Central Valley makes key defensive stop, keeps state title repeat hopes alive

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Friday, December 3, 2021 | 11:02 PM


With Martinsburg Central rallying for a potential game-tying touchdown inside the Central Valley 5, the Warriors needed a big stop Friday night.

Matt Merritt tackled Red Dragons quarterback Jeff Hoenstine at the 2, and on fourth down, Hoenstine was chased into making an incomplete pass.

On the next play from scrimmage, Central Valley’s Landon Alexander ran 98 yards on a quick opener to secure a 35-21 victory in a PIAA Class 3A semifinal at Sarge Alberts Stadium.

The Warriors (14-0) will have a chance to defend their state title at noon Friday against Wyomissing (15-0) in a rematch of last year’s championship game.

Martinsburg Central, in the state semifinals for the first time, finished its historic season at 14-1.

“We kept saying we needed a stop, we needed a stop,” Merrit said. “We had flags everywhere. We deserved a stop. I saw a crease open and made the play.”

“What a great goal line stand,” said Central Valley coach Mark Lyons. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t say we had the opportunity to make a trip to Hershey on our own turf. Our guys bought into that, and we’re so excited when they found out they were going to host it.”

On Alexander’s run, Lyons gave credit to the left side of line with Jordan Karczewski, Sean FitzSimmons and Matt Gerovac for opening up the big hole.

Earlier in the game, Merritt ran a fumble back 75 yards for a touchdown and blocked an extra point attempt.

Hoenstine’s shovel pass to Parker Gregg was lost and Merritt was right there.

Said Merritt: “We blew up the play, and I saw one of our linebackers shook the ball loose. My instincts were to scoop and score.”

Hoenstine had another outstanding performance. He passed for 243 yards on 23 completions, giving him 3,597 yards on the season. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound junior also threw his state record 57th touchdown pass on the season.

“He was the real deal,” Lyons said of Hoenstine. “I thought our secondary hung in there and made plays. We stayed the course. I know our defensive coaches had a lot of sleepless nights.”

“We did some great things tonight,” said Red Dragons coach Dave Baker. “We just could not get over the top against these guys.”

The first big break of the game came on the second play from scrimmage when Martinsburg’s Joshua Waite recovered a fumble at the Central Valley 32.

The Red Dragons scored nine plays later when Hoenstine tossed a sidearm, 6-yard pass to Hunter Smith.

Central Valley got on the scoreboard on the third play of the second quarter when Alexander capped a 12-play drive with a 3-yard run. The Warriors took the lead for good on Antwon Johnson’s 1-yard sneak and increased the lead to 21-7 on a 73-yard pass to Jayvin Thompson to put Central Valley ahead by 14 with 5 minutes, 58 seconds left in the half.

Smith’s 35-yard interception return brought the Red Dragons to within 21-13 after Merritt’s PAT block.

Martinsburg’s onside kick was recovered by Max Baker, but Merritt’s fumble recovery took place five plays later.

The Red Dragons scored on fourth-and-goal at the 1 on Gregg’s run after FitzSimmons, a Pitt commit, had stopped Hoenstine on the previous play. The two-point conversion attempt was tipped by Central Valley defenders into Elijah Lingenfelter’s hands to make it 28-21 Warriors.

After a Warriors punt to the Martinsburg Central 13, a 19-play drive was stopped short by the Warriors defense.

“I thought we played a hard game with great emotion against a very, very good team,” Baker said. “Both teams played well most of the time. We wish we would have won, but we wish the best for them.”

Lingenfelter caught 10 passes, several of the spectacular variety, for 120 yards.

The victory was the 26th straight for Central Valley.

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