It will go down in Eisenhower history as "The Drive."
Aaron Lundmark hit Nathan O'Brien with a 13-yard touchdown pass with 0:17 remaining, capping a 15-play, 61-yard drive and lifting the Knights to a thrilling 26-25 Region 2 victory over the Mercyhurst Prep Lakers Friday at Eisenhower High School.
Just two years removed from an 0-10 season, the Knights stamped themselves as Region 2 favorites, knocking off the Lakers and standing alone atop the league standings with a 3-0 region record.
Times Observer photo by Cody Elms
With no time on the clock, Eisenhower’s Aaron Lundmark intercepts a Lakers’ hail mary, to seal the 26-25 Region 2 victory for the Knights on Friday at Eisenhower High School.
Moments after the game, an emotional Eisenhower coach Jim Penley said the magnitude of the victory hadn't yet set in.
"I don't know if I've taken it all in yet," he said. "I just could never imagine being so proud of a group of guys. (Mercyhurst) got up on us in the first half, but these guys came storming back in the second half. There's no way a victory could feel any better."
While he didn't factor in the signature play of the game, Eisenhower running back John Pascuzzi left a definitive mark on the contest. The senior workhorse carried 40 times in Friday's win, chewing up 249 yards. Those totals included eight carries for 37 yards on the game-winning drive.
"We kept our hearts in the game," said a winded Pascuzzi. "This game meant so much to us and we wanted it so bad. We just kept pushing and pushing and pushing."
Lundmark, who had three rushing touchdowns despite negative 18 yards, said the win should prove that the Knights are for real.
"Everybody should know now that we're for real," said Lundmark. "We've shown some stuff in the past couple weeks, but tonight was the exclamation point. After this win, everybody knows what we're capable of."
The opening moments of the game were not indicative of how the remainder of the game would play out. The Lakers (2-2, 2-1 Region 2) took the opening kickoff and marched 61 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 25-yard run from D'Ayrus Davis. Cornelius Barclay's extra point made it 7-0.
Later in the quarter, the Lakers again found themselves deep in Knights territory, but the Ike defense came up with a key play. With Barclay pushing into the red zone, Ike stripped the ball and Lundmark fell on top of it to keep the score at 7-0 through the end of the first quarter.
The momentum of the turnover carried over into Ike's next drive as Pascuzzi clicked off a 46-yard run and - with 9:30 left in the half -appeared to score on an eight-yard touchdown run. Unfortunately for the Knights, holding was called on the play, the touchdown was negated and the drive ultimately stalled at the Lakers 14.
Taking over at its own 14, Mercyhurst needed just two plays - a 27-yard run from Thomas Higgins and a 53-yard run from Barclay - to move to the Knights 6. Two plays later, Lakers quarterback Nick Evanoff tossed a seven-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Swanson and the visitors led 13-0.
Eisenhower's defense set up its first touchdown of the night after Pascuzzi intercepted an Evanoff pass and returned it to the Mercyhurst 13. With 1:21 left in the half, Lundmark scored on a two-yard plunge and O'Brien's extra point made it 13-7 at halftime.
Whatever Penley said at the break resonated with his team as they stormed out of the locker room and turned a six-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Benefited by a late hit call on fourth and goal, the Knights turned the first down into a one-yard touchdown run from Lundmark and the Prep lead was cut to 13-12 with 6:39 left in the third.
The Knights reached into their bag of tricks on the ensuing kickoff, booting the ball short and recovering at the Lakers 39. Richard Knisley recovered for the hosts who quickly moved toward the go-ahead score. Lundmark again provided the scoring play with a one-yard run and the Lundmark to O'Brien two-point conversion pass made it 20-13.
The seven-point lead held deep into the third quarter when the Lakers scored to get within a point. Set up by Daavon Davis' punt return to the Ike 15, Barclay scored on a 12-yard touchdown run. His extra point sailed wide and the Knights clung to a 20-19 lead through three quarters.
After the Barclay score, Eisenhower put together a long drive that chewed over seven minutes off the late third and fourth quarter clock. Despite success moving the ball, Ike turned the ball over on downs at the Lakers 21 with 5:58 left in the game.
The Lakers didn't need long to go ahead. Using a 50-yard run from Barclay as a springboard, Mercyhurst scored the go-ahead touchdown with 4:02 left in the game. The scoring play came on a fourth and six from the Ike 26 as Evanoff hit D'Ayrus Davis with a scoring strike in the front corner of the end zone.
The Lakers missed out on what would prove to be a vital two-point conversion.
That set up The Drive.
Talking to his assistant coaches before the Lakers kickoff, Penley said he and his staff were on the same page as to what direction to point the offense.
"We knew we wanted to get behind our horses and run," said Penley. "We were able to do that and spread a couple timely pass plays in there when we needed to."
The winning touchdown almost never happened. Faced with a fourth and one at the Lakers 14, Pascuzzi rushed into the middle of the line and reached the first down by mere inches. After two straight incompletions, Lundmark hit O'Brien in the center of the end zone with the game winner.
Ike's two-point attempt failed and the Lakers had just 17 seconds to try to set up a go-ahead score. The Lakers used a running play and a pass interference penalty on the Knights to reach the Eisenhower 35 with just one untimed down to play.
Evanoff's pass narrowly reached the end zone, but was picked off by Lundmark who ran out of bounds and ignited the Eisenhower celebration.
The victory over the Lakers wasn't the first for Eisenhower. Penley's Knights topped Mercyhurst Prep, 16-13, during the 2008 campaign.
Eisenhower will try to strengthen its hold on its Region 2 lead Friday when it hosts Cochranton in another crucial league game.
Mercyhurst Prep-Eisenhower Stats
M- D'Ayrus Davis 25 run, 8:42, Cornelius Barclay kick
M- Joseph Swanson 7 pass from Nick Evanoff, 6:44, kick failed
E- Aaron Lundmark 2 run, 1:21, kick failed
E- Lundmark 1 run, 6:39, kick failed
E- Lundmark 1 run, 5:10, Nathan O'Brien pass from Lundmark
M- Barclay 12 run, 0:43, kick failed
M- Davis 26 pass from Evanoff, 4:02, pass failed
E- O'Brien 13 pass from Lundmark, 0:17, pass failed
RUSHING- M- Cornelius Barclay 11 for 152, TD, Thomas Higgins 8 for 62, D'Ayrus Davis 4 for 27, TD; E- John Pascuzzi 40 for 249, Alex Johnson 5 for 18, Coty Cantrell 1 for 3, Aaron Lundmark 5 for -18, 3 TD
PASSING- M- Nick Evanoff 6 of 11 for 83, 2 TD, 2 INT; E- Aaron Lundmark 8 of 21 for 83, TD
RECEIVING- M- Garrett Palmer 2 for 16, D'Ayrus Davis 1 for 26, TD, Joseph Swanson 1 for 7, TD, Cornelius Barclay 1 for 7, Brandon Peebles 1 for 3; E- Nathan O'Brien 4 for 44, TD, Rob Wilston 2 for 11, Alex Johnson 1 for 26, Jake Johnson 1 for 2