Football coaches often talk about their teams playing a full 48 minutes in order to win games.
But, in a span of 25 seconds, Old Forge just about took the game away from Lackawanna Trail.
Tyler Carey returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, then caught a 47-yard scoring strike from Dante Lucarelli just three plays later as the top-seeded Blue Devils held off No. 2 Lackawanna Trail, 29-22, to win the District 2 Class 1A title Friday.
“It definitely felt like a turning point because we were down 7-0,” Carey said. “I got the ball, I saw Tommy (Souriyavong) block that kid and I just went for it. I had a 10-yard hole.”
Credit Old Forge’s coaching staff for tinkering with their kick-return team.
“Carey had a couple weeks of great practice and we made a decision to really force-feed him into the offense and get him on the field,” Old Forge coach Michael Schuback said. “A couple coaches made some suggestions and we switched up the return teams. Ever since then we’ve been really hitting it.
“We said it all year, special teams can lead to swings in the game and the kids did it.”
The first swing, however, came from the Lions, who took the lead on a 5-play drive, capped by the first of sophomore Jeff Resto’s two touchdowns.
This, a 6-yard run with 2:51 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Souriyavong’s block sprung Carey as he went the distance untouched.
He also had other contributions, reeling in four catches for 67 yards and rushing six times for 41 yards.
However, his interception on Trail’s first play of its next possession and return to the Lion 47 set the stage for the first of Lucarelli’s three scoring strikes.
“Dante threw a great ball,” Carey said. “All I had to do was catch it and run.”
It didn’t hurt that Carey’s post pattern sprung him behind the secondary.
“It was pitch-and-catch,” said Lucarelli, who went 11-for-16 for 187 yards. “He ran a great route and was wide open for me to make the throw. It was a huge turning point, but without the line, I couldn’t do much. They were great all season.”
The two-touchdown sequence put defending District 2 champion Lackawanna Trail (8-3) on its heels.
“That was the difference,” Trail head coach Steve Jervis said. “We never quite rebounded.
“You can’t turn the ball over, give up touchdowns on special teams. Those are tough things to overcome in a championship game.”
Two-point conversions after both scores gave the Blue Devils (10-1) a 16-7 lead, but the Lions answered,
After senior Owen Hivner scampered away from the Old Forge defense for a 60-yard run, Resto barrelled in for his second score, a 2-yard run with 4:14 left in the half.
Old Forge countered with a 69-yard drive, two tosses to Souriyavong covering 54 yards, and the final 18 coming on a strike to tight end Brett Wargo in the back of the end zone with 1:26 left remaining in the quarter for a 23-14 lead.
“I went through my progressions, made the right reads and found the open receivers,” Lucarelli said. “I read the tight end a little late and threw it to his back shoulder. Rios knew that he was going to run into Brett so he cut (his route) down a little bit. He really helped me out on that play.”
Trail almost responded before halftime, but Kevin Pepsin recovered a fumble at the Old Forge 20 to squelch a drive.
The Lions then marched to the Old Forge 26 to start the third quarter, led by a 28-yard run from junior Cody Moyle, but again were stymied as a fourth-down stop halted the march.
Old Forge upped its lead to 29-14 when Lucarelli hit Rios in stride for a 30-yard score early in the fourth quarter, and the Blue Devils kept Trail in check until the final drive.
That’s when junior Nathan Rolka broke through the hole and scampered 23 yards to the end zone on a quarterback draw.
Resto ran in the conversion to make it 29-22 and a one possession game with 30 seconds left.
But Old Forge’s Colin Holzman secured the onside kick to clinch a berth in Friday’s District 1-2 subregional final against Delco Christian.
The Blue Devils had also defeated the Lions, 34-20, earlier in the season, and prevented Trail from getting its revenge of the 2015 District 2 Class A title game, which Old Forge won, 49-14, for its third-straight championship.
The Lions had ended their 10-game losing streak to Old Forge that started in 2008 with a 17-8 victory last year, en route to their first district championship since 2007 — a 45-14 win over Northwest.
Old Forge 29, Lackawanna Trail 22
LT 7 7 0 8 — 22
OF 16 7 0 6 — 29
LT - Resto 8 run (Rolka kick), 2:51.
OF - Carey 90 kickoff return (Mozeleski run), 2:37.
OF - Carey 47 pass from Lucarelli (Rios pass from Lucarelli), 2:12.
LT - Resto 2 run (Rolka kick), 4:14.
OF - Wargo 18 pass from Lucarelli (Krenitsky kick), 1:26.
OF - Rios 30 pass from Lucarelli (kick failed), 10:15.
LT - Rolka 23 run (Resto run), 0:30.
First Downs 13 14
Rushes-Yards 37-263 35 119
Comp-Att-Int 5-23-1 11-16-0
Passing Yards 47 187
Total Yards 310 306
Punts-Average 3-38 5-33
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-25 6-58
Rushing: LT — O. Hivner 7-91; N. Rolka 7-67, 1 TD; J. Resto 15-54, 2 TDs; C. Moyle 4-40; M. Ella 2-10; R. Melnikoff 1-4; J. Edwards 1-(-3). OF - B. Mozeleski 26-77; T. Souriyavong 6-41; A. Rios 2-2; Team 1-(-1).
Passing: LT — N. Rolka 5-23-1, 47. OF — D. Lucarelli 11-16-0, 187, 3 TDs.
Receiving: LT — N. Coleman 3-34; Z. Cost 2-13. OF — T. Souriyavong 4-67; A. Rios 3-38, 1 TD; B. Wargo 2-30, 1 TD; B. Mozeleski 1-5; T. Carey 1-47, 1 TD.