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Warriors fall in shootout with GAR

O’Brien rushes for 321 yards in 53-44 D2 title loss to Grenadiers

Wyoming Area running back Ahmad Bouie looks for some running room against GAR.

Wyoming Area running back Corey Popovich (4) runs back the opening kickoff for a touchdown against GAR as teammate Matt Kintz trails in the District 2 Class 2A championship game at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium on Friday night.

photos by bill tarutis

Wyoming Area head coach Randy Spencer hands quarterback Nick O’Brien his District 2 silver medal after the Warriors 53-44 loss to GAR. O’Brien rushed for 321 yards and three TDs.

Wyoming Area’s Corey Popovich clinches his silver medal after GAR defeated the Warriors in the District 2 Class 2A title game Friday night.

Wyoming Area quarterback Nick O’Brien reaches over the goal line to score against GAR Friday night.

photos by bill tarutis

The District 2 Class 2A final matchup on Friday between Wyoming Area and GAR was eerily similar to their Wyoming Valley Conference showdown just four weeks ago.

Big plays.

Points in bunches.

A lack of defense.

And two No. 8s leading the way for both teams with highlight reel runs and overall great offensive play.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, the ending was also all too similar as the Wyoming defense could not get a defensive stop when they needed it most, and GAR forced a turnover on a late Wyoming Area drive to seal a 53-44 victory and capture the District 2 Class 2A gold at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium in South Wilkes-Barre on Friday night.

GAR quarterback Darrell Crawford ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns, and threw three more to lead the Grenadiers while WA quarterback Nick O’Brien ran for a career-high 321 yards to go with three touchdowns on 36 carries to pace the Warriors.

“A couple times defensively we needed one more stop or one more play and we just couldn’t get it tonight,” said Warriors Head Coach Randy Spencer. “We took our chances. We didn’t leave any bullets in the gun. Hats off to GAR.”

GAR pooch kicked the opening kickoff in an attempt to keep the ball out of the hands of Wyoming Area’s dangerous returnmen. But the move backfired as the kick went right to Warriors up-man Corey Popovich who snagged it out of the air and rumbled 65 yards down the sideline to give the Warriors an early 7-0 lead after the first of AJ Lenkaitis’ four extra-points on the night.

The Warriors defense held the potent GAR offense to a turnover-on-downs but gave the ball right back after going three-and-out. The Grenadiers used a 13-play drive, resulting in Crawford hitting his tight end Glen Yashkus for a 12-yard score. Luke Height missed the extra point and the Warriors kept the lead 7-6 with 14 seconds left in the first quarter.

The first play of the Warriors next possession resulted in a fumble when the ball slipped out of O’Brien’s hand on a pass attempt. GAR jumped on the loose ball, and three plays later, Crawford hit Lucas Benton on a deep fade route for the score. Wyoming Area stopped the GAR two-point attempt but the Grenadiers were up 12-7 with 10:42 left in the half.

The Warriors answered right back via the legs of Nick O’Brien.

On the first play of the drive, the junior took the handoff and exploded through the hole at the line of scrimmage and used his downfield blocks to weave his way for a 36-yard gain to the GAR 28. After three straight rushes for short gains, the Warriors faced a fourth-and-6 from the GAR 24.

O’Brien took the snap, faked the handoff and burst through a hole created by left tackle Carl Zielinski and left guard Joe Erzar. He shook off a few tacklers and made his way across the goal line for the score. O’Brien then hit Joe Adonizio for the two-point conversion as the Warriors reclaimed the lead 15-12 at the 8:01 mark of the second quarter.

GAR wasted no time going back on top as Crawford ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run on the first play of the drive to give the Grenadiers a 19-15 lead.

The ensuing kickoff for GAR hit a Warrior up-man and bounced back into the hands of the Grenadiers. Crawford struck again on the third play of the drive as he broke six or seven tackles enroute to a 29-yard score to push the GAR lead to 26-15.

Wyoming Area tried to answer but a huge kickoff return by Ahmad Bouie was called back due to a holding call. The Warriors started the drive at their own 10 but after two 13-yard runs by O’Brien, they were forced to punt.

GAR again used one play as Dwayne Wright took the option pitch from Crawford and went 46 yards untouched to bump the GAR lead to 33-15 with 2:14 left in the half.

The fast action pace continued before the teams went to intermission.

O’Brien ran for eight and 10 before hitting Cody Schmitz on a deep in route and Schmitz turned a 20-yard pass play into a 41-yard gain after he was able to make a few defenders miss before being pushed out at the GAR 10.

Four plays later, O’Brien found a huge hole in between the left tackle and guard and pushed his way into the endzone for the score. Freshman tailback Jeff Skursky converted the two-point conversion to cut the WA deficit to 33-23 at half.

GAR opened the half with a 46-yard scoring drive capped by a 10-yard Wright run to push the GAR lead to 40-23 just 59 seconds into the third quarter.

After an awkward pitch attempt on the kick return that resulted in a 20-yard loss, the Warriors started the drive at their own 13-yard line. On third-and-7 from the 16, O’Brien hit Schmitz for a big conversion. Then after two O’Brien gains of six and seven yards, he ripped off a 19-yard run. On the next play O’Brien went for 34 before being tackled at the GAR eight-yard line.

O’Brien took the next play for five yards to the three and two plays later Skursky lowered his shoulder and plowed his way through the middle for a three-yard touchdown run cutting the lead to 40-30 with 5:48 left in the third.

On GAR’s third play of its next possession, Crawford attempted a pass over the middle that was snagged out of the air by Jordan Zezza at the WA 33.

It took WA just four plays to score when Skursky punched the ball in from the one-yard line following a 62 yard scamper by O’Brien, who used good blocks in the secondary to free him for the big gain. The touchdown put the Warriors within three at 40-37 at the 2:27 mark of the third quarter.

“You can’t ask for more from number eight,” said Spencer about his junior quarterback who went over the 1,700-yard rushing mark for the season.

The Grenadiers once again used the big play to put points on the board when Crawford hit Shaliek Powell with a well-placed deep ball for a 37-yard score. The extra point was no good and the GAR lead was 46-37 with 11:11 left in the game.

After recovering the GAR squib kick at the 50, O’Brien went for three, nine and seven yards to put the ball at the GAR 31.

Zezza kept the ball on the option for two and then O’Brien went for 11 yards on the third-and-1. After an O’Brien five-yard carry, Popovich went for one before O’Brien used a good block by Zielinski and banged his way off defenders into the endzone for a 12-yard score. The extra point cut the lead to 46-44 with less than eight minutes left in the game.

GAR would use an eight-play, 70-yard drive to chew up 4:05 capped off by a one-yard Lucas Benton run to bump the Grenadier lead to 53-44 with 3:32 left in the game.

The Warriors started the most important drive of their season from their own 40. O’Brien went for five and then seven before he was then stopped for minus-two. After an incompletion on a deep attempt on second down, O’Brien hit Zezza for 25 over the middle for a critical conversion.

After spiking the ball, O’Brien kept the ball in his hands, but he would cough it up after getting hit hard on the second down run. The Grenadiers recovered the fumble to secure the victory, and their second straight district title.

“What a great season. Every season is a journey and I think you have to look at success in terms of the challenges you face and how you responded, and it’s not where you start it’s where you finish,” said Spencer.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our kids and our coaching staff. They did a great job every game. We are in the game to win the game and we had our opportunities and we never quit. We fought to the very end, I couldn’t be more proud of our kids”

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