ALLENTOWN, Pa. – It isn’t about how you start, but rather, how you finish.
And in Saturday evening’s Lehigh Valley Conference showdown between Nazareth and Allentown Central Catholic, that finish will come down to two words: Wide left.
Despite a prolonged cold stretch in the second half during which Nazareth quarterback Daniel Harding completed only 1-of-9 passes and Allentown Central Catholic rattled off 22 unanswered points, the Blue Eagles (5-0) could finally exhale as the Vikings (2-3) missed 35-yard field goal by Tim DiGiacomo to the left with 13 seconds left in regulation. The miss preserved a 31-30 Nazreth victory from a rainy J. Birney Crum Stadium.
Last season, the two teams played to a 39-36 ACC victory, which came down to a missed Nazareth field goal at the very end of the game.
Even though both teams each reached the 30-point plateau, the defenses reigned supreme early, as Allentown Central Catholic led, 2-0, after a Blue Eagle punt was snapped out of the end zone with 9:28 left in the opening stanza. Central Catholic had a chance deep inside the red zone on its initial possession, but G.B. Harkins fumbled the ball away at the 1 yard line two plays after junior tailback Colin McDermott busted loose on a 57-yard run.
It took Nazareth’s offense a little while to find its legs. Despite Harding connecting on his first four pass attempts, the Blue Eagles had only 46 yards of offense and a pair of first downs to show for their efforts. That changed in the second quarter as the blue and white strung together three first downs and got on the board with a 24-yard field goal.
Harding pushed the Nazareth advantage to 10-2 with a 61-yard scoring pass to Adam Bridgeforth, but Central Catholic countered when Brendan Nosovitch found Kevin Gulyas on a 34-yard pass to pull within 10-8. Gulyas, ACC’s all-time career leading receiver, had six catches for 92 yards in the first half.
Freshman Jordan Gray shifted the momentum just 1:50 later. After Harding found Andrew Bridgeforth on passes of 31 and 12 yards, Gray capped the lightning-quick seven-play, 70-yard march with a 16-yard touchdown run, giving the Blue Eagles a 17-8 halftime lead.
Harding, who connected on 13 of his 15 passes in the opening half, capped a six-play, 70-yard march to open the second half and give the Blue Eagles a 24-8 lead with a three-yard run. The march was highlighted by a Gray 47-yard run and a 17-yard connection with Adam Bridgeforth on a 4th-down-and-7 situation.
It was at this juncture ACC caught fire, down 16 and seemingly being ready to be run out of town by the guns-a-blazing Nazareth spread. But the green and gold tightened the screws, denting the Blue Eagle lead with a McDermott six-yard scoring run with 5:09 left in the third period. McDermott saw eight carries on the 13-play drive, during which Central Catholic converted two fourth downs.
Gulyas (9 rec., 155 yards) hauled in his second scoring pass from Nosovitch – a 28-yarder – on a 4th-and-15 with 11:32 left in the fourth quarter to pull ACC to within 24-22.
As ACC got hotter and hotter, Nazareth got colder. Much colder. Harding was intercepted by Jalen Snyder-Scipio, and, six plays later, Harkins scored from three yards out and Nosovitch ran in a successful two-point conversion for a 30-24 Central Catholic advantage. The Viking student section’s roar reached a fever pitch when Noah Robb picked off Harding on Nazareth’s next possession, but ACC did nothing with the gift.
By that point, Harding, after starting 13-of-15, completed only one of his next nine pass attempts. But the cold streak was forgiven in a two-play sequence which began with 1:44 left in regulation.
Adam Bridgeforth returned an ACC punt 45 yards from the Blue Eagle 41 to the Viking 14 yard line, and, on the very next play, Harding found Gray on a 14-yard touchdown pass to knot things up at 30, and a successful extra point gave Nazareth the one-point advantage.
Nosovitch found Gulyas on a 33-yard pass and then converted a 4th-and-3 (ACC’s fourth fourth-down convserion of the second half) with a three-yard run to set up DiGiacomo’s game-winning attempt.
Nosovitch connected on 19-of-36 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and also ran for 32 yards on 14 carries. McDermott ran for 146 yards and Harkins added 17 yards on five carries for Central Catholic, which finished with 439 yards of offense (240 passing, 199 rushing) and 22 first downs.
Harding connected on 15-of-25 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions. Gray ran for 115 yards on 19 carries. Adam Bridgeforth caught three passes for 77 yards and a touchdown and Andrew Bridgeforth hauled in six passes for 73 yards.