Valley snaps, in a good way

ANNVILLE – No matter their amount of skill or the level of
opposition they face, all competitive athletes have one very
important thing in common.

They can only take so much failure and disappointment before
they completely snap.

It took much, much longer than it should have – five and a half
games, to be exact – but Saturday afternoon the Lebanon Valley
College
football team finally snapped.

Down 21-7 at the half and seemingly on its way to yet another
disheartening defeat, the Flying Dutchmen instead finally showed a
glimpse of the team they were supposed to be this season, erupting
for 26 unanswered points on the way to an emotional 33-21
Homecoming triumph over FDU-Florham at jam-packed Arnold Field.

Led by a ferocious defensive effort that limited the visitors to
just two second-half first downs, and four touchdown runs by junior
feature back Ben Guiles after intermission, Valley improved to a
still very disappointing 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the Middle Atlantic
Conference with the come-from-behind win.

But compared to the epic train wreck that was the first five
weeks of the season, Saturday’s performance made Homecoming at LVC
feel more like Mardi Gras.

“The choice we had was to either take it on the chin or punch
back,” said LVC coach Jim Monos. “I think we punched back.”

“We just got after it in there (at halftime),” said Guiles, who
tied an LVC record with his four-touchdown day while racking up 126
yards on 33 carries. “We talked about what we had to do and got it
done.”

It was undoubtedly an unpleasant LVC locker room at halftime
after a dismal first-half performance lowlighted by a 54-yard
interception return for a touchdown by FDU’s Joe Mancini on LVC’s
first possession, and two failed fourth-down conversions deep in
FDU territory. The last of those failures came in the closing
seconds, when wideout Kevin Greene and fullback Alex Kirchner
dropped sure TD passes from Caleb Fick with the Dutchmen poised to
cut their deficit down to 21-14.

Instead, Valley went into the break down two touchdowns and with
steam pouring out of the ears of their normally laid-back head
coach.

“At halftime, I was as frustrated as I think I’ve been for a
long time,” said Monos. “I said to our
football team, ‘If you can look me
in the eye and tell me that we’re playing with our heart and
playing with passion the way we played that first half, then I’m
gonna coach you the best I can. But I gotta believe you’ve got more
in you than that.'”

LVC did. Particularly the defensive unit, which – like the rest
of the team – had underachieved mightily through the first five
weeks. The low point came a week ago in a come-from-ahead 35-28
overtime loss to Wilkes.

This week, though, the Flying Dutchmen “D” was simply
impenetrable in the second half, allowing just 33 total yards, the
two first downs (both in the final minutes of play) and coming up
with two critically important interceptions.

The biggest of those picks came from free safety Jur’ey Fowlkes
late in the third quarter and completely and permanently turned the
momentum in LVC’s favor.

With LVC still down 21-7, Fowlkes stepped in front of a wobbly
pass from FDU QB Matt Jeffers at the FDU 37 and sped all the way to
three-yard line. Three plays later, Guiles crashed in from four
yards out for the first of his four TDs and Brittany Ryan added the
extra point to make it a 21-14 game with 2:11 left in the
third.

“I knew there had to be a big play, somebody had to make a big
play,” said Fowlkes. “So I took my opportunity when I saw it and I
made the play. Once we got that going it felt like we were back in
it. We kept working, and people started making more plays.”

Linebacker Jason Gigous made the next big defensive play,
snaring an errant Jeffers toss early in the fourth that set Valley
up at the FDU 25.

What followed was a choppy but effective drive that wrapped up
when Guiles plowed in from the 1 on a third-and-goal play with
10:11 left in the game. But Ryan’s extra-point try clanked off the
left upright, allowing FDU (3-3, 0-3 MAC) to keep a narrow 21-20
lead.

By that point, though, there was little doubt that the game was
LVC’s for the taking. That sentiment was due to an LVC defense that
not only elevated its own play but also raised the level of the
struggling offense by providing superb field position throughout
the second half.

“They certainly did,” said Guiles, to the suggestion that LVC’s
defense turned the game around. “The defense boosted the offense.
We fed off their emotion.”

LVC’s offense kept snacking on said emotion the rest of the way,
using another defensive stop as the impetus for a game-winning,
six-play, 57-yard drive that culminated with another one-yard dive
from Guiles with 4:10 left. The Columbia grad would later add an
insurance TD on an eight-yard run with 1:37 to go.

The go-ahead score was set up by a bizarre 29-yard hookup
between Fick and tight end Brendan Riley on a play that started
with the shotgun snap hitting Fick in the leg and ended with Riley
snaring an up-for-grabs throw in the middle of the field and
barreling down to the 1.

Maybe it was a little dumb luck coming LVC’s way at the right
time. Or maybe, for the first time this year, the Dutchmen just
made their own breaks.

“My gosh, that (second half) was the best half of
football we’ve played all year,”
said Monos.

If only the Dutchmen had snapped a little earlier in the
season.