Odds are, Friday night’s football game between Fairfield and Bermudian Springs isn’t going to end up in The Louvre.
But for Knights’ coach Jason Thurston and the rest of the Fairfield community, it’s sure to be a collector’s item.
In a back-and-forth game that came down to a late stop on a two-point conversion attempt, Fairfield downed the Eagles, 14-13, for its first win in program history over Bermudian.
“Actually, every year the kids tell me that,” Thurston said after the game when asked whether he knew that Fairfield isn’t supposed to beat Berm. “And this year they didn’t. This year, I told them ‘we’re beating Berm this year.’ And I don’t normally make statements like that.”
The Knights only began playing football in 2003 and had been 0-18 in matchups with the Eagles prior to Friday’s victory, losing by an average score of 44-6.
“This is the one game we wanted to show what we’re all about,” senior Will Myers said afterward. “Since this summer, when we were in the weight room we were talking about this game. This one means a lot. We deserve this one.”
The victory didn’t come easy for Fairfield (2-1, 1-0 YAIAA-3). After receiving the opening kick of the game, the Knights were immediately faced with a fourth-and-short on their own side of the field, with Peyton Stadler keeping the drive going on a handoff. Three plays later, the Knights had the lead as Jake Myers dropped back to pass on third-and-7 and hit Andrew Koons on a slant. Koons then outran a defensive back and took the ball 53 yards to the end zone to make it 7-0 just three minutes in.
But the Eagles (2-3, 1-1 YAIAA-3) hit back and did so quickly. First, it was quarterback Ethan Beachy picking up a fourth-down conversion of his own a 6-yard sneak. Then, after a big play from Beachy to running back Chanse Boyer, Brennan Schisler took a carry up the middle for a 7-yard score, making it 7-7 with 5:36 left in the first quarter.
On the following possession, Fairfield marched right back down the field into the Bermudian red zone, but facing fourth-and-5 at the 13-yard line, Myers slipped as he dropped back to pass and the ball went over on downs.
Thankfully for the hosts, they continued to win in the trenches and the Eagles’ next drive went nowhere, giving the ball back to the Knights on the plus side of midfield. That drive took them inside the Bermudian 30-yard line, but when faced with another fourth down, Myers looked deep and was intercepted by Ricky Pacana.
After the takeaway, the Eagles took over inside their own 10-yard line and quickly went three-and-out. When they went to punt, however, the snap was bobbled and Beachy was forced to throw the ball away, giving the ball back to Fairfield at the 13-yard line.
Three plays later, on fourth-and-2 from the Bermudian 5, Cody Valentine took a handoff and rumbled up the middle for a touchdown, making the score 14-7 just before halftime.
That’s where the score remained at halftime and the second half began inauspiciously for the Knights as a misplay on the kickoff gave the Eagles the ball near midfield to start their drive.
“We’ve done that three times this year and he’s kicked it really high like an onside, and it’s not,” Thurston said when asked if the short kick was the plan. “I told him, ‘it’s got to go to the 30.’ And after he kicked it I said ‘all right, we’re not pooching anymore this year!’”
Bermudian took the strong starting field position and marched down into the Fairfield red zone, aided by a pass interference call on fourth down that Thurston didn’t particularly agree with. But when faced with danger, the Knights’ defense stiffened and Beachy’s fourth-down pass from the Fairfield 14 fell incomplete.
The second half proved different from the first up front for the Knights, as attrition and missed assignments meant Fairfield struggled to get the run game going and the ball went right back over the Eagles after a three-and-out.
“I don’t know,” Thurston said when asked what the difference was. “I think they made some adjustments at halftime. I’m sure our kids were dog tired. That’s just how it is here at Fairfield. There were a couple of plays where we had some blocking schemes break down.”
Bermudian took over at its own 34 after a strong punt from Myers and a block in the back call on the return, but it wasn’t long before the Eagles were back in the red zone as Beachy hit Michael Carlson for a big play on a wide receiver screen down to the Knights’ 15.
But again, when faced with trouble, Fairfield’s defense came up with big plays. Pacana lost 5 yards on a first-down run and Beachy took a sack on second down. Beachy’s third-down pass was then thrown deep over the middle, but found only the hands of Fairfield’s Dom Smitley who made an interception at the 4-yard line.
The Knights then began the final quarter with a slim lead and deep in their own territory. After a quick three plays, Fairfield was forced to punt and Carlson returned the ball back to the hosts’ 28-yard line. Once again, however, the Knights defense came up with a big fourth-down stop to keep the Eagles trailing.
It was then Myers who made a mistake, looking for Koons over the middle but finding Carlson, who made a leaping interception at the Fairfield 46-yard line.
