Dave Argust returns a punt for a touchdown against MV.photo by angela ceccarelli
Above, Old Forge’s Dave Argust returns a fourth-quarter interception 80 yards for a touchdown during the Blue Devils 42-26 come-from-behind win over Mid Valley on Friday night in Throop. Below left, Ryan Paulish celebrates a Blue Devils touchdown. Below right, Colin Carey sneaks over the goalline for a touchdown, and Lou Febbo (33) sprints to the endzone for a score.photos by angela ceccarelli
Last week Old Forge Head Coach Mike Schuback said his Blue Devils couldn’t win without Dave Argust. This week, Argust backed him up.
The senior returned a punt and an interception for touchdowns as Old Forge rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat Mid Valley, 42-26, in a key Lackawanna Football Conference Division III battle on Friday night at Spartan Stadium in Throop.
But it wasn’t just the two returns that spurred the victory. Argust also thwarted another Mid Valley drive with an INT, and caught three passes for 70 yards. His heroics saved the Blue Devils from an uninspiring first half of play.
The Spartans got off to a fast start, scoring on their fifth play from scrimmage – a quick screen from quarterback Martin Walsh to wideout Ronny Tomasetti that the latter turned into a 30-yard touchdown with just 1:57 gone from the clock. The two-point pass failed and the Spartans led, 6-0.
A quick three-and-out by the Blue Devils gave Mid Valley some momentum, and three plays later, Antonio Russo sprinted 69 yards around the right side for a touchdown. Ryan Cadwalder intercepted the two-point pass for Old Forge, but the Spartans led 12-0.
Old Forge answered with 12-play, 61-yard drive that Colin Carey capped with a 1-yard plunge. Carey completed four passes on the drive for 67 yards, including an 11-yarder to Argust on third-and-8; a 27-yarder to Mike Vieira on third-and-4; and a 24-yarder to Lou Febbo on fourth-and-23 from the Mid Valley 29. Febbo ran in the two-point conversion and Old Forge was within 12-8 with 54 seconds left in the opening period.
The Spartans came right back as Walsh and Tomasetti hooked up again for a touchdown, this time for a 56-yard strike down the middle of the field with just nine seconds elapsed in the second quarter. The two-point run failed again and MV led, 18-8.
The Blue Devils again put together a long drive, chewing up 67 yards on 10 plays. But when Mid Valley forced an incompletion on third down, Old Forge settled for a 25-yard field goal by Matt Mancuso to get within 18-11with 6:34 left in the first half.
Mid Valley again responded as Russo zipped around his left side and went 65 yards untouched to the endzone on the ensuing play from scrimmage. This time the Spartans converted the two-point pass as Walsh found Tomasetti in the corner of the endzone for a 26-11 lead with 6:16 remaining in the second quarter.
The duo of Russo and Tomasetti accounted for 268 yards in offense for the Spartans to that point in the game. But the Blue Devils defense locked down the playmakers from that point on, allowing the duo to gain just 54 yards the rest of the way.
“The first half we slept walked,” said co-captain Anthony Trotta. “But we were able to keep it close enough to give ourselves a chance in the second half. We played the first half like we were playing not to lose. We had to come out the second half and play to win. We were fighting on our heels but needed to fight on our toes. We needed to control the tempo, control the game. We know our defense is key.
“We gave up big plays and we shouldn’t have. They are a big-play team and we didn’t stop them. In the second half we swarmed the football like we were supposed to.”
Before the Blue Devils got to halftime they would add a 28-yard field goal from Mancuso to get within 26-14, but it didn’t happen without some excitement. Facing a fourth-and-10 from the MV 22, Carey hit Vieira for a 21-yard gain to the 1 as time expired. But the Spartans were called for pass interference on the play, to give Old Forge one untimed down from the MV 11, and a chance to convert for three points.
“I think all of our coaches made the best of the 20 minute halftime,” said Schuback, who is now 6-0 against legendary Mid Valley coach Frank Pazzaglia. “We all talked to our position players and the kids all got together and the coaches did a great job of that. Our seniors, I was really impressed with them. We really rely on a lot on our younger kids, but the seniors are leading them. The seniors were telling them, ‘just stay focused, keep playing, we’re going to be OK.’
“We changed some things up defensively in the second half personnel wise. (Assistant Coach) Dan (Holland) made some switches. Younger kids like Shane (Schuback), (Jorden) Sekol, Ryan Paulish, (Paul) Papi got us going.”
