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.