“We had a couple unfortunate interceptions tonight,” Thurston said. “The one interception we threw it a little high and the other one we had a few routes that weren’t quite what they should have been.”
The Knights weren’t out of possession long, however, as moments later Beachy’s pass, intended for Carlson, was tipped and picked off by Stadler.
“At the end of the second half it was real nervous,” Stadler said after the game. “We were all keeping cool, but for me, I was like ‘oh, crap.’ Because we have a history against Berm of starting good and falling apart. I was so glad it didn’t happen again.”
After a quick three-and-out, Myers hammered a 46-yard punt that backed the Eagles up to their own 18-yard line with under six minutes left in regulation.
Bermudian then began to chip away. Pacana gained 12 yards on a carry up to the 30. Then Beachy rolled out and found freshman Jack Gautsch for a 10-yard gain. A play later, Boyer carried the ball up the middle for 10 yards to midfield and it appeared the Eagles had some momentum. However, after Boyer was tripped up on the prior run, narrowly missing a big play, he tossed the ball down in frustration and was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. This put the ball back at the Eagles’ own 35 with just 2:33 left on the clock.
The setback didn’t matter, as moments later Beachy again found Carlson on a screen and the wide receiver traversed the field for a big gain to the Fairfield 24-yard line.
After a 10-yard pass from Beachy to Gautsch, Pacana took a toss around the edge to a Knights’ 6-yard line with 1:34 left to play. On the following play, Pacana took an inside handoff and was untouched, jaunting six yards to pay dirt with 1:27 left on the clock to make it 14-13. Bermudian then lined up for a 2-point conversion before coach John Livelsberger called a timeout.
“I wanted the timeout,” Stadler said, laughing when asked if he needed the break or wanted to keep playing. “After trying to run him down there I was dying, so I needed a little bit of a breather.”
The quick rest must have helped, as on the 2-point play, Boyer received the handoff and was met in the hole by Stadler, who hauled him down short of the goal line to keep Fairfield ahead and send the home fans into a frenzy.
“Really, the whole second half I was just watching the clock tick, tick, tick and I really never felt like the game was in our hands,” Thurston said of the late drama. “I just said ‘we’ve got to keep playing guys. We’ve got to keep playing because they’re going to keep playing.’
“And when they got down here inside the 20, I was just screaming ‘they’re milking the clock. They’re trying to score. They’re going to go for two. They’re leaving us no time.’ That’s their plan. And then we took a timeout and I went and explained that to them. Then they scored, and they took a timeout and I reminded these guys of the first year that I was here, Biglerville scored, and they were down by one, and they chose to go for two and they got it. And I just said ‘remember that moment.’”
Following the failed conversion attempt, the Eagles’ attempted an onside kick, but that, too, was to no avail as Fairfield fell on the ball and ran out the clock.
The win comes on the heels of a three-week period without a game for the Knights after a COVID-19 shutdown within their program and opposing programs, something Thurston called a blessing and a curse.
“We talked about that. We want to be excited, but not overly excited,” he said. “We don’t want to be flat, but we also don’t want to be like a big ball of stress.”
The Knights’ victory was also one that Thurston says is a tribute to not just his players and coaches, but the entirety of the Fairfield community, which as of 2019 lists just 519 per US census estimates.
“I can’t even put it into words. Everybody in the stadium knows that this is the first time that we’ve ever beaten Berm,” he said. “The community deserves it. . . the fans, the students. It’s just huge, and I want these guys to just soak it up and enjoy it, because they’ve earned it.”
Clay Sauertieg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bermudian Springs 7 0 0 6 — 13
Fairfield 7 7 0 0 — 14
F-Andrew Koons, 53 pass from Myers (Jake Myers kick), 8:55.
BS-Brennan Schisler, 7 run (Jacob Keller kick), 5:36.
F-Cody Valentine, 5 run (Myers kick), 1:14.
BS-Pacana, 6 run (run failed), 1:27.
First Downs 15 8
Rushing 47-138 32-129
Passing 5-15-2 1-10-2
Passing yards 121 53
Totals Yards 259 182
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 3-30 5-45
Puntings 1-30.0 3-38.3
Rushing: BS-Chanse Boyer 13-31, Brennan Schisler 8-20, Ricky Pacana 18-81, Ethan Beachy 7-7, Tyler Staub 1-(-1); F-Peyton Stadler 20-90, Jake Myers 3-9, Cody Valentine 7-22, Connor Joy 2-8
Passing: BS-Beachy 5-15-2-121 ; F-Myers 1-5-53-2
Receiving: F-Boyer 1-39, Michael Carlson 2-63, Jack Gautsch 2-19; CC-Andrew Koons 1-53.