LANCASTER — After trailing 9-0 for three quarters against visiting Hilliard Darby, Lancaster was finally able to come to life in the fourth quarter.
The Golden Gales scored 10 fourth-quarter points to take the lead with 9:07 left, but the Panthers — led by outstanding quarterback Nick Powers — put together an impressive scoring drive that ended with a Powers 1-yard touchdown run with only 2:22 left.
That would ultimately seal the Golden Gales fate in a 17-10 Division I, Region 2 first-round playoff game Saturday night at Fulton Field.
The Gales — who were making their first playoff appearance since 2009 and were searching for their first postseason win since 2003 — had no answer for Powers.
Lancaster (8-3) had limited eight of 10 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing, gave up a season-high 194 yards on the ground with Powers picking up 152 yards rushing on 27 carries. He also completed four passes for 100 yards.
“(Powers) was everything he was built up to be,” Lancaster coach Rob Carpenter said. “It wasn’t our best game and it wasn’t our best start. We did a nice job of coming back and made it happen, but we just couldn’t stop (Powers).”
The Panthers’ winning drive after Lancaster had taken the lead was all Powers. He directed a 14-play, 74-yard drive that took 6:39 off the clock, and he converted four third plays. None was bigger than a third-and-10 from the Panthers’ 37-yard line.
Powers rolled to his right and as he was just about to get drilled by Lancaster linebacker Eric Deluse, threw a perfect pass to a streaking Mason Schmeling for a 37-yard gain to the Gales’ 26-yard line.
Out of the 14 plays in the drive, he carried the ball 10 times, and would cap the drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run. He also ran in the 2-point conversion.
The Gales converted one first down when they got the ball back, but had to eventually turn the ball over on downs and Darby (9-2) ran out the clock.
Lancaster’s offense struggled most of the night. The Gales finished with a season-low 241 total yards. They were averaging 330 yards rushing per game, but had only 152.
The Panthers got on the board when they had the Gales backed up their own 1-yard line after a punt. On the first play a Lancaster running back was tackled in the end zone for a safety with 9:49 left in the first half.
It looked if that 2-0 lead would stand at halftime, but Powers directed a scoring drive with only 1:40 left. He connected on a huge pass play that covered 35 yards, and Jake Schneider scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with only five seconds left in the half.
Lancaster cut the deficit to 9-3 thanks to a Tony Likens 38-yard field goal with 11:55 left. After Lancaster’s defense forced a three-and-out, the Gales’ offense came to life.
Noah Dryden hit Tyler Woodruff, who then pitched the ball to Tyler Carter for a 23-yard gain. After two running plays netted three yards, Dryden went untouched for a 25-yard touchdown run. Likens’ extra-point gave Lancaster a 10-9 lead.
“Our kids, no one expected them to do what they did at the beginning of the season and the challenges that we overcame and the games that we won,” Carpenter said. “I’m proud of this group and I know they are really disappointed because I think our seniors really deserved to keep playing.
“But in a single elimination, it doesn’t matter who you are or what league you play in, you have to come to play. We did not get off to the start that we needed to do and that gave them more momentum as they went along.”