Kirby Griffin (7) of the Pioneers is stopped by the Wolves defense in Friday’s af2 opener at the Wachovia Arena.Pete g. wilcox/the times leader
Ryan Vena of the Pioneers gets ready to throw long against Manchester in Friday’s af2 opener at the Wachovia Arena. Vena threw seven touchdown passes in the Pioneers’ 59-28 rout.Pete g. wilcox/the times leader
WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Ryan Vena and J.J. Outlaw connected for four touchdowns on Friday, Vena himself tossed for seven scores, as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton opened its eighth af2 season with a 59-28 rout of Manchester.
The win marks the sixth consecutive year the Pioneers opened their home season with a victory and their 18th straight regular-season victory at the Wachovia Arena.
For the losing Wolves, GAR High School graduate and former Penn State fullback Paul Jefferson rushed three times for 7 yards.
“Both sides of the ball played well,” said Vena, the Pioneers quarterback who tossed for 230 yards. “When that happens, we’re going to be in there and we’re going to win the game. We got off the ball quick, got some turnovers and capitalized on them.”
The Pioneers’ defense was an immovable object at times, tallying three sacks and three interceptions.
They didn’t allow any points in the first quarter. And the only score given up in the fourth quarter was after they were up 52-21 with 1:12 left on the clock.
One big question coach Rich Ingold had entering the game was the play of an offensive line with newcomers playing in the trenches.
But the guys up front did exceptional by not allowing any sacks and Vena dropped back to throw 35 times.
“We relied on our guys up front and they really stepped up to the challenge,” said Ingold, who earned his 76th career af2 win. “We had a few holding penalties we’re going to correct, but overall, I thought Ryan was protected well.”
The Pioneers got off to a quick start as usual only needing two plays to get on the board in the first quarter.
That was when Vena and Outlaw (89 receiving yards) hooked up for a 19-yard score just 1:10 into the contest.
After forcing an interception on the Wolves first possession, the Pioneers stormed through to score again on another pass from Vena to Outlaw. This time, it was from 22 yards out.
“We’ve been working hard in practice and when we come out here we are feeling good,” Outlaw said about his rapport with Vena. “We felt like everybody was playing well together.”
David Davis added a 37-yard field goal early in the second quarter and the Pioneers were up 17-0.
Manchester’s defense stepped up in the second quarter holding Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on back-to-back drives and finding the end zone both times to cut the lead to 17-14. But three points was as close as it would get.
Wyoming Area grad Rich Musinski (six receptions, 92 yards) hauled in a 5-yard score from Vena late in the first half to up the lead to 24-14 entering halftime.
Manchester would again close the gap to three after a touchdown to open the second half. But again, the Pioneers defense stopped the Wolves after that.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had two interceptions in the last 30 minutes of play and dropped Wolves quarterback James Pinkney twice in the half.
The defense shining is something the Pioneers will hope for in the near future as they still have to play the Wolves three more times this season, including the final game of the regular season.
“They’re a resilient team. They’re going to hang with you,” Vena added. “This is a great series. It goes back a long time. It’s fun and it’s always hard going there to play too.”
The next time the teams meet will be May 1 in Wilkes-Barre Township.
Next week, the Pioneers host Albany on Friday.