CALIFORNIA, Pa. – BR-44 California (Pa.) looked to be in control in their home opener against BR-27 Bloomsburg on a rainy Saturday afternoon inside Adamson Stadium after closing down the vaunted Huskies run game in the first half of the HERO Sports D2 football Game of the Week for Week 2.
And then, they played the second half.
Bloomsburg’s Lawrence Elliott III rushed for nearly 100 of his 166 yards as the Huskies rallied in the second half to defeat California (1-1) 20-17.
The first back-breaker was a 53 yard run towards the end of the first half which led to a Huskies field goal. But, the nail in the coffin was a 24 yard touchdown with 2:40 left which gave Bloomsburg their first – and only – lead of the game.
Left guard John Garland and left tackle Christian Whiteside “got a lot of push” for Elliott on his first half romp.
“It was a great hole for me to run through and I just got as many yards as I could,” Elliott said.
Up until Elliott’s first half run, the Vulcans held Bloomsburg (1-1) to 35 yards rushing through the first 27 minutes of the game. The Huskies finished with 255 yards on the ground for the game.
“They’re Bloomsburg. They run,” said Cal head coach Mike Kellar. “It was the exact same team (in 2006) that I saw today. They have a style, they have a way they play.”
It was in that decisive second half, where the Huskies held the ball for 21:39, a nearly two-to-one advantage over Cal, when the tide turned.
“That helped us work the clock and keep their offense off the field which is a good way to negate a good offense like Cal’s,” Bloomsburg head coach Paul Darragh said.
It was a far cry from last week’s loss to BR-97 Stonehill, where the Huskies were held to 86 yards in a 27-10 loss.
Speaking of far cries, Cal quarterback James Harris, earned PSAC West Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 387 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against BR-61 Virginia State in a 35-16 win.
Against the Huskies, however, Harris went 17-for-33 for 263 yards, three interceptions and no touchdowns.
“We had Kowan on a go route and [Harris] underthrew him twice in the first quarter, then he missed Garry on a corner route,” Kellar said. “He doesn’t miss those pretty often. I fully anticipate him making those throws next week (against BR-81 Shippensburg). It makes him human.”
Harris was also without a key offensive weapon in the second half as senior wideout Garry Brown left the game in the second quarter with a sprained ankle. It also didn’t help matters much that the Vulcans drew 10 penalties for 90 yards after drawing nine flags for 118 yards last week.
After the teams traded three-and-outs to start the game, the Vulcans looked to be in control after James Harris completed a 16 yard pass to Garry Brown, setting up the Vulcans with 1st and 10 at the Bloomsburg 11 after a Bloomsburg face mask penalty.
Harris threw the first of three interceptions as Bloomsburg’s Donovan Morris intercepted a likely touchdown pass in the near corner of the end zone with 11:33 left in the first quarter.
“If we put some scores on them early, where we let it go away, then they have to start throwing the football,” Kellar said. “We let them stay in their game plans. That’s an offensive problem, not a defensive problem.”
After Cal’s defense stopped the Huskies, the Vulcans offense got back on track, thanks to a Brown 34 yard catch and run, eluding several Huskies defenders to bring the Vulcans to the Bloomsburg 13. John Franklin III punched it in from 3 yards up the middle to make it 7-0 Cal with 3:36 left in the first quarter.
The Huskies couldn’t convert on their ensuing possession, allowing Cal to launch a 13 play drive which nearly ended in a touchdown.
The Vulcans were set to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Bloom 11, but a false start penalty on the center pushed Cal back 5 yards, resulting in a 37 yard William Brazill field goal with 8:49 left in the first half to make it 10-0.
The Huskies were driving until a Jordan Lardani strip sack of Tim Kelly; Errol Brewster recovered at the Bloomsburg 41. The Vulcans had a promising drive until a pair of red zone incompletions led to a 33 yard Brazill field goal with 2:53 left in the half.
That would be the last points Cal would score in the entire game.
“We have a corner route open and we miss it. If it’s 20-0, they’ve got no shot,” Kellar said. “They ran the spring draw play, and he breaks it. They know what they’re doing around the football. Now all of the sudden, they’ve got life and they thinking that they’re okay.”
The Huskies, who rallied from a 35 point deficit four years ago at West Chester, started chipping away at the lead.
Elliott broke off a 53 yard run on the first play of the drive, putting the Huskies at the Cal 25. That led to a 35 yard Tyler Smith field goal with 51 seconds left in the half to cut the Vulcans lead to 13-3.
“We were looking for a big play like that last week and we never got it,” Darragh said. “That’s what we were lacking, a spark play on offense or even a big play on defense.”
Two plays later, Miles Williams picked off Harris, only to see Cal’s Chaz Veal intercept Kelly three plays later to close out the half.
The Vulcans defense, which held the Huskies to 35 rushing yards until Elliott’s 53 yard scamper, had no answer for the Huskies defense in the second half.
“We ran a little bit more out of the one-back set (in the second half),” Darragh said. “But we hoped to get that going. That’s the way we’ve been able to win games is to establish the run.”
The Huskies opened the second half with a 13 play drive which lasted nearly six minutes, ending in a Smith 38 yard field goal to cut the Cal lead to 13-6.
On Cal’s ensing possession, Harris threw his third interception of the game, as Tyrik Clary’s interception set the Huskies up at the Cal 42.
Elliott and Joe Parsnik picked apart the Vulcans’ run defense, setting up Kelly’s 1 yard run up the middle after a nine play, 41 yard drive to tie the game 13-13 with 2:42 left in the third quarter.
“When we got points on the board, that just gave them a little more confidence,” Darragh said. “Our style wears on people and I think we were wearing a little on Cal.”
After Cal’s ensuing drive stalled at the Bloomsburg 43, the Huskies drove to Vulcan red zone, only to see Smith’s 25 yard field goal attempt sail wide left, keeping the game tied with 8:24 left.
After a three-and-out in which the Vulcans offense looked lost and disorganized without Brown, the Huskies went back to what made them one of the perennial powers not only in the PSAC, but the entire region.
On a seven play drive with six rush plays, the Huskies took the lead for good with 2:40 left when Elliott ran an outside pattern along the far side to make it 20-13.
The Vulcans attempt to comeback died a painful death, thanks to a pair of sacks by Bloomsburg’s Joe Wetty as Cal turned the ball over on downs at their own 42 with 1:52 left.
The Vulcans got a big break as the Huskies had a three-and-out of their own on the ensuing possession, capped by a Kelly incompletion on 4th and 6. Cal’s comeback effort fell short when, after eight plays, Harris’ pass to Luke Smorey sailed high and out of the back of the end zone, a drive which started when Wetty sacked Harris for the third time.
For the Vulcans, Saturday’s performance was a major letdown from last week’s dominating performance against Virginia State.
“We didn’t do a great job of handling the success,” Kellar said. “They went through a lot of adversity at the end of last year and they’re emotionally spent. They go to Virginia State and things kind of come easier than they should have. All of the sudden, you think ‘okay, I have to be perfect’ to live up to some standard that’s unrealistic to reach.”
We’ll reveal next week’s HERO Sports D2 Football Game of the Week on Wednesday. The only hint we’ll give you: think GLIAC…