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Controversy clouds classic battle

Riverside has 12 men on field for deciding play in 15-14 win over OF

Above, Old Forge wide receiver Dave Argust runs after one of his three catches against Riverside. At right, Anthony Trotta (63) and Ryan Paulish (51) bring down Riverside tailback Hakeen Lincoln.

photos by angela ceccarelli

Pictured above, Old Forge quarterback Colin Carey looks upfield after getting away from Riverside’s Mike Loftus. Below left, Mike Vieira returns a kickoff for the Blue Devils during their loss to the Vikings. Below right, Tony DeSando has Riverside’s Hakeem Lincoln wrapped up.

photos by angela ceccarelli

It may forever be known as the, ‘Dirty Dozen.’

A game that might have gone down as one of the greatest ever played in the 64-game series between arch-rivals Old Forge and Riverside, instead may be remembered for the Vikings having an extra man on the field on the game’s deciding play.

Riverside quarterback Nick Dranchak found Dave Sweetman in the endzone with 12.8 seconds left, and then hit Jim Tucker for the two-point conversion as the Vikings rallied for a dramatic, 15-14, victory in front of over 4,000 fans at Old Forge Veterans Memorial Stadium.

But after a night of watching film, Old Forge Head Coach Mike Schuback discovered that Riverside had a 12th man on the field during the successful two-point conversion.

“We had a question about the formation they came out in (for the conversion) at the time,” said Schuback by telephone Saturday afternoon. “The officials assured our players that the formation was good, but when we looked at it on film they absolutely have 12 men on the field.”

The play in question had Riverside rushing to line up for its two-point try after exhausting its three timeouts during the 21-play, 83-yard drive which ended with the winning score. The Vikings sent three receivers to the right side and a split end to the left, and put Dranchak in the shotgun, flanked by two backs. Those seven players joined five offensive linemen for a total of 12.

On the play, Dranchak was forced out of the pocket by defensive end Joey Ciuccio, and when the junior signal-caller scrambled to his sideline, he found Tucker - one of the seven skill players on the field - open in the endzone.

The missed call by the officials detracted – albeit some 12 hours later - from what was otherwise a classic battle between the storied rivals.

Opening the game by receiving the football, Riverside reeled off 18 plays on an 82-yard drive that featured a bad bounce for each team.

Facing fourth-and-goal from the Old Forge 5, Vikings tailback Hakeem Lincoln was hit at the line of scrimmage and was stripped of the football. Sophomore safety Jake Manetti snatched the ball out of the air and took off up the home sidelines, but Sweetman chopped at the ball from behind to force a fumble.

Riverside recovered the loose ball, and three plays later, Lincoln scored from 4-yards out with 3:32 left in the opening stanza. Tim Lebiak drilled the extra-point, and the Vikings took a 7-0 lead. The drive was paced by Lincoln’s 46 yards on 10 carries and took 8:34 off the clock.

Old Forge answered with a 10-play scoring drive of its own, aided in part by two Riverside penalties – one on a defensive hold, the other a late-hit personal foul penalty after a 23-yard completion from Colin Carey to Tony DeSando which set the Blue Devils up with first-and-goal from the Vikings 9.

Three plays later, Carey beat the Riverside defense to the pylon on a straight quarterback sweep on fourth-and-goal from the 2 to put Old Forge on the board. Matt Mancuso’s extra-point try was true, and the game was tied at 7-7 with 11:12 remaining in the first half.

The Blue Devils held Riverside to just 13 yards on its next two possessions, and after Dranchak punted from his own 2-yard line, Old Forge return man Mike Vieira gave the Blue Devils great field position with a 10-yard return to the Riverside 25.

A 9-yard run on second down by Carey put Old Forge on the Riverside 14, but as they have all season, the Blue Devils bogged down in the red zone.

Riverside stopped tailback Lou Febbo for no gain on first down, before Mike Loftus sacked Carey for a 9-yard loss on second down. Back-to-back penalties on the Blue Devils pushed the football past the 50-yard line and gave Old Forge third-and-55 from the Vikings 40.

The Blue Devils had a shot to pick up the yardage when Carey scrambled to the Riverside bench before sprinting back to the Old Forge sideline where he directed Dave Argust to fly upfield. Argust had his defender beat, but Carey’s pass went just long, past the outreached arms of his top receiver.

