Ali Muhammed, left, celebrates his first quarter touchdown with UNICO teammate Dave Ryncavage in Wednesday’s UNICO football game at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium. Muhammed caught two touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP.Pete G. Wilcox/The Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — After equaling last year’s final score in the first quarter alone, the 58th UNICO All-Star Football Classic came down to defense Wednesday night.
And the biggest defensive play came with 1:27 to play at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium.
The West stopped the East on a two-point conversion try, halting a comeback attempt and preserving a 28-27 victory.
“The kids wanted to go for the win, so we went for the win,” said Holy Redeemer coach Len Butczynski, who coached the East. “It’s a charity game and wanted to have fun. I have to give the kids credit. We were down 28-7 at halftime and they came out in the second half and played unbelievable.”
The East moved within 28-27 when Redeemer’s Robert Gawlas outjumped defenders for a 24-yard touchdown pass from Hazleton Area’s Matt Drumheller.
The East decided to go for a two-point conversion, but as Drumheller rolled right he was hemmed in by Tunkhannock’s Dave White and Wyoming Valley West’s Dave Ryncavage of the West. Drumheller reversed fields, but had nowhere to go.
On the East’s prior drive, Wyoming Seminary’s Chris Ostrowski of the West picked off a pass in the red zone.
Valley West receiver Ali Muhammed was named the game’s MVP after making touchdown receptions of 77 and 15 yards in the first quarter off passes from Lake-Lehman’s Nate Volkel.
Muhammed’s first touchdown was a short hitch to the left sideline that he quickly turned up field. He came down with the 15-yarder between two defenders.
“It was a pleasure,” Muhammed said. “I really enjoyed the game. Coach told us to go out and play hard, and I went out and played hard. And I got myself a present.”
Volkel, the Wyoming Valley Conference leader in passing yards and touchdowns this season, also turned in a strong performance. He added a 10-yard touchdown pass to Pittston Area’s Sam Parente early in the second quarter for a 21-7 lead.
The West took a 28-7 advantage into halftime when Pittston Area’s Broc Hazlet lofted a 30-yard TD pass to Lehman’s Cody Lamoreaux.
“We could have thrown the ball all night,” said Northwest’s Carl Majer, who coached the West, “but we wanted to run the football, mix it up and get everybody playing time. We did that.
“It was a great second half and was really exciting for the fans.”
The East cut the deficit to 28-14 at 5:15 of the third quarter on a 23-yard TD catch by GAR’s Ryan Womack from Coughlin’s Matt McClosky. Coughlin’s Mike Mitchell then returned a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown, moving the East within 28-21 with 7:21 to play in the fourth.
While the East benefited immensely from the West’s lone turnover, it was plagued throughout by its own miscues. The East lost four fumbles and had two passes intercepted.