BURLINGTON – Leading by just seven at the half against Lewis Mills on Saturday afternoon, the Berlin football team needed an efficient drive at the start of the second half to create separation and make up for a pair of turnovers that spoiled earlier chances to pull away.
After a first 24 minutes filled with costly mistakes and missed opportunities, the Redcoats deployed a nine-play, 64-yard drive over the first 4:34 of the second half to take control of the game, finishing off the productive march with a one-yard touchdown run from Johnny McGeever to grab a 14-0 lead and eventually a 23-6 win, handing the Spartans their first loss of the season.
“When I got in (to the end zone), I stood up and looked at the sideline and I just had a big smile on my face,” McGeever said after the touchdown that set the tone for the second half. “It was a great feeling. It was great for the whole team.”
It was especially great for McGeever, whose two fumbles in the first half kept the outcome in limbo until he redeemed himself in the early minutes of the third quarter, accounting for 44 of Berlin’s 64 yards on the opening drive of the second half. But until that point, the Redcoats’ day had been much more tedious.
Berlin looked poised for an early strike when McGeever broke off a 25-yard run deep into Lewis Mills territory, but a fumble on the run instead gave possession back to the Spartans. The Redcoats defense held and forced a punt on the ensuing drive, but McGeever dropped the end-over-end punt, and once gain Lewis Mills recovered the fumble to set up the Spartans on Berlin’s 16-yard line.
Two plays later, the turnover barrage continued when Spartans quarterback C.J. Nordstrom’s pass was intercepted by a sliding Danny Lynch just before the ball hit the grass, and this time, Berlin would capitalize on a run of redemption from McGeever. After Justin Skates got the Redcoats to midfield on a dump pass to Elijah Crowley for 40 yards while fighting off an all-out blitz on third down, McGeever broke off a 50-yard scamper on the next play from scrimmage to put Berlin ahead 7-0 with 2:01 left in the first quarter.
“I just wanted to forget about it and move on,” McGeever said of the early turnovers. “My coaches told me to flip the page, and that’s what I did. The touchdown was great because it definitely erased it from my mind.”
Lewis Mills began the second quarter with a productive drive to the Redcoats’ 25, but Cade Cormier fumbled on a first-down run, the Spartans’ third fumble of the day. On their next drive, Nordstrom was picked again after a tipped pass fell into the lap of senior Nathan Orde, marking the fourth Lewis Mills turnover of the half. But Berlin was only able to capitalize on one of those takeaways and headed to the halftime break holding a narrow seven-point lead.
“We started moving the ball early and had a couple fumbles, but we knew we would clean it up in the second half,” Lynch said. “We felt we came out flat in the first half, but we knew we’d come out strong in the second half, and that’s what happened.”
If the Redcoats’ coaching staff had any doubt of its players cleaning things up in the second half, those concerns were effectively extinguished on that game-changing opening drive. The Berlin defense followed that score by forcing a three-and-out, and the offense went to work again, marching from its own 33 to the Spartans’ five thanks to a 30-yard reception from Lynch, who caught a pass from Skates in stride for the big gain just before the end of the third. The drive continued in the fourth, and on the first play of scrimmage in the quarter, Skates found Lynch on a fade to the back of the end zone to give the Redcoats a commanding 21-0 lead.
“We ran that play all week and knew it would be open,” Lynch said. “Skates threw a great ball to me, and it was great to get some separation.”
Berlin got more separation when the defense forced Nordstrom to throw the ball away from inside his own end zone, resulting in an intentional grounding flag and a safety to finish what was once again a dominant performance from the Redcoats defense, which hasn’t allowed more than two touchdowns in a game so far this season.
“The safety is what sealed the game,” head coach Joe Aresimowicz said. “We have a lot of guys on that side that are playing new positions for the first time, but the kids were getting after it.”
Berlin 23, Lewis Mills 6
At Lewis Mills
Berlin (4-1) 7 0 7 9 – 23
Lewis Mills (4-1) 0 0 0 6 – 6
Berlin: Johnny McGeever 50 run (Aaron Senz kick) 2:01
Berlin: McGeever 1 run (Senz kick) 7:26
Berlin: Justin Skates 5 pass to Danny Lynch (Senz kick) 11:50
Lewis Mills: C.J. Nordstrom 15 pass to Colby Cable (PAT blocked) 6:36
Berlin: Nordstrom intentional grounding in end zone, safety 2:27
Rushing – Berlin: McGeever 14-141-2TD, Crowley 6-32. Lewis Mills: Cade Cormier 8-20, Josh Martinotti 9-24, Sean Polinsky 4-10.
Passing – Berlin: Skates 11-15-135-TD. Lewis Mills: Nordstrom 9-15-58-TD-2INT
Receiving – Berlin: Joe Caracoglia 3-30, Crowley 2-50, Lynch 2-35-TD. Lewis Mills: Cable 1-15-TD, Tyler Kolenda 1-12.