timeout in an attempt to ice junior kicker Brantley Rice on the all-important conversion kick.
It didn't work. Rice booted the 25-yard kick through the uprights with room to spare to give North Star another spot in the district championship game.
"Our players came through when they had to,'' North Star coach Stacy Schmitt said. "Our guys kept their composure, just like they have all year.''
Miller, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound bulldozer, kept his legs churning through defenders on a big six-yard, third-down run that carried the ball to the 1 before he slid into the end zone for the tying touchdown.
"Our offensive players just looked at each other and knew we had to get it done,'' said Miller, who rushed for 127 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns. "We all had confidence in one another. I knew it was on my shoulders after that first run to carry it home on the second.''
Northern Bedford had a golden opportunity to win the game in the first overtime. North Star took possession of the ball first, and a 21-yard field-goal attempt by Rice never got off the ground as the holder couldn't control the snap.
Northern took over at the 10, and on second down, Over's pass was intercepted by sophomore Tevin Mostoller on the right flat.
Bequeath is one of the strongest kickers in the area, but Batzel had no second thoughts about not attempting to win the game right away in the first overtime with what would have been a 27-yard field goal attempt. He played the higher-percentage hand instead. It just didn't work out.
"Not on second down,'' Batzel said when asked if he entertained thoughts of kicking the field goal. "We wanted to take our shots with a pass and maybe a run before kicking it on fourth down. There are no guarantees with a field goal try there, anyway. Our later one was blocked.''
It was the proverbial game in which it was a shame one team had to lose. Northern certainly gave its best effort, pulling into a late fourth-quarter tie when senior wideout Jourdan Miller pulled down Over's 58-yard pass to give the Black Panthers a first down at the North Star 11 and set up senior fullback Caleb Ebersole's 3-yard touchdown run with 2:01 remaining. Bequeath's conversion kick tied the score, 14-14 and forced overtime.
"Our kids have been resilient all year,'' Batzel said. "That was a great throw by Blake down the sideline, and Jourdan Miller ran a good route and made a great catch.''
Ebersole also accounted for Northern's first touchdown by taking a middle screen from Over 64 yards to the end zone with 7:56 left in the first half that tied the score, 7-7.
North Star scored first, when 6-5 senior wideout Tony Strasiser turned quarterback Joey Berkebile's slant pass into a 52-yard scoring play with 1:18 left in the first quarter. The Cougars grabbed a 14-7 lead at intermission when Miller raced 17 yards with 5:45 remaining in the first half.
Batzel will miss this group of graduating Northern Bedford seniors.
"They were happy, laid-back, and so much fun to coach,'' he said, pointing out that Northern Bedford has won 28 games over its past three seasons. "They had a lot of enthusiasm for football.''
SCORE BY QUARTERS
North Star7 7 0 0 0 7 - 21
Northern Bedford7 7 0 7 0 6 - 20
NS-T. Strasiser 52 pass from Berkebile (B. Rice kick), 1:18.
NB-Ebersole 64 pass from Over (Bequeath kick), 7:56.
NS-T. Miller 17 run (B. Rice kick), 5:45.
NB-Ebersole 3 run (Bequeath kick), 2:01.
NB-T. Pressel 7 pass from Over (kick failed).
NS-T. Miller 1 run (B. Rice kick).
RUSHING: North Star-T. Miller 29-127, D. Rice 4-16, T. Strasiser 1-5, Costas 5-1, Berkebile 5-(-19). Northern Bedford-Kagarise 23-64, Ebersole 3-5, Over 4-(-20).
PASSING: North Star-Berkebile 3-7-0-78, T. Strasiser 0-2-0-0, B. Rice 0-1-0-0. Northern Bedford-Over 12-22-3-260.
RECEIVING: North Star-T. Strasiser 2-61, R. Miller 1-17. Northern Bedford-Z. Pressel 5-77, Ebersole 3-115, T. Pressel 2-4, J. Miller 1-58, Diehl 1-6.
INTERCEPTIONS: North Star-Albright, B. Rice, Mostoller.