Above, Old Forge tailback Brian "Bubba" Tomasetti breaks a tackle by Riverside’s John Nawrocki on his way to the endzone for the first of his two touchdowns in the Blue Devils 47-6 win. Below, Colin Carey runs for a big gain during Old Forge’s first drive of the night.photos by jason reidmiller
Above, Old Forge quarterback Colin Carey celebrates his team’s 47-6 victory over arch-rival Riverside in the District 2 Class 1A title game at Old Forge Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday night. Below left, Blue Devils defensive end Joey Ciuccio sacks Vikings QB Nick Dranchak on the second play of the game. Below right, the Old Forge student body gets nuts during the Blue Devils victory.photos by Jason Reidmiller
Tired of hearing about The Dirty Dozen for the past seven weeks, the Old Forge football team decided it was time to clean things up.
So with the District 2 Class 1A title on the line – and the lead in the all-time series against arch-rival Riverside at stake as well – the Blue Devils defense turned in a spotless performance as Old Forge pummeled the Vikings, 47-6, in front of approximately 4,600 fans on Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“We knew we were the better team. Even after the first game, we didn’t care about the 12th man. We lost that game on our own,” said senior Lou Febbo. “We didn’t come out ready to play and we got beat. But tonight we knew this was our last chance to do it and we did it.”
It was the defense that set the tone early and continued throughout the game to stop the Riverside offense. The Vikings did not record a first down until the 4:38 mark of the fourth quarter.
On the Vikings second play from scrimmage, senior defensive end Joey Ciuccio crushed Riverside quarter Nick Dranchak for a five-yard loss to ignite the Big Blue Wrecking Crew.
“I really felt it set the tone in the beginning,” said Ciuccio of his 10th sack of the season. “We came out strong early and got it done. We had a really strong week of practice and it really showed in the game tonight.
“I think everyone had a little sense of being nervous but we all came out ready to play because we really wanted this game.”
The early three-and-out by the Vikings led to a six-play, 56-yard scoring drive by the Blue Devils, highlighted by two big runs and a bit of trickery.
On third-and-4 from the 50, quarterback Colin Carey sprinted for a 15-yard gain on a designed sweep to the home sidelines. Two plays later, Febbo took a pitch around the right side for a 25-yard jaunt before he was knocked out of bounds at the Riverside 9. The play pushed Febbo over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.
On the next play, Old Forge went into its bag of tricks.
Carey handed off to Febbo, but after two steps toward the left end, the two-year starter at tailback pulled up and lofted a pass to a wide open Dave Argust for a touchdown. Matt Mancuso’s first of five extra-points gave the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead with 7:54 left in the first quarter.
“We worked on that everyday the past few weeks and decided to go with it,” said Old Forge Head Coach Mike Schuback after leading his team to its second district title during his 10-year tenure. “It’s a unique situation. We have never done anything like that on first down, and with Dave being as experienced as he is we figured he could sell a lazy route and then break to the flag.”
Carey agreed with his head coach.
“I thought it was going to be a big play," said the first-year signal caller. “I thought they would definitely bite on it and they did. We have been working on it for a few weeks, and there was no better time to use it.”
The defense forced another three-and-out as Ciuccio and linebacker Anthony Trotta stuffed the run on first down, senior Ryan Cadwalder stuffed a short pass on second down, and an incompletion on third down resulted in another Vikings punt.
After Argust returned the punt 15 yards to the Riverside 39, junior tailback Brian “Bubba” Tomasetti electrified the home crowd with a 40-yard gain up the middle of the Vikings defense to put the ball at the Riverside 21.
Tomasetti carried again for 10 yards to push the ball to the Vikings 11 before Carey showed pass before tucking the ball on the right hash and making his way into the endzone for an 11-yard touchdown run, giving Old Forge (10-2) a 14-0 lead with 5:02 left in the first quarter.
