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RIVALS SERIES: Leslie uses return game to beat rival Stockbridge, force return of traveling trophy

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, September 28, 2019, 3:27 pm

LESLIE — It started with a return, then continued to a second day with a return. 

And when Saturday’s game resumption ended with Leslie holding off a late Stockbridge rally to win 32-20 in the 114th meeting between the two rivals, the traveling trophy returned to the home sideline. 

That allowed the Blackhawks to take it over to the fence line and sing the fight song with the alumni gathered there. 

“Oh, man … this is the first time I’ve experienced it, but it’s something special,” said Leslie junior Nolan Frohriep, who had a pair of return scores in the game. “Do the same thing next year.”

In all, the Blackhawks (2-3) forced five turnovers — two of which they turned into instant points with by returning interceptions for touchdowns — and recorded four quarterback sacks, avenging last year’s 48-20 loss to a Stockbridge (0-5) team that hasn’t won since. 

“It’s the best thing in the world,” said senior James Tow of the celebration. “I think the boys were ready this morning.”

The Blackhawks jumped out to a 15-0 first-quarter lead Friday night on Frohriep’s return of the opening kickoff, a 2-point conversion run by Tow, and an interception return by Carter Coltrain. Repeated lightning strikes in the area forced officials to suspend the game as the teams were lining up for the first play of the second quarter, though, and the two teams to return at 9 a.m. Saturday to resume the contest. 

“In our program, we practiced in the mornings in camp, and we come in on Saturday mornings after a Friday night game. So to me, it wasn’t any different, and that’s what we kind of said going into it,” first-year Leslie coach Greg Pscodna said. “We said, ‘Hey, we do this every week. We’re just going to play football on Saturday morning, instead of running and lifting.’ I think our kids were ready. I think last night helped a lot. As a coach, you’re always leery, and you don’t sleep at night, because you’re thinking about all the changes that can be made.”

For all that there were 52 points scored, it was somewhat of a defensive contest, as the Blackhawks slowed the Panthers with turnovers and sacks, and the Stockbridge defense kept the Leslie offense out of the end zone for the first three quarters.

“I felt we could hit the reset button today. Last night — yeah, we got off to a rough start. … So it was like the most miserable way to start a football game. … After that, we played pretty even with them. Today, we came out and did some very nice things, looked much sharper. The intensity was much better for us today. But yeah, we can’t just wait to the end, and score 20 points in the fourth quarter. That doesn’t work,” Stockbridge coach Jeremy Killinger said. “Our defense played phenomenal … We gave up two pick-sixes, and they scored one on our defense and kicked a field goal. Our defense had two goal-line stands. We stoned them inside the 10 twice. Defensively, it was great. We have to build off that, but we’ve just gotta take care of the ball better, offensively.”

The Blackhawks intercepted Stockbridge twice in the final two minutes of the first half — the second pickoff on a Hail Mary as time expired — to keep it an 18-0 lead at the time.

But they couldn’t add to the lead.

“Yeah, it was probably more me being ultraconservative on offense, and maybe not calling some plays that we could’ve called, just thought ‘Hey, can we get out to halftime?’ Then the second half, I called some bad plays, and they made some plays. I tried to get greedy here or there, but our kids responded, and that’s high school football,” Pscodna said. “That was the key that we were able to get it in (in the fourth). … We’d gotten it down there, but we gotta do a better job at the goal line, and go for touchdowns, and not go for field goals. … Once we get inside the 20 or 25, I know we’ve got a great shot at three (points), but we’ve gotta get the ball in the end zone.”

A fumble recovery netted them three more first-half points, as Garrett Mays hit a 19-yard field goal in the second quarter, but Leslie wouldn’t score again until Frohriep returned a third-quarter interception for a score to make it 25-0. 

“If we can give our offense a break … I’ll take that,” said Frohriep, who was almost as untouched on that return as he was on the first one of the game, when he broke one tackle and had a sea of green in front of him. “I mean, I seen the gap. When I catch it, I usually just have the feeling I can take it back. I just hit the guy with a spin move, and I just seen open space. I was just able to take it back.”

The returns were a huge break for an offense that netted just 224 yards, and was stopped inside the 10 twice, settling for field goals twice, and having one blocked.  

“Very big, because we were a little shaky on offense, so the defense really picked us up, gave us energy, and everything. Made it easier,” said Coltrain, who rushed for 25 yards and threw for 104 at quarterback for Leslie, 51 of them coming on a fourth-quarter pass to Trevor Huttenlocker that set up a 2-yard TD run by Jarrett Chappell to all but seal the game. “It (the touchdown) kind of felt good, because we’ve been struggling for a couple of weeks offensively now, so that was kind of a relief off our shoulders, knowing that we can drive down the field on some pretty decent teams, and punch it in.”

Before Chappell’s clinching touchdown, Stockbridge made it a 25-12 game, scoring on consecutive plays from scrimmage. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Brandon Nelson hit Josh Lewis with a 60-yard pass, setting up Nelson’s 2-yard run to get the Panthers on the board. After an onside kick attempt by Stockbridge failed, Jeremy Pilch intercepted a Leslie pass and returned it 45 yards for a score to cut it back to a two-score game. 

“I’m mad at myself more than anything. … I give my kids credit that we gutted it out,” Pscodna said of the play call. “That’s the key with the quarterback — you’ve gotta get pressure and we did, but we gave up some big plays. That’s kind our season this year. It’s either feast or famine. We either play really well, and contain people, and then all of a sudden, they hit a 50-yarder, or a big play, or a big run. If we can eliminate those plays down the stretch, who knows what can happen?”

Nelson would finish with 300 yards on the button, hitting Pilch with a 17-yard touchdown pass with 54 seconds left for the final score, then running in the 2-point conversion. When he had time, the Panthers moved the ball well, but Leslie did a good job of ramping up the pressure. 

“I’m stoked. … It was pretty hard (to come back). I got up at 5 this morning, and was just groggy, but once we started getting here, we were just on it,” said Leslie junior defensive tackle Nick Carey, who was instrumental in providing pressure. 

And, boy, was it ever fun.

“Oh, yes. We have a lot of friends over there, so it’s kind of like working the whole season, just to beat that team,” Coltrain said. “Felt great. We worked hard the whole season, and it just kind of pays off, you know?”