Above, Wyoming Area freshman running back Jeff Skursky stretches for extra yardage as GAR’s Lucas Benton closes in. Below left, Warriors wideout Cody Schmitz runs for yardage on a sweep. Below right, Ahmad Bouie turns the corner on a kick return against GAR.photos by BILL TARUTIS
In a game that could be considered as the game of the year in the Wyoming Valley Conference, Wyoming Area had trouble stopping the best player in Division AA/A, GAR’s Darrell Crawford.
But the Warriors had bigger problems not stopping themselves as two second-half fumbles allowed Crawford to out duel WA quarterback Nick O’Brien last Saturday night in a 37-30 win over Wyoming Area at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium in South Wilkes-Barre. The loss by Wyoming Area all but assured the Grenadiers will be the top seed in when the District 2 Class 2A playoffs open up in three weeks.
“That’s the way the ball bounces and those are the things you have to manage especially in big games,” said WA Head Coach Randy Spencer about the two costly turnovers. “Games that are going to come down to this small of a margin for victory, those are the things you definitely have to take care of to be successful.”
The Grenadiers got on the board first, scoring on a 17-yard post pattern as Crawford hit Shaliek Power less than three minutes into the game. Crawford would throw for two touchdowns and run for three more on the night.
However, the Warriors would answer right back.
Taking advantage of GAR’s spotty run defense, Wyoming Area ran the ball eight times, including a bruising 20-yard run by Jeff Skursky and a 21-yard scamper by Corey Popovich. Finally, Nick O’Brien faked the handoff at the 17-yard line, sprinted up the middle, cut to his right and bounced off of a defender and into the endzone. Skursky went over the top of the line for the two-point conversion and an 8-7 lead at the 5:15 mark of the first quarter.
The Warriors recovered the ensuing kickoff, when the ball was chipped over the first line of Grenadiers and Cody Schmitz hustled down the line to dive on it before it rolled out of bounds. However, the drive stalled at the 10 yard line and a missed field goal kept the Warriors lead at one with 1:53 left in the quarter.
GAR used the rest of the first quarter and three and a half minutes of the second quarter before Crawford found the endzone again and converted for two to take a 15-8 lead with 8:29 left in the half.
After a 26-yard kick return by Ahmad Bouie, Kintz ran for five on the first play of the drive then Skursky for 12 and six to get to the GAR 36. O’Brien then took the snap and rolled right. He stumbled and it looked as if he was going to get caught from behind but the speedy junior recovered and got himself to the edge where he turned on the burners and split the defenders going 36 yards untouched to paydirt. The four-play, 59 yard drive took 1:17 and knotted the game at 15 with 6:52 left in the half.
GAR answered back to reclaim the lead on their next drive when they connected on a 35-yard fly pattern from Crawford to tailback Lucas Benton.
Down 22-15, Bouie made the Grenadiers pay for kicking the ball away from O’Brien. He took the kickoff and found himself sprinting down the sideline for 63 yards before being horse-collared by the last defender at the GAR 20. The half the distance to the goal penalty gave the Warriors the ball on the 10 and it only took two Skursky carries to reach the endzone. Skursky added a two-point run to take back the lead 23-22 with 2:48 left in the half.
GAR moved the ball to the Warrior 26 before lining up for a field goal with only a few seconds left in the half. The Grenadiers attempted the fake but WA read it perfectly and Justin Langdon came up with the interception and had a lot of running room in front of him. Langdon sprinted down the sideline before being cut off by the last defender, who made a touchdown saving tackle, and the Warriors went into the half with a 23-22 lead.
Wyoming Area got the ball after the half and went right back to their game plan of pounding the rock right at the GAR defense.
Popovich went for four and then O’Brien for two and Skursky for one bringing up fourth-and-two from the GAR 49. The Warriors – who didn’t have a single negative yardage play until the fourth quarter – were confident in their ability to pick up one yard and decided to go for it. The handoff went to Popovich who picked up the first down and more as he ran over defenders, picking up 14 yards before being stripped by GAR. The Grenadier defender jumped on the ball and took over possession at the Warrior 36-yard line.
The turnover proved costly as GAR converted the fumble into a Crawford touchdown and two-point conversion to take a 30-23 lead with 7:36 left in the third quarter.
The Warriors ensuing possession was once again run-laden as they moved the ball from their 37 to the GAR nine before the usually reliable Skursky coughed up the ball and gave it back to the Grenadiers at the 1:33 mark of the third.
GAR took advantage of the Wyoming Area misfortune as they drove 93 yards for their fifth score of the game as Crawford cashed in from 25 yards out. The back-to-back scores gave the Grenadiers a two possession lead with 9:43 left in the game.
However, the Warriors did not quit after the two costly turnovers.
With the ball at their own 41, O’Brien scrambled for five before hitting Grove for 30 yards to the GAR 34. After two O’Brien carries and an incomplete pass, WA found themselves facing a fourth-and-six. O’Brien took the snap and hung in the pocket but no one came open, he rolled to his left and lofted a pass just before taking a big hit from the defensive lineman. The pass landed in the hands of a wide-open Grove for 13 yards to the 17. On the very next play, O’Brien ran up the middle and collided with the umpire at the 10 yard line. He bounced off him and took the play outside and into the endzone to cut the lead to 37-30 with 6:45 left in the game.
The Grenadiers took the ball back at the 6:36 mark and looked to try to run the clock out. However, Wyoming Area was able to force a fumble that was jumped on by Zack LaNunziata, giving the Warriors a shot at evening the score.
With 1:34 and no timeouts, O’Brien hit LaNunziata on a swing pass for minus-two yards and then was sacked for minus-12 yards. With 30 seconds left and facing a third-and-24, O’Brien fired a pass deep but it was intercepted to end the game.
“We have to refocus,” said Spencer about what lies ahead for the Warriors. “You have two games left in your regular season, you have a district playoff birth in the balance, so you have to refocus. Our kids will be back. We will work hard.”