Lackawanna Trail’s running game built a lead over Muncy in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals Friday night.
Its defense helped preserve it.
A goal-line stand in the fourth quarter stymied an Indians comeback bid and the Lions went on to a 26-13 victory at Williamsport.
Ray Melnikoff and Kody Cresswell each ran for two touchdowns as Lackawanna Trail (10-3) punched a return ticket to the state semifinals.
It will face Bishop Guilfoyle (11-2) on Friday at 1 p.m. at Danville High School.
Bishop Guilfoyle defeated Juniata Valley, 36-17, on Friday. Clairton (11-2) will play Farrell (12-2) in the other semifinal.
“I’m so proud of this group of kids,” Lions coach Steve Jervis said. “I’m not sure who would have thought that back in August. But they’ve showed a lot of resiliency and our young kids are stepping up. It’s a good mix of upperclassmen that were here last year meshing with some of our sophomores up from the freshman team. I’m very, very happy for them.”
Cresswell is one of those sophomores. He ran for 91 yards on 10 carries, and his second touchdown of the game — a 12-yard run on fourth-and-5 — gave Lackawanna Trail a 26-7 lead with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
It capped a 12-play, 60-yard drive off the second-half kickoff.
“It definitely helped us out,” Cresswell said of his performance. “We know we can count on Ray and our line always has perfect blocks. This game was really between the tackles. This feels amazing. I wasn’t able to be a part of it last year. But I’m glad I’m part of it this year.”
District 4 champion Muncy (9-5) responded with a 14-play scoring drive that covered 58 yards.
Freshman quarterback Branson Eyer hit Gage Wertz with a 4-yard TD toss on third-and-goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to bring the Indians within 26-13.
An interception by Chase Crawley got the ball back for Muncy at its 35. Four plays later, Eyer found Wertz behind the defense for a 44-yard gain to the Trail 10 as Cresswell made a touchdown-saving tackle.
Eyer carried for eight yards on the first two downs and Ethan Gush was stopped inside the 1 on third down. Eyer tried to sneak it in on fourth-and-goal, but Richard Rodenbach went low and Melnikoff went high to keep him out of the end zone with 6:33 left.
“I can’t wait to watch it on film,” Rodenbach said. “Ray leaped over the line and up front we did a good job of not getting moved. It was a huge stop, a huge momentum change.”
Melnikoff admitted he didn’t even know his play ended the threat.
“I honestly thought it was third down,” Melnikoff said. “The D-line did a great job driving their legs in a pinch. I saw an opening, leaped over the line, wrapped the quarterback up and he didn’t get in.”
Indians coach Sean Tetreault thought Gush had scored on third down.
“We trusted our O-line and thought we could get in (on fourth down),” Tetreault said. “Once they had a big stop like that, we lost all momentum.”
After the defensive stand, the Lions drove to Muncy 34 to chew five-plus minutes off the clock and all but seal the victory.
“Give credit to our defense,” Jervis said. “They were moving the ball on us and to have that stand really changed the momentum.”
Early on, Lackawanna Trail’s defense also recovered from giving up a score on the game’s third play.
Facing third-and-5 from his 42, Eyer kept the ball around the left side and raced 58 yards for the touchdown.
Isaac Boring’s extra point put Lackawanna Trail in a 7-0 hole just 61 seconds into the contest.
However, for the rest of the first half, the Lions defense stiffened. Muncy ran 17 more plays in the first half and gained just 42 yards and two first downs.
“We’ve been down before this season. We know how to fight back,” Rodenbach said. “We just had to keep our heads up and keep going. It was huge when we were able to come right back and score.”
Indeed, the Lions responded on their first offensive possession, marching 63 yards in 11 plays in 6:25. The highlighting of the drive was Melnikoff’s 11-yard run off a fake punt on fourth-and-1 from the Trail 46.
“Coach said we might fake this week one based on how their punt defense was,” Melnikoff said. “It was a great call at a great time in the game. They blocked it perfectly, I found the hole and got the first down.”
Seven plays later, Melnikoff scored on a 6-yard run, then kicked the extra point to tie the game at 7 with 4:34 left in the first quarter.
Following a Muncy punt, Lackawanna Trail struck again.
Melnikoff rumbled 63 yards to the Indians 6 and scored from the 3 two plays later. His extra point made it 14-7 with 39.4 seconds left in the first.
Late in the second quarter, Nico Berrios recovered a Muncy fumble at the Indians 44. Seven plays later, Cresswell scored on a 10-yard run to give the Lions a 20-7 lead with 1:35 left before halftime.
Melnikoff finished with 166 yards on 19 carries, and Lackawanna Trail had 359 rushing yards on 52 carries.
“It’s the second-best feeling in the world,” Melnikoff said about going back to the state semifinals. “It’s right behind getting (back) to Hershey. Next one up.”
Trail 26, Muncy 13
Trail 14 6 6 0 26
Muncy 7 0 0 6 13
MUN - B.Eyer 58 run (Boring kick). 10:59
LT - Melnikoff 6 run (Melnikoff kick). 4:34
LT - Melnikoff 3 run (Melnikoff kick). :39.4
LT - Cresswell 10 run (kick failed). 1:35
LT - Cresswell 12 run (run failed). 4:51
MUN - Wertz 4 pass from B.Eyer (run failed). 11:55
First Downs 16 10
Rush-Att-Yards 52-359 32-168
Comp-Att-Int 2-6-1 5-14-0
Passing Yards 5 56
Total Yards 364 224
Punts-Average 1-22.0 3-39.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 6-68 5-36
Rushing: LT- R. Melnikoff 19-166, 2 TDs; K. Cresswell 10-91, 2 TDs; N. Berrios 12-63; T. Rozanski 1-19; J. Resto 9-18; L. Baldwin 1-2. MUN- B. Eyer 11-103, 1 TD; C. Good 6-31; E. Gush 11-27; R. Eyer 1-6; P. Pepper 1-1; E. Weikle 2-0.
Passing: LT- N. Berrios 2-5-0, 5; R. Melnikoff 0-1-1, 0.
MUN- B. Eyer 5-13-0, 56; C. Good 0-1-0, 0.
Receiving: LT- R. Melnikoff 1-1; K. Cresswell 1-4. MUN- G. Wertz 2-48, 1 TD; C. Good 1-1; E. Gush 1-3; N. Palmatier 1-4.