“Bubba is on every special teams, and is one of our shutdown corners,” said Schuback of his reserve tailback. “He takes the challenge on and plays the run like nobody’s business. He is a physical corner and can get up on you and beat you up. He’s the same on offense.
“It wasn’t like I didn’t want to use him on offense the last two weeks, but we just didn’t have any consistency to work him in. But when we get into a flow like that it’s easy to utilize him more. I said before the game we were going to fire every bullet in the gun and came out with that attitude.”
That attitude continued three series later when Schuback called for the punt block with Riverside punting from its own 29-yard line.
Sophomore Jorden Sekol got through untouched and blocked Tim Lebiak’s punt, picking it up at the 19 before stumbling down at the six. One play later, Tomasetti blasted his way into the endzone for a 21-0 lead at the 10:18 mark of the second stanza.
“It was the same (punt block) call as the Susquehanna game. I was nervous – a lot - trying to get my first touchdown,” joked Sekol about stumbling on the return after blocking his second punt in three weeks.
Down three scores, Riverside took a gamble on its next possession, going for it on fourth-and-2 from its own 25 yard. But Sekol stopped Dranchak in his tracks on a keeper for no gain to turn the ball back over to the Blue Devils.
“We worked really hard the whole week on defense,” said Sekol. “And it was easier to fly around on defense after the offense put points on the board.
And the offense continued to put points on the board as Old Forge took advantage of the short field.
A rush by Febbo for four yards, followed by a rush for three by Tomasetti set up the latter’s 18-yard scamper to paydirt on a simple power play to the left, giving the Blue Devils as 28-0 lead with 8:04 remaining in the first half.
The defense continued to pitch a shutout in the first half, forcing Riverside into its sixth punt on seven possessions on only its 22nd play from scrimmage on its next possession.
“There is only one word to describe it – tremendous,” said Trotta of his team’s defensive effort. “Not allowing a first down until the fourth quarter. There is nothing like it. It was like pitching a perfect game in a major league game in front of 20,000 people. I don’t know how many people were here tonight, but that’s what it was like.
“Our crowd really got into it and really helped our defense out there.”
Old Forge allowed just six yards total offense in the first half as Riverside gained just 10 yards on 12 carries while being held to minus-four yards on 3-of-12 passing.
The second half was more of the same by the Blue Devils as they took the third quarter kickoff and drove 65 yards on 13 plays to put another score on the board.
Febbo capped the drive with a two-yard plunge to give Old Forge a 34-0 lead after hauling in a Carey pass for six yards on fourth-and-4 from the Riverside 8. Mancuso’s extra-point was wide right, keeping the game from going into the mercy rule at the 5:54 mark of the third quarter.
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew forced another three-and-out, and Carey, Febbo and Tomasetti rushed for another 40 yards before Carey found Argust behind the defense for a 28-yard touchdown on fourth-and-14 for a 41-0 lead as the fourth quarter began.
“I told (Colin) the whole game I could beat my defender and I was getting upset they weren’t throwing me the ball,” said Argust of his second touchdown catch of the game. “Colin just threw it up and put it where I could go get it.
“The offensive line was great tonight. The backs were able to just pound the ball, and we just kept getting first downs. I thought it was going to be a lot closer than it was. They just handed it right to us.”
Old Forge added another score after stopping Riverside on another fourth down in its own territory. Reserve quarterback Brendan Wahl hit Elijah Wilson for 34-yards on fourth-and-7 before calling his own number on a 1-yard sneak to give the Blue Devils a 47-0 lead with 6:45 left.
The Vikings finally picked up a first down on a seven-yard pass from John Plisko to Tom Lavelle on third-and-5 from its own 34 with 4:38 left in the game against the Old Forge reserves. Five plays later, Hakeem Lincoln got Riverside on the board with a five-yard run with 1:11 left. Lincoln rushed for 76 yards on 12 carries for Riverside, but 48 of those yards came on one carry during the Vikings lone scoring drive.
