By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
The Lakeview Bulldogs are were in the same spot a couple seasons ago that the Jefferson Falcons find themselves in now; replacing a large graduation class giving younger players picked a great deal of experience.
That experience has propelled the Bulldogs into first place in the All-American Conference this year with the maturation at the skill positions on both sides of the ball. The Falcons are gaining much needed experience this season, but the differences showed from the start at Falcon Pride Stadium on Friday night as Lakeview scored quickly in the second period to open a lead, made several big plays to keep the Falcons at bay, and broke the game open in the third period for a 34-13 win.
Paced by tailback Michael Mannella and quarterback Angelo Marino in the early going, Lakeview took control of the line of scrimmage and tallied on the first play of the second period from 1 yard out on Mannella’s first of three touchdowns.
Marino scored again in the second period, and the Bulldog defense did their part late in the second period by stopping a first and goal situation for the Falcons.
Jake Pishotti’s return of the second half kickoff for 70 yards, to the Falcon 16, set the tone for the third period as the Bulldogs closed out the game by taking advantage of big plays for three quick strikes.
“I thought we left a few plays on the field in the first half,” Lakeview coach Tom Pavlansky said. “We had some early success moving the ball, but you have to give credit to Jefferson for being one tough team. They’re improving fast, but I can’t say enough about our kids for battling back when we were challenged. More than anything else, we used our experience wisely. Jefferson is where we were a couple years ago, and they will be just fine.”
Lakeview used a punishing ground game to control the tempo much of the time. Mannella ripped through the Falcon defense for 164 yards on 21 carries and three scores. Marino added 64 yards on 10 carries as Lakeview (4-3, 4-0 in AAC) ground out 299 yards on 46 carries.
Their experience in the trenches also showed. They limited Jefferson freshman tailback Jeremiah Knight to 57 yards on 17 carries and gave up only 106 yards on 33 tries for the entire game.
Several near misses on plays in the first half cut into Jefferson (2-5, 1-3 in AAC) efforts, but the big plays in the third period were the back breakers.
“They’ve got a pretty good team over there at Lakeview,” Falcon coach Jimmy Henson said. “They are exactly what we thought they were, a team that can run the ball and not make many mistakes. There’s a very good reason that they are in first place and are the best team in our league. Their kids made some big time plays. I’m really proud of my kids, though. We made some plays, too. We were close several times, I’ve said it all year, but we’re still getting better as a team.
“That’s hard for some people to see with the results we’ve had, but our young kids are where their experienced kids were a couple years ago. I’m proud of how we’ve improved since the start of the year.”
The Falcons tried to cut the gap in the fourth period.
Down 34-0 early in the fourth, Jefferson started from their own 16 after a punt. Three runs gained a first down at the 26 yard line, and Lucas Hitchcock rolled right, found Cole Erdel deep and alone along the right sideline, and Erdel did the rest for the first Falcon score of the night with 10:53 left to play.
Knight capped an 11-play, 68-yard drive with 2:37 left to play
“The kids are giving me all they have,” Henson reiterated. “We’ll just get ready for another tough game next week at Champion. Our goal now it to finish 5-5. It won’t be easy, but if these kids keep getting better like they have, it’s a good possibility for us.”
Hitchcock finished 13-of-24 passing effort for 170 yards, with Erdel grabbing 6 of those completions for 127 yards.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.