LHU football falls to Clarion, 30-21 at home

By SAM KUPERMAN

For The Express

Two young rebuilding PSAC teams met Saturday afternoon on a rainy day at Hubert Jack Stadium. The collective youth showed with a combined 13 turnovers and 14 penalties between Clarion and Lock Haven, with the Golden Eagles of Clarion coming up with a 30-21 victory.

“We have a very young and talented football team,” Lock Haven head football coach Dave Taynor said. “Young though goes first right now. We need the talent to kind of supersede the youth, which means we need to remove some of those youthful mistakes and guys need to grow up on the field quickly.”

With Lock Haven sophomore quarterback Kyle Knight sidelined with a serious knee injury suffered last week at Duquesne, Taynor went with the combination of redshirt senior Cameron Tobias and redshirt freshman Ethan Persa at quarterback. Tobias’ experience and familiarity with the Bald Eagle up-tempo offensive attack earned him the start, but the offense did not fair well initially.

Lock Haven fell into a quick 14-0 hole with three and outs on the first two drives of the game, followed by an eight-play drive that ended with a five-yard Devin Clark touchdown plunge for Clarion. A Tobias interception on the first play of the following drive led to another Clarion touchdown, this time via a 35-yard pass from Golden Eagles signal caller Jeff Clemens to wideout Marcus McCoy. There was still 5:41 remaining in the first quarter at this point.

“They (Clarion) tried to limit our interior run,” Taynor said. “And Ethan Persa brings an element of athleticism to the table, you know, similar in some ways to what Kyle Knight did this year prior to the injury this year and last year.”

Taynor made the switch to Persa, and he immediately brought a different element to the Bald Eagle offense. His mobility forced Clarion to adjust to the run-pass option, something atypical of PSAC opponents. Despite a fumble on his first drive as quarterback, Persa led Lock Haven 63 yards up the field, displaying some signs of life for the Bald Eagles.

Lock Haven then clamped down defensively, intercepting Clemens four times during the second quarter. Three of those four picks came courtesy of redshirt sophomore safety Dontae Mason.

The Lock Haven front seven found its way into the backfield throughout the game, led by sophomore linebacker Obadiah Asare and his 12 tackles, 2.5 of which were tackles-for-loss.

With a few drives now under his belt, Persa led two touchdown drives in the second quarter. One ended with a six-yard Chantz Swartz run out of the jet sweep package. Another came on a 34-yard deflected pass from Persa to Nysir-Minney Gratz. Lock Haven went into halftime knotted up at 14 with Clarion, and a little momentum headed its way.

“It wasn’t any different for us, because he gets just as many reps as the other guys,” Swartz said. “I didn’t feel like we skipped a beat or anything. He played well.”

That sloppy first half featured a combined 10 turnovers, including two on one play when Lock Haven safety Javon Whitfield intercepted a Clemens pass, then fumbled the ball right back to Clarion on the return.

Clarion cleaned things up in the second half, with a new quarterback in the game. Head coach Chris Weibel elected to replace Clemens with junior Jovante Seard. The decision proved beneficial for the Golden Eagles, as Seard did not turn the ball over once during the remainder of the game.

Seard enabled Clarion to score on its two opening drives of the third quarter, first with a 24-yard James Metzger field goal. The Bald Eagles responded with another Persa interception, which enabled Clarion to get the ball right back and go to work.

“He (Persa) made some youthful mistakes, which I think would be a great opportunity for him to see the film and grow from that.” Taynor said.

Despite allowing a 30-yard completion on the drive from Seard to tight end Jimmy Murphy, Lock Haven thought it was in the clear defensively after a third down stop on its own 21. Defensive tackle AJ McCloud stuffed the run, but teammate Kaison Mitchell picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, moving the ball half the distance to the goal.

This set up an 11 yard pass from Seard to McCoy, quickly advancing the score to 23-14 in favor of the visitors. Lock Haven freshman linebacker Austin Barber did block an extra point on that touchdown, which kept the Bald Eagle deficit at nine points halfway through the third quarter.

Late in the third frame Lock Haven struck again, as Persa hit Swartz on a swing pass that the sophomore tailback took 71 yards to pay-dirt. The 6-foot-2 sophomore tailback finished the afternoon with 160 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Lock Haven was now only down 23-21,

“The receivers and the line were blocking well,” Swartz said. “It’s easy to do my job like running out on the perimeter when the receivers are blocking and up the middle when the line’s blocking. As long as they’re doing their job it’s easy for me to do mine.”

Clarion answered the bell, pulling off a 4:51 drive bridging the third and fourth quarters. This ended with a five-yard Mylique McGriff run into the end zone. The opportunity for McGriff to punch it in was enabled by yet another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Lock Haven after a third down stop, this time redshirt sophomore linebacker Alex Welch was the culprit.

“We just need to focus up, and stop letting people get to us,” Asare said. “We hurt ourselves by giving up penalties on big downs.”

With the score sitting at 30-21 and 11:19 to go, Lock Haven only mustered up 40 yards of offense for the remainder of the game. Clarion secured the victory, its first road win since 2016, and moved to 1-1 on the season. Lock Haven dropped to 0-2 on the year.

“I thought other than those two situations our defense played a pretty good game,” Taynor said. “But that led to two touchdowns, with the difference in the game being nine points. So those were very influential and those are issues that we need to handle.”

Persa finished the day 7-19 passing with 213 yards, 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He also gained 11 yards on the ground. Tobias ended up 3-8 with 32 yards and 2 interceptions, as he came in for another series late in the fourth quarter with the score already likely out of hand.

The Bald Eagles will continue to operate with Persa and Tobias both receiving time at quarterback.

“I still have complete confidence in both of those quarterbacks,” Taynor said. “We’re still gonna continue to improve throughout the year, and depending upon the situation I think both of those guys will add value as we move forward.”

The Bald Eagles now look ahead to a home meeting with Indiana (PA), who comes in 2-0 after a 41-7 demolition of Millersville.

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