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Blue Jays fly to win over Lehighton

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    Lehighton’s Zack Hunsicker gets ready to stiff-arm Central Columbia’s Mason Yorty after making a catch Friday night. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS

Published September 07. 2019 01:09AM

Central Columbia head coach Scott Dennis likes to run the ball.

And opposing teams know that.

So on Friday night against Lehighton, Dennis decided to change things up on offense.

Needless to say, he was pretty happy with the results.

Blue Jays quarterback Garrett McNelis completed his first six passes in the first quarter, three of them for touchdowns, to help lead his team to a 26-0 victory over the Indians.

“I prefer to run the football, but we have to get defenses out of the box,” said Dennis. “We had to loosen them up. That’s why we threw the ball so much in the first quarter.

“(Our receivers) have speed. It’s hard to cover four of them. Sometimes you can cover two, but it’s really hard to cover everybody that we have. They’re weapons for us. We just have to block, and we picked up a lot of blitzes today.”

Lehighton (1-2) was blitzed early in the contest and could simply never recover. After the Indians threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, McNelis completed a 15-yard pass to Garrett Carter before hitting Jacob Reifer with a 10-yard scoring toss.

Less than two minutes later, after having forced a three-and-out, Central Columbia got on the board again. McNelis hit Reifer downfield and the senior receiver broke loose for a 71-yard score and a 13-0 lead.

A promising Lehighton drive followed, but a tipped pass resulted in another pick to end the threat and set up shop for the Blue Jays once again.

Zander Bradley, who had the interception, put his team in the red zone with a 52-yard catch, and Dylan Devlin made it 19-0 moments later when he snared a 17-yard strike from McNelis.

“It was kind of a déjà vu moment there,” said Indian mentor Tom McCarroll. “Last year on our first play (against them) we threw an interception, and today we threw an interception. That certainly didn’t set a very good tone for us, and that starts with me. Things kind of snowballed and we, as coaches, have to put our kids in a better position to be able to bounce back from that.

“We were in a zone, a very simple zone, and they have very good receivers ... We thought we schematically had the things that we needed. But again, when you have things like that kind of go wrong the way they did, as coaches we have to look in the mirror and recognize that we didn’t do a good job of coaching them up, and putting them in the right position.”

While Lehighton’s defense managed to settle down and hold the Blue Jays at bay after that first-quarter onslaught, its offense never really got into a rhythm. It didn’t help matters that the Indians’ starting quarterback, Lucas Sangiuliano, left the game after being injured in the first half.

Things went from bad to worse for Lehighton to start the second half. After stuffing the Blue Jays (2-1) on their first possession of the third quarter, a fumble on the ensuing punt return put the visitors back in the red zone. A penalty took them back out, but that didn’t stop McNelis from throwing his fourth TD of the game — a 27-yard hookup to Bradley that made it 26-0.

“Last week we did a nice job of stopping the run, and we did here as well,” said McCarroll, whose club only allowed 77 yards on the ground. “But they’re a good team, and any good and well-coached team is probably going to be balanced ... They’re good enough in the passing game, and it showed tonight.”

KEEPING THE SHUTOUT ... Lehighton’s best chance to score came midway through the fourth quarter after Jayvan McDowell intercepted a pass. The Indians moved to the 9-yard-line, but Central Columbia came up with an interception — its fifth — in the end zone to preserve the shutout.

STAYING POSITIVE ... Despite the tough night, Coach McCarroll is still optimistic. “I still think the kids can be successful this year ... I think that we still have some tools and some players that really can put some momentum together and maybe get some wins under our belt.”

UP NEXT ... Lehighton will try to get back in the win column Friday when it hosts winless Marian.

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