by Jody Kessler
LaSalle has been pained by slow starts recently, but they get there act together in the second half and win. This was the case Saturday against Easton in the first round of the state playoffs. A rematch of last year’s game, it was played at Northeast, LaSalle trailed 7-3 at halftime. Penalties and bad tackling hurt the Explorers. But they shut out the Rovers in the second half and won 19-7 behind the offense and defense of Jamal Abdur-Rahman. Abdur-Rahman had a couple of big hits on defense, and also intercepted a pass on Easton’s final chance, and returned it for a touchdown to seal the win. Number One LaSalle moves on to face number two North Penn next Saturday in the semifinals.
Easton started with the ball and produced a first down before having to punt. LaSalle then put together a good drive. Kevin Forster scored what would be a touchdown but it was called back for holding. They had to settle for a Kevin Winslow field goal. The teams then traded futile possessions. Easton then got on the board with a big drive. Quarterback Justin Paccioli was elusive all day, and started out the drive with two first downs. Lasalle’s defense would get near the quarterback but he would outrun them. As LaSalle coach Drew Gordon said, “he was faster than our defensive line.” Number seven looked a little like number seven for the Eagles (Michael Vick!). A swing pass to speedy running back James Middleton gained big yards. They then converted a big fourth down and two. Finally Paccioli was being chased again and got away again, and then found Tyles Holjes in the back of the endzone for a touchdown. It came with 3:11 left in the first half. After failing to move the ball on their drive Kevin Forster came in to punt for Winslow. He looked like he was thinking about a fake, maybe feeling the defense out. But he punted. Easton produced one first down before the clock ran out and the half ended. Easton had the lead 7-3.
Lineback Connor Daly said this about the locker room at halftime. “Everybody had something to say. A lot of leaders stepped. We have to play our ball, no one can beat us when we’re on our game.”
LaSalle came out from half time clearly motivated. They drove down the field powered by Forster and Abdur-Rahman, mostly wildcat plays (where the runner receives a direct snap). They had a first and goal form the nine. Time Wade ran down to the one. Then quarterback Matt Magarity tried to sneak it in. He was stopped. So they tried it again and it worked. Touchdown Explorers and a 10-7 lead. On the next Easton possession finally the Explorer defense got to Paccioli. He avoided a sack by throwing the ball away but intentional grounding was ruled. The penalty backed the Rovers up to the goal line. After a punt LaSalle had the ball at the Rover 33, but they couldn’t capitalize, losing the ball on downs. The teams then traded punts. Then LaSalle got the ball back on a fumble by Easton. This time they took advantage, driving and scoring on another Winslow field goal. A good kicker, Winslow’s father was an NFL kicker. They led 13-7 with only 2:23 left to play. Easton had the ball one more time and would have to drive and score to win. The first play was incomplete. Second play Cameron Cappo got the first sack on Paccioli. Then Paccioli made the biggest mistake, lobbing up a pass in the direction of Abdur-Rahman, who picked it off and scampered 37 yards for the winning touchdown. Abdur-Rahman also had 172 yards from scrimmage on offense. Easton would try to drive but time expired and LaSalle is moving on.
Magarity said of the game, “We came out we knew they were a good team. We just wanted a repeat of last year. Second half, we came out and stepped it up. First half we were getting knocked around a little bit, we had some key plays, Jamal’s interception. The line stepped up played great.” About next week’s game against North Penn which is a rematch of the first game of the year in which LaSalle won Magarity said, “Should be a great rematch, they’re a great team. They’ve come a long way but so have we.”
Daly said of the defense, which was rock solid again, “Defense- we’re a group of guys that will do anything for each other. We wanted to come to practice on Monday so we buckled down.” About North Penn he said, “I say bring it on, let’s rematch. North Penn they’re not a very complicated team they’re very good at what they do. I think we’re just as good. I think we’re going to come out on top.”
When asked what they talked about at halftime coach Drew Gordon said, “Intensity. Defining yourself. You come to the point in the season where you have to define yourself and that was the point. We didn’t play well at all in the first half. The defense couldn’t get us the ball back. Easton takes that away with their defense, it would be a four and five yard game.” About Pacciloi being a tough cover he said, “They were there and couldn’t bring him down. He got tired at the end of the game. That touchdown pass was a great play. He’s a great player. An intesntiy thing at halftime, they did it. If we do it against North Penn next week we don’t have a shot. It’s a matter of getting it done from the first play on.”
About next week Abdur-Rahman said, “We beat them earlier in the season they’ll come out and play us well. We’ll give them a game like we did last time hopefully we’ll come out with a victory.”
LaSalle plays North Penn Saturday at Plymouth-Whitmarsh in the state semifinals at 1 p.m.