By Rob Kiser
It took everything the Lehman Catholic football team had — and a little help from above — to hold off Graham 24-18 Saturday night at Alexander Stadium/Purk Field in non-conference action.
After taking an early 17-0 lead, the Cavaliers found themselves trying to hold on for a victory in the closing minutes.
Even the players themselves were open to any help they could get as Graham was driving for what would have been a game-tying score.
“I was just praying for four plays (after a Graham first down) that we could find a way to stop them,” Lehman sophomore linebacker Jacob Earhart said.
After being aided by several Lehman 15-yard penalties, Graham face a fourth-and-four on the Lehman 34 with less than two minutes remaining.
That’s when Earhart stepped in front of a Gage Braun pass and returned it 40 yards to the Graham 30 to seal the win.
“We had stopped their running game, so I knew they had to throw,” Earhart said. “I just dropped back and tried to read the quarterbacks. He was staring right at me.”
That’s when Earhart made a dash for the other end zone, only to be caught from behind.
“I was hoping to score, but I am good with this (the win),” Earhart said. “I really can’t explain it.”
It never looked like Lehman was going to need that kind of play in the early going.
Lehman had driven down the field on its first series, before settling for a 30-yard field goal by Ian Smith.
After a three-and-out, but the Falcons, Lehman quickly made it 10-0.
Earhart had a 22-yard run to set up his own 5-yard TD run to complete a 55-yard drive that started with a 25-yard run by Owen Smith. Ian Smith’s kick made it 10-0 Lehman.
Later in the quarter, Lehman quarterback Stephen Monnin hooked up with Dylan Arnold for a 37-yard scored to make it 17-0.
But, Graham began to turn things around on both sides of the ball — with the offense sparked by the hard running of Stephen Dunham and special teams coming up with a big play.
After having a field goal blocked on its first scoring chance after Braun had hooked up with Tyler Powell on a 34-yard pass play, the Falcons recovered a muffed punt by Lehman at the Cavaliers seven.
Four runs by Dunham put the ball in the end zone, with him scoring on fourth-and-goal from the three.
The kick was wide and Lehman still led 17-6.
Just before half, Lehman finished off a 69-yard drive.
Brandon Barhorst had a 13-yard reception early in the drive, Earhart had an 18-yard run and Monnin ran for 14 yards before throwing an eight-yard TD pass to Arnold with 33 seconds left in the half. Ian Smith’s kick made it 24-6 at the break.
Just when Lehman appeared ready to widen the lead in the third quarter after an Arnold interception where he tipped the ball to himself, Victor McGowen intercepted a pass in the end zone to end Lehman’s drive.
More importantly, Monnin was injured on the play and could not return.
On a fourth and nine from the Lehman 15 late in the quarter, Braun found Austin Brayton open in the end zone to make it 24-12.
Then on the first play after the kickoff — and the final play of the third quarter, Scott Branscum picked up a Lehman fumbled and returned it 20 yards for a score.
Both PAT attempts failed and Graham trailed 24-18 going to the final quarter.
“Our quarterback (Stephen Monnin) got hurt and we made some mental mistakes on offense,” Earhart said.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Lehman quarterback Kameron Lee hooked up with Arnold on a 28-yard pass that McGowen thought he was going to get pick six on.
Arnold probably would have scored by cramped up as he crossed midfield.
That drive stalled and Graham began a march from its 25 for a potential tying TD, before Earhart’s big pick to seal Lehman’s first win.
Earhart finished with 15 carries for 94 yards to lead the Lehman rushing attack, while Monnin completed seven of 15 passes for 69 yards and two TDs, with an interception.
Arnold finished with three receptions for 73 yards to lead the receivers.
Dunham had 92 yards on 28 carries to lead the Graham offense.
And while Graham dropped to 1-2, Lehman now has the same record — with a road trip to Upper Scioto Valley Friday to start NWCC play.
“We had to have this game,” Earhart said. “Last year, we started 0-2. We ran the table and made it to the regional semifinals. This was a big win for us.”
Capped by the young linebacker answering Lehman fans’ prayers.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.