DuBOIS — It was not what the DuBois Beavers football team or its fans envisioned for the 2013 home opener.
The Beavers fell to Mifflin County 21-17 Friday night at E.J. Mansell Stadium.
DuBois (0-1) didn’t score an offensive touchdown and its 17 points was the third straight game the Beavers didn’t reach 20 points, dating back to the last two games of the 2012 season.
“We played outstanding defense, but that was the worst offensive performance since I’ve been here,” DuBois head coach Frank Varischetti said. “We didn’t run it well, we didn’t throw it well. We have to fix ourselves or it’s gonna be a long season.”
The Beavers had just nine first downs, two on penalties, and gained 143 yards. They also had three turnovers, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Junior quarterback Gabe French hit 18 of 31 passes for 98 yards and two interceptions. The running game produced just 45 yards on 28 carries. Junior Devin Clark led the way with 29 yards on 19 carries.
Despite the issues on the offensive side of the ball, the Beavers defense and special teams nearly carried them to a win.
The defense, led by senior tackle Tyler Fleeger, held the Huskies to 194 total yards and seven first downs on 44 plays. Mifflin County punted six times and the Beavers forced four turnovers.
Seniors Greg Rawson and TJ Troup each intercepted passes. Fleeger forced and recovered a fumble while senior Lake Lander also recovered a fumble. Senior linemen Matt Lingle and Derek Allen were also in the offensive backfield more than a few times.
“It was excellent defense, which was something that concerned us going into the game because we knew they were big and talented up front,” Varischetti said. “And Tyler (Fleeger) was a man out there tonight. He made a bunch of big plays.”
Neither offense mustered much in the first half as both teams combined for nine punts and two turnovers.
The Beavers did take a lead to halftime, however, after junior Ian Hine returned a punt for a 40-yard touchdown with just 38 seconds left. Josh Hnat’s extra point was good for a 7-0 advantage.
Mifflin had been punting away from the Beavers return men, but they didn’t get it away from Hine as he made a few tacklers miss before finding smooth sailing.
But the Huskies, keyed by their defense and specifically senior safety Curtis Jerzerick, turned a pair of third quarter turnovers into 14 points.
The Huskies (1-0), after getting just two first downs in the first half, punted on their first possession and DuBois took over on its 31.
After Clark was stopped for a loss of one, French floated a pass over the middle that Jerzerick intercepted and returned 28 yards to the Beavers 22.
Heath Hidlay was dropped for a loss of four yards on first down, but he used a stiff-arm to elude a DuBois tackler on the next play and gained 25 to the 1.
Kyle Kahley then used a big surge from his offensive line to bull his way into the end zone with 8:01 left in the third. On the extra point kick, Andrew Traxler’s boot was a little low and got blocked.
But the 7-6 deficit didn’t last long.
After the Huskies forced a punt, they took over at their 21, but a fumble on first down was recovered by Lander for the Beavers.
The Beavers were in great field position at the Huskies 24, but their euphoria over the turnover didn’t last long.
On the very next play, DuBois junior Bryson Paulinellie fumbled and the ball bounced off the turf and into the hands of Jerzerick and he returned it 74 yards for a touchdown.
On the conversion, junior quarterback Brice Christie hit Hidlay just inside the pylon on the right side for two points and a 14-7 lead with 6:01 left in the third.
However, the Beavers and Paulinellie got immediate redemption as the speedy return man took the kickoff back 86 yards for a touchdown.
Josh Hnat’s kick made it 14-14.
Another turnover, there were a total of seven in the game, resulted in DuBois re-taking the lead.
On Mifflin’s next possession, Beavers defensive tackle Tyler Fleeger stripped the ball from Huskies junior running back Jadon Boyer at the Mifflin 32 and returned it a few yards to set the DuBois offense up at the Huskies 29.
A couple short completions left DuBois with a third-and-7 from the 26. But, French found Clark for a gain of 12 and a penalty on a horse collar tackle moved the ball to the Huskies 7.
However, Mifflin held Clark to four yards on three runs. Hnat lined up and kicked a 20-yard field goal with 1:47 left in the third and DuBois led 17-14.
The Huskies took the lead for good on the next possession.
With a third-and-10 from the 20, Christine hit John Michael Maclay in stride across the middle and he broke away from a tackler for a 56-yard gain to the DuBois 24.
Kahley gained seven yards on first down, then Hidlay got five for a first down to the 12.
On the next play, Hidlay found plenty of room to run and scored on a 12-yard run with 11:31 left. Traxler’s kick made it 21-17.
On DuBois’ next possession, Trevor Schwiderske caught a pass for 26 yards, but the Huskies then forced a punt that was downed at the 5 with 9:40 left.
Back-to-back eight-yard runs by Hidlay got the Huskies out of the shadow of their goal line. The Huskies ended up punting three plays later and the Beavers took over at their 47 with 6:43 left.
A series of short runs and pass plays got the Beavers to Mifflin’s 30. But on first down, a French pass was tipped and intercepted by a diving Kahley at the Huskies 21 with 4:03 left.
Mifflin ended up punting again, but Maclay’s boot was a good one and it wasn’t fielded, rolling dead at the DuBois 9.
DuBois put Paulinellie at quarterback and he ran three times for 15 yards to the 24.
After a Beavers timeout with 1:24 left, French came back at QB, but a missed pass on fourth-and-2 from the 30 with 1:07 spelled the end for DuBois and a opening-season win for the Huskies after Christine took two knees.
“The thought to put Bryson in at quarterback at that time was that they would play a prevent defense and we thought he could make some plays with his feet,” Varischetti said.
Mifflin County head coach George Miskinis knew how big the win was. A year ago, the Huskies finished 4-6 and didn’t go to the playoffs.
“I said to everyone that it felt like a playoff game and maybe it was a preview of one to come,” Huskies said. “It was a fun game to watch, but not to coach.
“Our defense came to play and I think we learned some things after what happened last year, about making plays in space and they certainly force you to do that.”
It is certainly possible that the two could meet in another three months. Both are part of the District 6-9 Class AAAA subregional.
NOTES: The Huskies returned the favor on DuBois after the Beavers spoiled their home opener a year ago in a 34-24 win. Mifflin Co. led 24-13 at halftime before being shut out 21-0 in the second half. ... Mifflin County is back in action Friday at Williamsport while DuBois opens District 10 Region 5 play on the road at Franklin.