By Nathan Mayberg
GRAHAMSVILLE October 17, 2006 There was no doubt about the determination of the host Tri-Valley Bears in their non-league football game against the undefeated Chester Hambletonians on Saturday afternoon.
Amid the cool autumn air, the Bears prevailed, 20-14, in an action-filled contest by using heart, guts and perseverance.
No play exemplified their effort more than a second half run by senior co-captain Kyle Byrne. On a seemingly ordinary running play for up the middle, Byrne gained 17 yards with three Chester defenders on his back. Byrne’s courageous play was indicative of the performance by the entire T-V team.
Byrne went on to rush for 120 yards on 28 carries. Fellow running back Brendan Musa was equally sharp, totaling 93 yards on 19 carries.
T-V sophomore quarterback Dustin VanLieu had an outstanding game, throwing two touchdown passes and running for another. He scored the first points on the game on a 1-yard run in the first quarter and connected with senior wide receiver Max Fiedler on a 9-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
The game-winning score was an exhilarating 3-yard pass from VanLieu to wide receiver Kevin Drown with just 1:17 remaining in the game.
But it all started on defense for T-V, which improved its record to 5-2 with the victory.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 14-14, senior defensive back Gary North jumped into the air at the 45-yard line to intercept a pass by Chester quarterback Joe Salthouse. The interception set up what would become the Bears’ game-winning drive.
Drown also made the last defensive stop in the game shortly thereafter. With the Hambletonians attempting to mount a comeback, Drown caused a fumble by knocking a pass out of the hands of wide receiver Darren Mann.
Drown then recovered the ball, with 43 seconds left to seal T-V’s fifth victory of the season and hand Chester (6-1) its first defeat this autumn.
T-V was tenacious on defense throughout the afternoon. Their players combined on nearly every tackle. Byrne was among the Bears who stood out on the defensive side of the ball.
Co-captain Garrett Grey was also a key part of the T-V defense. The squad’s ability to stop the Hambletonians on several fourth and short plays was integral to the team’s victory.
And when he wasn’t running the ball himself, Byrne made some big blocks for Musa and VanLieu.
Chester Coach Ron Stover took a few chances by going for it on fourth downs, but his team was never able to convert on those attempts. Twice, his team faked the punt but gave up good field position in the process.
In the second quarter, the turnover on downs led to T-V’s second scoring drive. The Bears took a 14-0 lead after that play and seemed to be in command of the contest until the subsequent kickoff.
Mann returned the ball 72 yards all the way down the left sideline for a touchdown. In a matter of seconds, it was an eight-point game. It would have been a 14-7 game, but the stingy T-V defense gang-tackled the Hambletonians’ ballcarrier on the 2-point attempt.
With the momentum of that key stop, the Bears charged down the field with less than a minute left until halftime. As time expired, VanLieu threw a 29-yard bomb to Fiedler, who dove to catch the ball near the goal line. The referees placed the ball at the 1-yard line, thus putting an end to the half with the score 14-6 in favor of the Bears.
It was hard to believe VanLieu is just a sophomore as he displayed brilliant instincts and superb fortitude. He ran the ball through defenders and kept going after taking some hard hits. He also read the defense extremely well, breaking out for a key first down in the second half.
Chester’s offense was paced by senior running back Mike Schmidlein. He ran for 154 yards on 31 carries, including a 3-yard TD in the third quarter. Mann caught the 2-point pass from Salthouse following
Schmidlein’s score to knot the game at 14-14.
First-year T-V Coach John Rusin was understandably proud of his squad.
“We were able to maintain our focus in adverse situations,” he said.
Rusin noted the team’s performance against Chester was in direct contrast to the previous week’s loss at Eldred, when the players got down after some tough plays and turnovers. Versus the Hambletonians, the Bears controlled the clock with their running game and didn’t let turnovers drag them down.
T-V has suffered some key injuries this year. Senior fullback Kevin Smith is on injured reserve while the team awaits an MRI on his knee and quarterback Charlie Edwards was knocked out for the season last month with a knee injury.
Despite all the setbacks, the Bears are a resilient group that is playing well at the right time of the season.
After the game, Stover gave credit to the Bears.
“They deserve it. They wanted it, we didn’t,” he said.
He defended his attempts to capture multiple first downs on fourth downs, explaining that he counted on his players being able to pick up that short yardage.
“They didn’t deserve to win if they couldn’t convert those [plays],” Stover commented.