By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
WILKES-BARRE TWP. – Susquehanna overcame three second-quarter touchdown passes by Holy Redeemer with three fourth-quarter interceptions, including two that the Sabers returned for touchdowns.
Susquehanna picked off consecutive pass attempts twice in the second half while rallying to score the game’s final 25 points in less than 19 minutes for a 39-26, non-league football victory at King’s College’s McCarthy Stadium.
Jesse DeLousia scored four touchdowns and J.J. Rosa intercepted two passes as the Sabers used the win to improve to 3-7 and move up a spot in the seedings for the District 2 Class 2A playoffs, passing Riverside into third. Instead of opening the playoffs against a Lackawanna Trail team it lost to 42-7, Susquehanna goes to Dunmore.
Rosa and Collin Smith scored on fourth-quarter interception returns.
The Sabers moved up by going 3-2 in the second half of the season after starting 0-5 with three losses by a total of five points.
Holy Redeemer’s explosive passing game gave Susquehanna trouble early, putting the Royals ahead by 12 three times.
The Sabers rushed back into the lead.
DeLousia rushed for 166 yards and the pass rush of Smith, sophomore Steven Loby and freshman Rykin Hobart gave the secondary the boost it needed to slow down the Royals.
“We changed a few things up,” Susquehanna coach Kyle Cook said. “We said all week, if we could keep the quarterback in the pocket, if he wasn’t rolling out, we would be in good shape. We thought we could get pressure.
“But early in the game, we weren’t doing that.”
Jacob Hunter passed for 177 yards and touchdowns to 3 different receivers in the second quarter alone before the Sabers improved on getting to the elusive quarterback before he could get the ball to speedy receivers Justice Shoats and Zach Perta.
Holy Redeemer began the second half by using its only significant running success to open the lead to 26-14.
The Royals picked up 80 of their 147 rushing yards in the first four plays of the second half. Christian Leon went 35 yards on the first play, then Josh Wesneski scored on a 42-yard reverse on third-and-seven.
After Holy Redeemer held a 288-177 advantage in total yardage for the game’s first 25½ minutes, Susquehanna had a 183-114 edge the rest of the way, along with the 4 turnovers.
Before the defense could do its part, DeLousia got the comeback started. He carried for 15 and 19 yards on the first two plays of an eight-play, 62-yard scoring drive that he completed by beating a double team to pull in a 23-yard touchdown pass from Colton Stone.
DeLousia, who started the game at receiver and also hurt the Royals as a kick returner, moved to tailback in the second quarter and wound up running for 166 yards and 3 of his touchdowns on 17 carries.
“He’s a kid you can plug in anywhere and he’ll make big plays,” Cook said.
The defense began making the big plays after DeLousia’s third of four touchdowns started the closing 25-point streak.
Rosa’s first interception stopped the next Holy Redeemer possession.
The Royals got the ball back in time to run one play at the end of the third quarter, a sack by Hobart with help from Loby and Carson Williams.
Loby immediately made his way into the backfield on the first play of the fourth quarter, forcing an awkward pass attempt from Hunter that wound up in the arms of Smith in the backfield. The lineman took off for a 16-yard interception return and the tying touchdown.
Holy Redeemer came back with a 14-play drive that reached the Red Zone, but a first-down tackle for a loss by Auston Harvey, with assistance from Smith and Loby, a penalty and a third-down pass pressure from Loby helped force the Royals into turning the ball over on the downs.
“He has a big motor and he’s only going to get better,” Cook said of Loby, who missed some time early in the season. “He’s a hard worker.”
Susquehanna tried one deep pass, which just missed, then turned to DeLousia on the next play.
DeLousia followed Smith’s kick-out block through a huge hole on the left side and sprinted 66 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 5:33 left.
Holy Redeemer still put together two more threats.
The Royals reached fourth-and-one at the Susquehanna 21.
The Sabers defense forced Justice Shoats away from the line on an option attempt. As Shoats approached the sideline, Kameron Sheffer came up from the secondary and was in position to throw the play for a loss and a turnover on downs.
Shoats attempted to flip the ball forward. When he did, J.J. Rosa batted it into the air twice before pulling it in, sidestepping Shoats and running 73 yards for an insurance score with 2:14 left.
The Royals moved back to the Sabers 27, but a Loby sack, with Smith assist, was followed by Spencer Beamer’s clinching interception with 1:11 remaining.
DeLousia’s first two touchdown runs cut into 12-0 and 18-6 deficits in the second quarter.
Smith, Hobart and Loby helped the Sabers take control up front.
“Collin has really taken them under his wing on the defensive line,” Cook said. “He really showed them how to practice a little harder and challenged them to play up to this level.”
In addition to his touchdown, Smith had a sack, another tackle for a loss and finished with four tackles and four assists. Hobart, who finished with four tackles and five assists total, had a sack and two other tackles for losses. Loby combined three tackles, including one for a loss, and two assists with his steady pass rush.
Perta caught 5 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown for Holy Redeemer. Shoats caught 6 for 102 yards and a score along with making eight tackles and assisting on two. They caught touchdown passes of 83 and 62 yards for an 18-6 lead late in the first half.
Louis Lussi intercepted a pass to set up a drive, which he capped by wrestling the ball away from a defender in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown and 12-0 lead.
Early in the game, the Holy Redeemer defense came up with multiple stops to help build the lead.
Susquehanna held the ball for the first seven minutes before Perta broke up a third-down pass in the end zone and the Sabers missed a field goal.
Ryan Bilski made two stops and Wesneski and Perta made one each as the Royals held the Sabers on downs in the Red Zone with the game still scoreless early in the second quarter.
Susquehanna then scored on three straight possessions before the Royals held on downs at the 28 to protect a 26-20 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Owen Boshek broke into the backfield before Jeffrey Kozerski and Shoats made the tackle.
Holy Redeemer allowed at least 30 points in each of the last six games to finish the season 2-8.
Susquehanna had a 26:11-9:49 advantage in time of possession for the first three quarters, but was outscored, 26-20. With the Susquehanna defense scoring two touchdowns, Holy Redeemer had a 10:32-1:28 time of possession lead in the fourth quarter, but was outscored, 19-0.