The teams traded possessions to end the first half, but Old Forge took the lead on the opening possession of the second half.

Carey directed an 11-play, 68-yard drive, going 4-for-5 for 58 yards while running for 22 yards in converting two third downs and a fourth down.

On third-and-13 from his own 41, the senior hit Argust for a 15-yard completion and a first down on the Riverside 46. Two plays later, Carey found Vieira for a 17-yard strike and a first down on the Vikings 25.

Two more penalties on the Blue Devils set up third-and-21 from the 36, but Carey again made a play, finding Anthony Piccolini for an 18-yard pickup to give Old Forge a manageable fourth-and-3 from the 18.

Carey picked up the first down on his own with a 10-yard jaunt up the middle before finding Argust in the endzone two plays later for an 8-yard score. Mancuso’s kick was good and Old Forge led 14-7 with 7:57 left in the third quarter.

Two possessions later, Riverside marched from its own 7 to midfield as Dranchak hooked up with Sweetman for 12 yards on a third-and-12, and with Loftus for 14 yards on second-and-8.

But the Blue Devils dug in and Ciuccio sacked Dranchak for an 8-yard loss on first down before Cory Stuart and Anthony Trotta forced the Riverside QB into incompletions on third and fourth down to force a punt.

Old Forge took over on its own 31 and after two runs by Carey for 17 yards, the Blue Devils had the ball on the 48. But Riverside held Old Forge on its next three plays and forced a punt to set up the game-winning drive.

The Vikings took over on its own 17, and after two runs by Lincoln sandwiched around a Dranchak completion to Loftus, Riverside had a first down at its own 28. An incompletion followed by a holding penalty on the next play pushed the Vikings back to its own 15, but Dranchak made back-to-back plays to keep the drive alive.

Scrambling across his own goal line under heavy duress from the Blue Devils defensive front on second-and-24, Dranchak found Sweetman in a crowd for a 20-yard gain. Then the former 1,000-yard passer hit John Nawrocki for 13 yards across the middle for a first down at the 35.

“My guys played hard. But let’s give them credit,” said Schuback on Friday night. “When they needed to make a play, those two guys, Dranchak and Sweetman, did it.”

The drive continued on the ground for the Vikings as it ran behind its massive offensive line – a group which averages 6’1, 280-pounds – for 13 of its next 16 plays.

But it was Dranchak’s arm that eventually did the Blue Devils in.

On fourth-and-7 from the 50, Dranchak found Loftus for an 11-yard gain. Then on third-and-9, and with Trotta hanging all over him, Dranchak somehow got the ball to Sweetman for a 10-yard completion to the Old Forge 15.

Six plays later, including one in which Dranchak rushed for six yards on fourth-and-3 from the 8, the quarterback found Sweetman in the endzone on third down for a 1-yard score.

Riverside’s final drive took 9:59 off of the fourth-quarter clock. The Vikings ran 39 plays for 165 yards on its opening and closing drives of the game.

Old Forge was able to run one final play, but Loftus intercepted Carey to solidify the victory for the Vikings.

“They made a couple plays at the end,” said Schuback. “We needed to make stops. They needed to make a catch. They made the catch. We had them in some long situations but they were able to convert. It overshadowed some of the good things we did.”

Carey finished the night for the Blue Devils with 82 yards rushing on 11 carries and 94 yards passing on a 6-for-13 night. Old Forge leading rusher Lou Febbo managed just 35 yards on 12 carries. Argust caught a team-high three balls for 36 yards and his first touchdown of the season.

Trotta notched a career-high 18 tackles, including eight on Riverside’s final possession, as the senior desperately tried to stop the Vikings with an outstanding individual effort.

Dranchak led Riverside with a 13-for-20 performance for 122 yards. His main target was Sweetman who caught eight passes for 74 yards. Loftus added three catches for 33 yards for the Vikings. Dranchak also rushed for 44 yards on 14 carries, but it was Lincoln who chewed up the yardage on the ground for Riverside, running for 104 yards on 27 carries.

Old Forge (3-2) will travel to Montrose on Friday night while Riverside (3-2) hosts Western Wayne.

“We need to bind together the rest of the way,” said Schuback. “We need to work together instead of work apart. We need to take some pressure off of our young offensive lineman, and get our running backs more in the flow earlier in the game. We need to do a better job with that. We need those guys to be in the flow of the game.”

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