The young Mechanicsburg High School football team had no answer for Zach Niekamp and his senior-laden St. Henry teammates.
Niekamp rushed for 125 yards and scored four total touchdowns, including three on the ground, as the Redskins beat Mechanicsburg 37-7 in a Division VI, Region 24 quarterfinal game at Indian Stadium on Friday night.
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Mechanicsburg finished its season 8-3, advancing to the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
“I’m extremely proud of our kids,” Forrest said. “They had a fantastic year, earned a home playoff game — 16 teams in each division can say that. It’s quite an accomplishment. I hope making the playoffs isn’t taken for granted because it’s basically the equivalent of making the district championship game. I hope that’s not lost on people. The kids should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
Fifth-seeded St. Henry (9-3) advanced to the regional semifinals where it will face top-seeded Coldwater (9-2), a 49-14 winner against Deer Park, next Friday at a site to be determined.
Niekamp scored on runs of 15 and 66 yards to give the Redskins a 14-0 lead with 7:34 remaining in the first half.
“We could tell we were bigger and older,” Redskins coach Brad Luthman said. “We wanted to do what our base has been all year, kind of know who we are and try to execute it like crazy. Hat’s off to our guys for doing that.”
The Indians fumbled a lateral pass on their next possession, giving St. Henry the ball deep in Indians territory. A few plays later, quarterback Sam Lefeld hit Niekamp from 15 yards out to make it 23-0.
Mechanicsburg had two possessions in Redskins territory in the final three minutes of the first half, but they were unable to find the end zone.
“Any time you get the ball on their side of the field, you’ve got to be able to punch it in,” Forrest said. “You’ve got to be able to take advantage of those things. Hat’s off to St. Henry, they’re a fantastic football team, a great program. We’ve to block better, tackle better, we have to be more fundamental and more physical and we will be.”
St. Henry received the ball to open the second half and capped an 8-play, 77-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run by Niekamp that started the running clock in the second half. The Redskins’ Braden Deal scored from 1-yard out on the first play of the fourth quarter to take a 37-0 lead.
The Indians lone score came on a 3-yard TD run by Jake Hurst with 3:33 remaining.
Mechanicsburg played the game without leading rusher senior Joey Mascadri, who missed the game with a hamstring injury. He wasn’t ruled out until about 15 minutes before the game started.
“He tried his best to give it a go,” Forrest said. “He’s a great lead, a team-first guy. He knew he wasn’t going to be effective and passed the torch onto next guy. That’s just the type of kid he is. There’s not a selfish bone in his body. He’s a fantastic leader. We’re going to miss Joey.”
Without Mascadri, the Indians struggled when it came to lining up properly and making adjustments, Forrest said.
“We’re a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of seniors on the field,” Forrest said, “so when you take another one off that’s made a ton of calls, it does affect us that way. From the point of view of playing as hard as we can, we still have to get the job done. There’s no excuses here.”
The Indians played just two seniors in the game, Forrest said, meaning it will should have a slew of underclassmen returning next fall.
“If they decide they want this to be an extremely bright future and their attitudes are right, then the sky’s the limit for them,” Forrest said. “Obviously, we have a lot of time between now and then. There’s a lot of things that have to be done the right way for that to happen.”