The third quarter opened with the Blue Devils going three-and-out, but Sekol stepped in front of a Walsh pass on Mid Valley’s first possession for an interception as Papi apply pressure to the Spartans quarterback. The sophomore linebacker added nine tackles and a fumble recovery to his INT on the night.
“Jorden is doing a great job for us,” said Trotta. “But all of our underclassmen are playing with so much heart right now. I can’t credit them enough. Our whole thing is team. We don’t have one main guy. We are a team and that is what we focus on.”
Two plays after the interception, Argust hauled in a pass from Carey on third-and-11 and took the crossing pattern 34 yards to the Spartans 5 before Carey scored on a quarterback draw to get Old Forge (6-2 overall, 3-0 LFC) within 26-21 with 8:40 showing on the third-quarter clock.
The key catch by Argust was a sign of things to come.
With less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter, Argust took a Chris Merenich punt 58-yards to paydirt to put the Blue Devils ahead, 28-26, after Mancuso’s extra-point. On the return Argust avoided one tackler just as he caught the punt, sprinted down the Old Forge sidelines, cut back at the 30 where it looked as if he would be knocked out of bounds, and jaunted into the endzone for the score.
“When I caught the ball I saw a bunch of guys coming up the middle,” said Argust of his punt return. “Coach Schuback told me if we have the block on to the right, then take it to the left because those guys on the block will be coming back on that side of the field. So I went left and got crazy blocks from Louis (Febbo) and Mike Vieira and I just kept going. There was a great lane.
“I saw the guy had a bad angle on me near the sidelines so I just cut back to the middle of the field and just kept going.”
On the ensuing Mid Valley possession, the Spartans marched 49 yards to the Old Forge 14 on 10 plays to set up a first-and-10. But Papi stopped Russo for no gain on first down, and Mid Valley was called for an illegal chop block on second down to push the ball back to the Old Forge 29. On second-and-24, Martin threw for Russo along the visiting sidelines, but Argust was there for the interception at the 1 to thwart the drive.
The Blue Devils moved the ball out to their own 35 yard line from there, but the drive stalled and Mid Valley took over at their own 37 with 6:04 left in the game after the Old Forge punt.
The Spartans methodically moved into Old Forge territory as Walsh found Tomasetti twice for 11 yards, and Russo once for 13 on a fourth-and-6 screen play. But Walsh eyed up his top receiver one too many times, and on second-and-7 from the Blue Devils eight, Argust made the play of the game.
The 6-1, 170-pound defensive back stepped in front of Tomasetti as the ball got to the division’s leading pass catcher, wrestled the ball away from the Division I prospect and sprinted 80 yards to the endzone for the score. Mancuso’s point after gave Old Forge a 35-26 lead with 2:18 to play.
“I saw them throw that pass a couple times to Tomasetti and I knew Jake (Manetti) was going to be over the top on him so I just went in to make the play. At first I felt like his hands were on the ball, but I just ripped it out and started moving.”
“In the second half we were rolling Dave and (Brian) Bubba (Tomasetti) on Tomasetti,” added Schuback. “We thought they were going to go wide side a little more than normal, and on that play, someone yelled from the sideline to take away the slant. Dave just turned a little bit and he read the play.
“I said if he makes a mistake we are upset, but he saw it and made the play. Dave’s a smart kid and I have a ton of respect for him as a player and as a person. He has a lot of faith in his ability and in my opinion no one has more character.”
Argust’s defensive play was the clincher for the Blue Devils, but they weren’t finished scoring as Brian Tomasetti’s 49-yard return of an interception set up Febbo’s 18-yard touchdown run with three seconds left as Old Forge was trying to run out the clock.
Febbo finished the night with 72 yards rushing on 19 carries, and two catches for 26 yards. Carey went 10-for-22 for 148 yards, and rushed for 45 yards and two scores, while Vieira caught three balls for 47 yards.
“The difference in the second half was feeding off the turnovers,” said Schuback. “I said earlier in the week we needed great special teams and some turnovers. We felt we were better on special teams. So that was a key for us. Dave ran a punt back, we almost blocked one, a snap went over their head, and look at (Mancuso). Those two (field goals) are huge. So we knew if we could get them stopped defensively we could get rolling.”
The Blue Devils will travel to Dunmore on Saturday afternoon to take on Holy Cross at Monsignor Crotti Field at St. Anthony’s Playground. The Crusaders are 5-3 with all three of its losses coming at home.