The biggest takeaway from Foran High’s performance in the 46th meeting with rival Jonathan Law on Thanksgiving Day is that the Lions came ready to play in freezing conditions before a large bipartisan crowd at the Vito DeVito Sports Complex.
Coach Tom Drew received stellar all-around play, before Law’s Spencer Hannon kicked a 23-yard field goal in the final minute to give the visitors a 23-20 victory and tie the Turkey Day series at 22-22-2.
The Lions’ Koray Demirhan booted a pair of field goals and was on the money with two conversion kicks.
Tom Dempsey ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns, behind the offensive line of tackles Gabe Dias and Billy Ives, guards Justin DeEll and Tanner Lucy, and center Ryan Zarnoch.
Andrew Janik completed 11-of-23 passes for 169 yards.
Nick Costantini (4 catches, 61 yards), Max Tavitian (3 for 39 yards), Will Phelan (3 for 24) and Rich Piscitelli (1 for 45 yards) led the receivers.
The Lions forced three Law turnovers — Tavitian and Zarnoch recovered fumbles and DeEll had an interception.
“Every week they practiced hard and every game they got better,” Drew said. “We have a team full of fighters. Law is well coached and we had to be ready from the opening kickoff…We knew it was going be a battle.”
The first takeaway came on Law’s second possession. Phelan forced his fifth fumble of the season and Tavitian picked up the loose ball and returned it 15 yards to the Law 18-yard line.
Three plays later, Demirhan booted a 30-yard field goal with 3:27 left in the first period.
The lead increased to 10-0 in the next two-plus minutes.
DeEll intercepted a pass on the Law 42 and rambled 39 yards to the three. Dempsey scored from a yard out, and Demirhan made the PAT with 36 seconds on the clock.
Only 22 seconds later, Law (7-3) showed off its long-play ability when Mike Plaskon ran for a 70-yard touchdown. The conversion was off the mark, and it was 10-6.
The Lawmen got the ball back when Ethan Saley intercepted a pass on his 46.
Zach Smith then found Saley for a 54-yard TD. Hannon’s PAT gave Law a 13-10 advantage.
“Mike Plaskon and Ethan Saley are dynamic,” Drew said of Law’s All-State worthy combo. “And we knew that we had to take them away or at least frustrate them. Coach [John] Reinecke had an awesome game plan and the defense took those schemes and made them work.”
With Zarnoch, Ives, Philip Boyles and Max Queiroz getting good penetration up front, Plaskon was held to 17 yards on 11 carries in the second half (after running for 138 yards on 11 totes in the opening two quarters).
Linebackers’ DeEll, Tavitian, Phelan and Diaz went sideline to sideline to limit the damage — and d-backs Rich Piscitelli, Caden Ondek and Reilly Barry cleaned up what was left.
Janik completed three passes when the Lions went 84 yards in 12 plays to tie the game at 13 on Demirhan’s 29-yard kick.
“Coach [Garrett] Walker did a tremendous job with our offense,” said Drew, who was also assisted by Mike Farrell, Kevin Barry, Ken Patrick, Tony DiDominzio and Jeff Gordon. “We came in today hanging our hats on being physical.”
Law had one more opportunity before the break.
With time winding down in the first half, Smith ran for 14 yards and threw to Brian Felag for eight. From the Foran 37, Saley caught a pass down the sideline but was tackled by Ondek one-yard short of the goal line as the half ended.
Foran took the kickoff in the third period and got a jump start on taking the lead when Janik connected with Piscitelli for 45 yards on a crossing pattern. The Lions moved to a first down at the 9. But on 3rd-and-goal, Plaskon intercepted a dump pass off a run-option in the end zone.
Law drove to midfield, before James Carlson and DeEll combined on a quarterback sack to force a punt.
Penned back by a holding penalty, Foran had to punt and Law took over at the Lions’ 27. Saley caught a third-down pass over the middle, received a fine block by Zach Merchant, and went 23 yards for a 20-13 lead.
It was Foran’s defense that gave its offense a short field to to conquer in the final quarter.
Demirhan, Dias and Phelan made the plays to force a punt from the Law 16 and the Lions took over on the 31.
Phelan had an nine-yard catch to bring the ball to the two. Two carries later, Dempsey scored. The conversion kick knotted the game at 20-all with 8:37 left to play.
Felag had a pair of clutch catches for Law (14 and 12 yards) and the Lawmen had a first down at the Lions’ 22, but after a fumble Foran’s Ryan Zarnoch came out of the pile with the football.
Danville had a key stop for Law to help force a three-and-out with 2:03 on the scoreboard.
A well-designed 36-yard pass from Smith to Naheim Washington brought the ball to the 13. Demirhan knocked down a third-down pass from the six. Hannon came on here and made his 23-yard game-winning field goal.
Costantini caught a 14-yard completion and Janik ran for nine yards to the 49. But Merchant knocked away a pass and the Law defense swarmed Janik as the clock ran out.
Lion notes: Max Tavitian and Justin DeEll are team captains. Other seniors rostered were Rich Piscitelli, Tom Dempsey, Josh Veillard, Nick Costantini, Joe Mendillo, Chris Ricci, Kevin Pokornowski, Billy Ives, Koray Demirhan, Ryan Zarnoch and James Carlson.
Award winners: Billy Ives was presented the Mario Ponsalle Award. The Joe Beler Jr. Award went to Justin DeEll. Tom Dempsey received the Ken Walker Memorial Award. The Daniel Wasson Memorial Award went to Ryan Zarnoch. Max Tavitian took home the Michael Miller Memorial Award. DeEll received the Ray Bloxsom Sr. Milford High Remembrance Top Lineman Award.