Above, Old Forge linebacker Cory Stuart, left, pursues Lackawanna Trail quarterback Caleb Darling in a District 2 Class A semifinal in Old Forge on Friday night. Below left, Lou Febbo looks for running room early during the Blue Devils win. Below right, Colin Carey is stopped in the backfield by a Lackawanna Trail defender.photos by BILL TARUTIS
Above, the Old Forge student body was out in full force to support the Blue Devils in the District 2 Class 1A semifinal on Friday night. Below, Old Forge running back Brian "Bubba" Tomasetti takes off in the open field after hauling in one of his two catches.photos by bill tarutis
Old Forge Head Coach Mike Schuback preaches to his football team that big players make big plays in big games.
It may have taken 43 minutes, but the Blue Devils heeded their coach’s teachings as they rallied for a hard-fought, 10-7, victory over Lackawanna Trail in the District 2 Class 1A playoff at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday night. The win gives Old Forge one more home game when they host arch-rival Riverside this Friday for the district championship. The Vikings upset top-seed and previously undefeated Dunmore, 14-13.
Trailing 7-3 with less than six minutes showing on the clock, Blue Devils sophomore linebacker Shane Schuback made the first big play for Old Forge (9-2).
On third-and-8 from the Old Forge 33, Lackawanna Trail quarterback Caleb Darling called his own number off the left side of the Lions offensive line. But senior linebacker Anthony Trotta stood Darling up at the line of scrimmage and Schuback punched the ball out before recovering the loose pigskin to give the Blue Devils struggling offense one more chance.
“Darling was running with the ball and I slapped it out of his hands.” said Schuback, the coach’s son. “It was on the ground and I just picked it up. Our defense is playing real strong the last couple of weeks, and when we needed to get a stop, we were able to do it.”
The turnover set Old Forge up at its own 33-yard line. The Blue Devils had gained just 34 yards up to that point in the game, but quarterback Colin Carey, tailback Lou Febbo, and wide receiver Dave Argust followed the lead of their defensive teammates as each came up with a big play.
After two incompletions, Carey found Febbo on a checkdown out of the backfield at the 50. Febbo lowered his head to pick up another eight yards, and Old Forge was in Trail territory for just the second time in the game. The play also gave the Blue Devils their first first down of the second half, and just its third of the night.
“It’s possibly my last game, playing in front of our home crowd, I knew I had to make a play,” said Febbo of the third-down conversion. “I wanted to be the one, so when I got the chance I did. We called the route, and Colin did a good job of reading it and got it to me.”
On the ensuing play, Carey found Mike Vieira for a nine-yard gain over the middle to move the ball to the Trail 33-yard line. But an incompletion on second down was followed by a sack of Carey as the senior quarterback was enveloped by a blitzing Lions defense on a designed draw play.
On fourth-and-6, Carey went back to Febbo out of the backfield, and the senior tailback picked up 13 yards for the first down. Carey then went downtown to Argust for a 26-yard touchdown as the senior receiver got behind the cornerback and safety to catch the ball as he crossed the goal line. Matt Mancuso drilled the extra-point, and the Blue Devils led, 10-7, with 2:49 left in the game.
“Both my assistants on the sidelines – Bisco (Gene Biscontini) and Dan (Holland) – said we just needed to make one play,” said Schuback. “Boom, Shane makes a play, Trotta makes a play, and the offense - Colin, Lou, Mike, Dave - they make a few plays. We kept saying big players make big play in big games, and we needed that atmosphere and that mentality.”
“Louie is designed as a check down for us and just seeing that no one was there he ran a great route and made a great play,” added Carey. “In the end, the team came together and still trusted me and had faith in me to make a play. Dave made a great move and a great catch and it feels great right now.”
That feeling almost never came as Carey and his explosive offense struggled mightily throughout the night as Trail and its bruising rushing attack played keep away of much of the night.
The Lions outgained the Blue Devils, 274-19, on the ground as they ran the ball 65 times to Old Forge’s 14. Lackawanna Trail was only inside the Blue Devils 30 twice during the night, but its 3-to-1 margin in time of possession never let Old Forge get untracked.
“Trail had the right game plan in limiting our offensive touches so we never got into a rhythm offensively,” said Schuback. “Defensively they played us well not allowing Colin to get wide. It limited our sprint-out packages.”
