By Justin Lockowitz (Photo by Heather Engiles)
The Bloomsburg University football team had their wonderful season come to an end last weekend in an unbelievably amazing game, losing to California (PA) by a score of 27-24. The Vulcans (12-1) avenged their only loss of the season by defeating Bloom (11-2), and advanced to the national semifinals for the second straight year. Cal will face the University of Minnesota-Duluth, a 19-13 OT winner over Grand Valley State.
The contest started with Cal receiving the opening kickoff and driving the ball 70 yards down the field, with running back Daine Williams scoring on a one yard run. Bloomsburg’s Dave Huot was able to raise a bear paw into the air to block the ensuing extra point attempt, leaving the score at 6-0.
The Huskies wasted no time in answering the call as their first drive consumed 72 yards on six plays, and ended with Derrick Price scampering into the end zone from 10 yards out. Jon Koenig added the point after taking the lead at 7-6. The drive was highlighted by Price breaking a 44 yard run before being dragged down by a Cal defender.
The Vulcans responded as Cal quarterback Kevin McCabe was able to find receiver AJ Jackson on a 15 yard pass with 12:06 remaining in the second quarter, to put Cal up 13-7.
Bloom answered immediately yet again, as a Dan Latorre to Kyle Ream 46 yard pass landed the Huskies in the red zone. From there Latorre was able to find Price for a short shovel pass, which the running back turned up field for 12 yards and his second touchdown of the day, giving the Huskies the lead once again by a score of 14-13.
Cal’s following drive slowly inched them down the field as they were able to move the ball 34 yards in 5:12, but came away with no points as a missed field goal turned the ball back over to Bloomsburg. The Huskies were able to successfully move the ball, picking up a few first downs, but a Latorre pass to Ream on a fade route down the sideline was intercepted by a Cal defender with under a minute left in the half. The visitors were content to run out the clock and head into the locker room down 14-13.
The Huskies opened the second half with a bang, with Jesse Cooper once again making an impact, as he returned the kickoff 81 yards to the California eight yard line. The return was quite a spectacle, as Cooper received the kick and ran to the near sideline, where he was greeted by a pile of bodies. Reversing field, he was able to evade a few defenders and cross midfield where he met the visitor’s sideline. Cooper, not yet content with his return, darted back towards the middle of the field running on fumes as everyone in the stadium stood on their feet wondering what would happen next.
As Cooper crossed the 15 yard line and made his way towards the sideline a Cal defender was finally able to pull him down and end the crazy play. Armed with excellent field position the Huskies were poised to score a touchdown, but the Vulcan defense stiffened up and only allowed a short field goal by Koenig.
Bloom was able to force a three and out on Cal’s next possession, but was unable to take advantage as Cal’s Brandon Gordon forced a Price fumble on the ensuing drive, which the visitors recovered, giving them a short field to work with. The Vulcans found the end zone three plays later as McCabe hooked up with Marcel Pestano on a 16 yard pass, reclaiming the lead at 20-17. The Huskies were forced to punt on their next possession, but seemed to catch a break as Cal’s returner Josh Gumbert muffed the punt and Bloom was able to recover. But then a flag flew in from left field, and a ref running in from the Cal sideline called the Huskies for fair catch interference. (And no Husky fans these are not the same refs from the first West Chester game, believe me I checked). Coach Hale identified this play as a major turning point in the game, due to the fact that had the penalty not been called, Bloom would have retained possession of the football. The visitors were able to turn the early Christmas present into a touchdown less than five minutes later, as McCabe found Gumbert in the back of the end zone for a six yard strike, making the score 27-17.
Bloom pulled to within a score with 12:46 remaining as Latorre took a quarterback sneak into the end zone from the one yard line. The Husky drive covered 60 yards in 2:50 and brought the team to within a field goal at 27-24. The next California drive ate up 5:30 of the clock, but ended in a punt, giving the ball back to the hosts with 5:20 remaining in the game.
The Huskies marched down the field and on a third down play from the Cal 34 yard line, Latorre dropped back and decided to take off. Breaking into the open field, the quarterback ran into the open field, getting inside the 10 yard line before linebacker Darren Burns blindsided him with a crushing blow, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Cal on the 6 yard line.
Latorre said, “When I took off on that run, the whole field just seemed to open up and all I could see was the end zone ahead of me. As I made my cut, I never saw that guy coming, and when he hit me, I just blacked out.”
The hit left Latorre motionless on the field for several minutes and the Husky fans held their breath. Thankfully Latorre was able to walk off of the field with assistance from the trainers, but the damage had been done. With less than two minutes to play the Vulcans were able to pick up a first down and run out the clock, ending Bloom’s playoff run.
Offensively, the Huskies were led by Price on the ground (18 carries, 115 yards, one touchdown) and Latorre through the air (9-14, 141 yards, one touchdown). The Vulcans were led on offense by Williams (27 carries, 151 yards, one touchdown) and McCabe (22-29, 184 yards, three touchdowns).
Defensively, Bloom was led by Greg Myers and his 16 tackles, while Cal’s Willie Walker had a team-high eight tackles.
After the game Coach Hale told his team, “It’s been a great season, and I’m proud of you. The loss hurts right now, and we’ll have to reflect on that in the days to come.”
Husky fans share the pain of the coaching staff and team, and embrace the team’s fantastic year. They look forward to cheering on the team again next year, and hope that they are able to advance even further into the playoffs than this year’s quarterfinal appearance.