HERSHEY, Pa. - They came up with an impromptu name, 37 Texas, for an impromptu play that they almost literally drew up in the dirt. The Garnet Valley Jaguars, a high school football team that seems to have a little destiny on its side, added another chapter to its storied season
Tim Keyser took a pass down the middle from quarterback Eric Van Wyk 74 yards for the winning touchdown with a little over a minute to play that propelled Garnet Valley to a dramatic, 27-20, victory over Lampeter-Strasburg in the PIAA Class AAA Eastern final last night at Hersheypark Stadium.
Garnet Valley now advances to the PIAA Class AAA state championship game for the first time in school history, where the Jags (13-1) will face Thomas Jefferson (15-0), a 35-6 winner over Erie Strong Vincent in the Western final, here next Friday.
Facing the possibility of overtime with 1 minute, 31 seconds to play and the ball at its 26, Garnet Valley assistant coaches Scott Green and Paul Milewski drew a play that the team had never run this season.
It called for Keyser to run a quick out pattern and dart to the middle of the field, where Van Wyk would hit him.
It worked perfectly. Keyser caught the ball in stride and then bolted by flailing defenders for the winning score with 1:19 to play.
"We called it 37 Texas," said Van Wyk, who darted and weaved his way through the Pioneers' defense for 99 yards on 15 carries. "Once the coaches gave it to us, we totally believed it would work. But that's just it about this team. We all believe in each other; the players, the coaches. There wasn't a doubt it would work."
Keyser, the game ball tucked tightly under his arm, was wearing an ear-to-ear grin, still numb over what had happened minutes before.
"It worked, we just made the play up in the huddle, but it is something we run out of different sets," said Keyser, whose speed gave Lampeter-Strasburg piles of problems, rushing for 141 yards on 16 carries, three touchdowns and 244 total yards.
The Pioneers turned the ball over four times on an interception and three fumbles, the most costly recovered by Tim Dunlap at the Garnet Valley 20, with under 2 minutes to play. The Pioneers were driving when a botched handoff landed on the turf.
The Jags moved to the Lampeter-Strasburg 26, when Van Wyk connected with Keyser on the game-winning third-and-5 play.
Until then, Garnet Valley had trouble containing the Pioneers' explosive Justin Taylor, who rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown.
"When they pulled that big play, that was mental mistakes," said Taylor, who is receiving some interest from Temple. "Our outside run and the counter seemed to work a little there, but their defense was good, real good. They had the best defense we've seen this year."
Garnet Valley took a 14-13 lead into halftime, but it could have been more, since the Jags' Chris Palaio was stopped just short of the goal line on the final play of the half. That was the first of two times the Jags were stopped inside the Pioneers' 10-yard line.
Keyser had 99 yards rushing by halftime, including runs of 15, 18 and 27 yards, mostly on second and third efforts.
But for a third straight week, the Jags were looking up at an early deficit.
As in the Pottsgrove game in the District 1 championship 3 weeks ago, Garnet Valley's opponent returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, when Taylor took it back 92 yards for the Pioneers.
Also as in pervious weeks, a Garnet Valley turnover was converted into another score when Pioneers quarterback Brett Graeff hit Rob Zimmerman with an 18-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-1 play at the Garnet Valley 18.
With 4:53 left in the first quarter, the Jags were staring at a 13-0 hole.
But Garnet Valley, as it has in this playoff run, changed the momentum by countering with a 13-play, 69-yard drive, ending with Palaio scoring from the 7. The Jags took the lead with a 12-play, 98-yard drive midway in the second quarter that Keyser closed by plowing his way into the end zone from 4 yards out.
Keyser tacked on another score late in the third quarter, before the Pioneers charged back when Graeff connected with Zimmerman a second time, tying the game at 20-20 and setting the stage for the amazing finish.
"I can't believe this," Van Wyk said. "We won. We're going to the state championship."
A few minutes later, a procession started to form behind the two chartered Garnet Valley team buses, and car horns began blaring, probably all the way down the Pennsylvania Turnpike back to Delaware County. *
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