Jacob Michalski has some breakaway speed, but the Lancaster lineman rarely gets to flaunt it because of the nature of his position. He’s usually too busy engaging with blockers in the trenches.
The 6-foot, 175-pound junior had a chance to show it off to the masses late Saturday afternoon at Quaker Field, and his Legends teammates are thankful that he did as his mad dash to the end zone left them happy and Orchard Park wondering what just happened.
Lancaster turned a potentially agonizing defeat into an unthinkable triumph, as Michalski scored on a 50-yard return of a blocked punt with 30 seconds left as the Legends stayed perfect on the season by defeating defending Section VI Class AA champion Orchard Park, 42-35.
“I’m a lineman, I don’t really score much. It’s amazing,” Michalski said. “No words can describe it.”
Most of the more than 4,000 fans in attendance for the Quakers’ annual Homecoming game were all set to head for the exits with smiles on their faces as OP seemingly had won a hard-fought Class AA South contest by a point and clinched the division.
But then it happened.
Lancaster recorded a punt block for the fifth week in a row and seventh time this season when Michalski pushed an OP blocker toward punter Dillon Janca. When the ball left Janca’s foot, it caromed off the blocker into the air. Michalski kept his eye on the rock, grabbed it and took off toward the end zone.
“These kinds of games, you’re kind of in shock the rest of the day and into next week,” Quakers senior Josh Dahl said.
“Our punt block has been our best special team,” said senior receiver Leugim Castillo, who caught eight passes for 234 yards and two long touchdowns. “The fact it won the game is amazing.”
Michalski’s touchdown concluded a wild final 9:17 in which the News’ Nos. 2 and 3 large-school teams combined for 30 points and traded the lead three times.
The score came minutes after a bad snap prevented second-ranked Lancaster from either attempting a game-tying extra point or realistically going for two after Castillo’s 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown pulled the Legends within 35-34. After Ethan Falsone recovered an onside kick for the Quakers with 2:05 left, all they needed was first down and place on the field to celebrate.
Lancaster’s defense prevented that from happening.
“We just kept fighting until there’s triple zeroes on the board,” first-year Legends coach Eric Rupp said. “It’s a testament to our kids. … (OP) is a heck of a ball club.”
Lancaster endured plenty of up-and-down moments, especially during the final 12 minutes. The Legends, who earlier rallied to tie after trailing, 21-7, erased a six-point deficit when Max Giordano got behind the defense for a 32-yard touchdown catch off a nice throw from junior quarterback Ryan Mansell with 9:17 left. Giordano’s conversion kick made it 28-27 Legends.
Later, Orchard Park mounted a drive seemingly for the win – a possession in which Janca connected on a 47-yard pass to Alexander Dogal to get OP into the red zone. Facing fourth-and-1 from the 9 and under three minutes left, the Quakers handed off to Dahl out of the shotgun formation. He scored and Janca passed to Matt Honer for the two-point conversion to make it 35-28 with 2:47 left.
Two plays later, Lancaster showed off its big-play ability with Mansell and Castillo hooking up for a 79-yard touchdown that made it 35-34. That was the second of two long touchdowns by Castillo, who scored on a 76-yard pass from Mansell just 45 seconds into the game.
Castillo caused OP fits all game long. Mansell, in his first varsity season, went 18-of-27 passing for 350 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The junior completed four passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns during the final quarter.
After falling behind 7-0, the Quakers scored the next three touchdowns. The Quakers followed up Nico Rapini’s 2-yard touchdown run with Dahl recovering the ensuing kickoff. Janca capped that drive with a 2-yard touchdown run and a tie game turned into a 14-point Quakers lead in 65 seconds.
The Legends had plenty of fight left in them. Samborski scored on a 5-yard run before halftime. Andrew Hersey scored on 3-yard run as Lancaster tied it 21-21 with 7:26 left in the third on Mansell’s two-point conversion pass to Castillo in the back corner of the end zone.
OP went ahead late in the third as Janca and Honer connected on a 38-yard touchdown in which Honer bounced off a big hit after the catch.
Janca finished 24 for 37 for 296 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed nine times for 62 yards and a touchdown. Dogal caught six passes for 119 yards.
Lancaster (5-0, 3-0) can clinch the Class AA South title with a home win over division foe Hutch-Tech on Friday. OP (3-2, 3-1) visits Bennett on Friday night in a nonleaguer at All High Stadium.
Any win over OP is nice but the Legends understand there’s still much work to do this year.
“It’s a great feeling but we know this isn’t the end-all, be-all,” Rupp said.
“This shows how good we can be,” Castillo said. “We just have to keep on fighting.”