The Lions harassed Carey into a 9-for-23 night passing, including a 6-for-19 start before the Blue Devils scoring drive. The rare inconsistent play from the 1,000-yard passer even had Coach Schuback considering a fourth-quarter change as he had backup Brendan Wahl warming up on the sidelines.
“I did tell him I was giving him one more series,” said Schuback. “He just wasn’t seeing it. A few times he came to the sidelines he was talking to himself – and that’s not a negative thing. He is a huge competitor and wants to be successful but I think he might have put a little too much pressure on himself when the game got tight. But in his defense, Trail gave us looks we haven’t seen too much. For Colin and our four or five receivers to be on the same page is tough.”
The first-year signal-caller concurred with his coach.
“I was just playing way too fast, trying to make too many plays instead of just taking what the defense was giving me,” said Carey. “Things were there and open. I was just playing way too fast. (Trail) played a great game but I should have made more plays. I have to make more plays.”
That was one thing the Old Forge defense didn’t have to worry about. The Big Blue Wrecking Crew made play after play to keep the Lions out of the endzone for most of the night. The defense also set up Old Forge’s score.
With the score knotted at 0-0 halfway through the third quarter, sophomore defensive tackle Paul Papi jarred the ball loose from Trail fullback Eric Laytos on a third-and-7 from the Lions 33. Defensive back Brian “Bubba” Tomasetti – who made a career-high 11 tackles on the night – recovered the fumble for the Blue Devils. Trail was whistled for a dead-ball, personal foul on the play to set Old Forge up at the Lions 13.
A six-yard run by Carey on first down moved the ball inside the 10, but two incomplete passes – included what the Blue Devils thought to be a touchdown catch by Dave Argust in the endzone – send Mancuso onto the field to attempt a 25-yard field goal.
The sophomore kicker delivered his fifth field goal of the season, lining the ball over the crossbar for a 3-0 lead with 3:21 left in the third stanza.
Trail came right back and put together a 13-play, 64-yard drive that was capped with a Laytos 4-yard run as the former PIAA wrestling champion barreled into the endzone with 8:34 left in the game to give the Lions a 7-3 lead. Laytos finished with 187 yards on 36 carries for the Lions.
Argust returned the ensuing kick past the 50-yard line for the Blue Devils, but Old Forge was called for a hold to put the ball instead at their own 19-yard line. The Blue Devils were then called for holding on first down and were forced to punt three plays later.
Six plays into the next Trail possession, Schuback forced and recovered the fumble before the Blue Devils went on to take the lead.
Trail would drive to the Old Forge 27 on the final drive of the game, but Jorden Sekol stopped Darling, one-on-one in the open field, on a quarterback draw on third down, before teaming with Trotta on fourth down to stop Laytos and send the Blue Devils to their first District 2 final since 2008.
“We gave everything we had,” said Trotta after his 14-tackle performance. “You cannot explain the effort that was given tonight by this team. The underclassmen rose to the challenge. The seniors stepped up. Everyone gave their best effort tonight. We went 100-percent every play. We bent but we didn’t break. I can’t be more proud to be on a team with these guys.
“I am extremely excited for next week. It’s time to put up or shut up. We will be ready. I didn’t think we would get to meet again after Week 5 but it happened. Fate happens. It’s happening for a reason. It will be an amazing feeling to play a district championship game in front of our home crowd.”
Carey finished with 103 yards passing on the night to up his season total to 1,129. Febbo’s two catches netted him 37 yards, and Argust had two catches for 35 yards. Tomasetti also had two catches for 15 yards.
Sekol led the defense with 17 tackles, and senior linebacker Ryan Cadwalder checked in with 11 stops. Senior defensive linemen Tony DeSando, Lou Ciuccio and Cory Stuart combined to register 18 tackles.
“This team means the world to me,” said Schuback “It is absolutely the most unselfish team I have been around in my 10 years. I’m proud of this team more than any, and I’m excited to be around them. There is no other place I would rather be than to be with this team.”
Friday night’s matchup will determine who takes the lead in the all-time series between Old Forge and Riverside. The Blue Devils and Vikings are tied with 30 wins each to go along with four ties. It will also be the third time in the past four seasons the teams have met in the district playoffs. Riverside has won the previous two.
“I am thrilled (to play Riverside), and was hoping we would have another chance at them,” said Carey.
“But you have to be careful what you wish for. We have to come ready to play because they are going to be ready. They want another shot at us too.”