“We had unfinished business,” said Schuback. “Our kids wanted to play them again the minute the horn went off (after the first game). They felt they didn’t give their best effort that night. But I was cautious because sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. We also thought (Riverside) might be a little overconfident coming back here.
"It was almost a mirror of what Lackawanna Trail did. They did a lot better coming here the second time around and we expected to do the same. We did a phenomenal job the second time around.
“We thought our speed on defense in a couple different looks was going to be the difference tonight. I thought the fact that we are familiar with our field helped us relax. We put a couple of different packages in, and the kids the last three weeks have been flying around. We gave them a couple different coverages, a couple different looks out of the fronts, and our kids love it because it’s different. It’s not just the same ordinary defense. It gives us life with guys flying all over the place having fun.
“Our kids and coaches gave a great effort and did a great job. I’m very proud of our players and our coaches.”
Led by Trotta’s seven tackles, the Old Forge defense had its best outing of the season, allowing the Riverside offense only two first downs and 97 yards of total offense. Junior Mike Vieira checked in with six tackles, and Ciuccio added four tackles, including two for losses.
“We had something to play for tonight,” said Ciuccio. “We always have the rivalry between us and Riverside, but this was special tonight playing for a district championship with the series being tied.
“I believed we would have success but not on this level. It’s very exciting.”
“The defense was the difference,” Trotta said referring to the Blue Devils 15-14 loss to Riverside earlier in the season. “That game was like an awakening. We were ready to go from kickoff to the end of the game. Last time everything went right for them and everything went wrong for us. But tonight we just game out and played our game. As soon as that game ended we knew the score didn’t reflect the type of team we were and we just built on that from that week on. We used the loss as motivation.
“I can’t describe how excited I am to be part of this. I waited three years to get here and I’m not letting it go.”
Tomasetti finished his night with 116 yards rushing on 14 carries, while Carey followed with 80 yards on 13 carries. Febbo checked in with 64 yards on 16 carries as the Blue Devils rushed 53 times for 287 yards on the night.
“We thought we hit a wall the last two weeks, so we kind of went back to basics,” said Schuback of his team’s running attack. “We knew we had to run the ball a little better this week and we changed some things up for the offensive line to make it a little easier on them. We just thought we could take advantage of their size inside using our stretch plays and obviously it worked.
“I thought Coach JP (Gutowski) and Coach Mike (Cusumano) did a great job of getting the kids fired up before the game, and I just told them three words, ‘Attitude, desire and effort.’ Those are the three words we needed to portray. I told them, people remember you for how you play. They don’t remember that you are 8-1, 9-2. They remember you for how you play. They walk out of here thinking, ‘Wow. Look at that kid run. Look at that kid hit.’ So we just stressed to the team that this is not just a game for this team, for this year, but a game for this program.
"Every year is great, but this year means a little bit more. I can’t lie, being with my son everyday makes it special. And being around these seniors when we thought we had it two years ago and where we thought we would be and where we would go makes it sweeter. Having it cut short, on this field, by (Riverside)… There was no remorse then, and we reminded our guys of that tonight. There was no remorse for what they did a few years ago and we wanted to make sure our guys understood that. They had their dream last year. It’s our turn this year. Why not us? No one expected us to be here so why play tight. Why not us?”
Old Forge will travel south to take on District 4 champion Southern Columbia either next Friday or Saturday night in the first round of the PIAA Class 1A tournament at a site to be determined. The likely site is Shamokin High School on Friday night, but the PIAA has yet to officially make the announcement.
The Tigers defeated Line Mountain in the D4 title game, and have won six PIAA Class 1A state championships. Southern has appeared in 12 of the 21 Class 1A state finals, and won five straight, including its last title in 2006 when they beat Old Forge in the first round at Dunmore High School.
The Blue Devils are 0-2 all-time against the Tigers, including a 10-0 loss in 1988 when Old Forge Head Coach Mike Schuback was a junior lineman.