Ray Melnikoff jogged to the sideline and his coach, Steve Jervis, reached out for a fist bump and apologized for taking him out of action for the moment.
Playing in his final game, the senior who had his chance to become the all-time leading rusher at Lackawanna Trail essentially wiped out because of a reduced schedule caused by the coronavirus pandemic, showed great character in his response.
“No problem, coach, get these guys their carries, I have had a lot,” Melnikoff said as he graciously shouted words of encouragement while he rested.
Later, Melnikoff returned and showed the Lions’ fans the power and speed he runs with in his closing performance in a career where he helped lead the team to a PIAA Class 1A final, a state semifinal, two District 2 Class 1A championships and 35 wins in 45 games.
On Sunday night, the bruising fullback ran for 88 yards and a touchdown as Lackawanna Trail defeated Riverside, 49-27, in a nonconference game.
“It’s hard to believe it’s over,” Melnikoff said while fighting back tears. “Everybody always says to enjoy it because it goes fast. You don’t even realize how fast until it’s gone. I just want to thank the Lackawanna Trail community, the school board and everyone involved in the school. They have all been so amazing with support through the years. This was so enjoyable because of my teammates and friends and my great coaches.”
Trail (3-1) withstood an early onslaught of points and passing yards from Riverside and quarterback Johnny Gilchrist by staying patient and answering with its share of big plays.
Kody Cresswell ran for 173 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by scoring runs of 49 and 38 yards, and added a 29-yard touchdown reception. Tyler Rozanski ran for 47 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Owen Lisk ran for a score and threw for 62 yards and a touchdown as the Lions piled up 428 yards of offense in 61 plays.
“I think everyone had their head down when they scored on us so quick in the first quarter,” Cresswell said. “But we just kept grinding.”
Riverside (2-7) jumped out to a 14-0 lead as Gilchrist hit Noah Parchinski for a 44-yard score and freshman Reese Gaughan for a 42-yard score on two possessions in the opening 4 minutes thanks to a recovered onside kick. And the lead stood at 21-6 after a 68-yard touchdown pass to Michael Rickert later in the first quarter.
But the Vikings, who did not punt, failed to convert on fourth down on five straight possessions. They also provided favorable field position with four unsuccessful onside kick attempts and couldn’t slow the Lackawanna Trail running attack from midfield.
Gilchrist finished with 387 yards to give him 2,166 this season. He also became the second quarterback in Lackawanna Interscholastic Athletic Association history to surpass 7,000 for his career. His total stands at 7,201 yards and needs 247 yards in the season finale next week at Mid Valley to break the record of 7,447 set by Lakeland’s Evan Kraky from 1998 to 2001.
Rickert caught 11 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, Gaughan hauled in 10 for 164 yards and a touchdown, and Parchinski had four catches for 45 yards and a score before leaving with an injury.
Still, Lackawanna Trail controlled the line of scrimmage.
After the Lions clawed back to 21-21 in the first quarter on a 49-yard run and a 29-yard reception by Cresswell, they dominated and scored the next 28 points all on the ground.
Cresswell added a 38-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter, Lisk capped a 66-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak, Melnikoff finished a 92-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run and Rozanski had a 6-yard scoring run in the fourth for the Lions.
“We know Gilchrist is a great quarterback, he’s up there in the record books, so the message was to not get down on ourselves,” said Melnikoff, who finished his career with 3,573 yards rushing. “If he makes plays, it happens, but we had to keep fighting. We started out a little slow, but we made great adjustments and really turned this around.
“Ending my career with a win is great and I am so proud to be a Lion,” said Melnikoff.
Trail 49, Riverside 27
Trail 21 13 8 7 49
Riverside 21 0 0 6 27
RIV — Parchinski 44 pass from Gilchrist (D’Amico kick), 9:18
RIV — Gaughan 42 pass from Gilchrist (D’Amico kick), 7:55
LT — Cresswell 4 run (kick failed), 2:28
RIV — Rickert 68 pass from Gilchrist (D’Amico kick), 2:08
LT — Cresswell 49 run (Rozanski run), 1:18
LT — Cresswell 29 pass from Lisk (Lewis kick), :04
LT — Cresswell 38 run (Lewis kick), 6:36
LT — Lisk 1 run (kick failed), :15.8
LT — Melnikoff 3 run (Roznanski run), 2:49
LT — Rozanski 6 run (Lewis kick), 4:23
RIV — Rickert 24 pass from Gilchrist (kick blocked), 2:23
First Downs 20 13
Rush-Att-Yards 52-342 10--7
Comp-Att-Int 7-9-0 27-44-0
Passing Yards 86 387
Total Yards 428 380
Punts-Average 1-10.0 0-0.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-0
Penalties-Yards 3-15 5-25
Rushing: LT – K.Cresswell 13-173, 3 TDs; R.Melnikoff 15-88, 1 TD; T.Rozanski 13-47, 1 TD; J.Ella 3-28; J.Houser 3-7; D.Deacon 1-4; O.Lisk 2-3, 1 TD; S.Jervis 1-(-8); L.Gumble 1-0. RIV – G.Williams 3-1; J.Gilchrist 7-(-8); Team — 0-0.
Passing: LT – O.Lisk 4-6-0, 62, 1 TD; S.Jervis 3-3-0, 24. RIV – J.Gilchrist 27-44-0, 387, 4 TDs.
Receiving: LT – T.Lewis 3-21; T.Vokes 1-(-3); K.Cresswell 1-29, 1 TD; J.Halter 1-14; T.Rozanski 1-25. RIV – M.Rickert 11-170, 2 TDs; R.Gaughan 10-164, 1 TD; N.Parchinski 4-45, 1 TD; J.Godlewski 1-4; J.Garvey 1-4