By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
At a blustery and snowy Mansion Park on Saturday, Selinsgrove’s running game took center stage against University Prep in their Class AAA state opener.
Although the Seals didn’t rack up nearly as many carries as they did in a win against Trinity earlier in the season, the team still pounded out a workmanlike 64 rushes for 320 yards versus the Wildcats.
Senior fullback Mike Walter directed the ground assault for Selinsgrove. He had a season-high 137 yards on 21 carries, and he also scored a career-high four touchdowns.
“That’s never happened to me, ever. I’m so proud of my team and our line played an awesome game. They just made huge holes for us get through,” said Walter. “It’s windy and cold and we planned to run the ball a lot. When we were getting success doing that, it gave us motivation to move on and win.”
“That’s a heck of a day for Mike Walter. Mike is a great kid,” said Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess. “He really is a catalyst for our wins. He’s a great leader and a tough kid.”
Selinsgrove, however, has two big fullbacks, and junior Connor Leisenfeld is the other one. Leisenfeld, No. 2 in a potent 1-2 punch on the day for the Seals, added 92 yards on 20 carries in the game along with also scoring a pair of touchdowns.
“It was a really good day for me and the team,” said Leisenfeld. “I couldn’t have gotten any those yards if it wasn’t for the offensive line. They did really well blocking for me.”
And whenever Hess needed a tough yard or two, Leisenfeld was able to come through for Selinsgrove.
On the Seals’ second series of the game Leisenfeld converted on a couple of fourth downs on the drive, the second of which produced a two-yard touchdown run to give Selinsgrove a 14-0 lead.
“We are blessed with two fullbacks who are the big-guy type of fullback,” said Hess. “Connor Leisenfeld is a far better fullback than anybody knows. It just so happens we have two big guys who can run fullback.
“Connor is a very talented running back. He protects the ball well, he runs the ball, and he always has his hips down and his feet wide. He’s a tough kid to tackle,” added Hess.
Selinsgrove would hop on the backs of Walter and Leisenfeld the remainder of the game to turn a relatively close contest with University Prep into a blowout come the second half.
The rout was helped along when Walter scored on a four-yard run just before the half to give the Seals a 21-8 lead following a long punt return touchdown by the Wildcats.
“That was a huge momentum swing for us because it came right after UP scored,” said Hess. “Going into the locker room that was a big mental lift for us, and that was a negative thing for them.”
“That punt return didn’t affect us at all. Our offense just played a great game. I’m proud of our guys,” said Walter, who also converted on a pair of fourth downs himself in the second half.
Touchdown No. 4 for Walter came via a 28-yard score on 4th-and-1 midway through the fourth quarter to give the Seals a 35-8 lead. After that, Leisenfeld closed it out with a one-yard plunge into the endzone with under a minute to play.
“The plan was to have a two-back, big-back, run between the tackles offense and control the ball and keep it away from their offense, and that’s what we got,” said Hess.
“University Prep started putting nine guys inside the box after we scored a couple of times. They took a couple of things away from us, but we found out we could run the same stuff to a different direction,” Hess added. “We were able to figure it out and get some yards back. And it just came right down to fundamental football; our offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and did a great job.”