Their jerseys were drenched, white pants stained, and their faces were covered by divots of mud and turf.
It couldn’t dim the bright shine of the gold medals draped around their necks.
Lackawanna Trail, the No. 1 seed, avenged its only loss in the regular season by dominating No. 2 Old Forge, 29-12, fighting through a driving rain Friday night in the District 2 Class 1A championship final at Lions Pride Stadium.
Next week, the soggy field will host the District 1-2 Class 1A subregional where the Lions will play Bristol, the District 1 champion.
“For the seniors, this is huge,” said Lackawanna Trail four-year starting quarterback Nate Rolka, who earned his 33rd career win.
“There were a couple of guys who moved up as freshmen and we lost to them in the championship game, we lost to them last year and them knocking us off and taking the (LFC Division IV) from us means there is no better feeling than this.”
Lackawanna Trail (10-1) has its first 10-win season since 2003 and beat Old Forge (8-3) for the first time in its last four tries.
The Lions sloshed and plodded through the mushy terrain for 405 yards with three backs gaining more than 100 yards.
Jeffrey Resto, who broke free for what appeared to be a 90-yard touchdown run, but lost a fumble when Anthony Rios racked his arm through the ball, more than redeemed himself.
He ran with desire after the turnover, breaking tackles and refusing to go be slowed on first impact and finished with 132 yards and the game’s final touchdown.
“When I fumbled that ball, I was so down, but I knew there was a lot more time left in the game to push back and to fight and win this championship,” said Resto, who couldn’t fight back his tears.
“I wanted this game more than anything for these seniors. This means so much to me.”
Ray Melnikoff, who plowed through the Old Forge defense and steam rolled would-be tacklers in the secondary powered his way to 124 yards, and Cody Moyle sprinted as best he could through the soft ground for 100 yards which included touchdown runs of 58 and 25 yards.
“Old Forge is a really good team, but our seniors took over at halftime,” said Melnikoff, who is a sophomore. “The locker room at halftime was an atmosphere I have never seen before. Guys were just so energized to play in the second half.”
Rolka finished off the offensive onslaught with 38 yards on 15 tackles with a touchdown. Lackawanna Trail ran 54 plays for 405 yards and chewed up 8:14 of the third quarter in 16 plays on two scoring drives in the third quarter to build the lead to 22-12.
Old Forge’s highlights came via the special teams.
Tommy Souriyavong returned the opening kickoff for an 85-yard touchdown and Tyler Carey had an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter and the Blue Devils carried a 12-7 lead into halftime despite gaining only 41 yards in their first 19 yards.
“In the beginning , they returned those two kickoffs for touchdowns, we just knew we had to keep pounding,” Rolka said. “Old Forge is a good team, but we just knew if we gave 100 percent and kept fighting we could win this game.”
Mark Dunckle, a 230-pound defensive tackle, helped lead the Lions defensive effort that limited Old Forge to 37 yards rushing on 21 attempts. He also stuffed a fourth-and-1 attempt on a fake punt in the third quarter at mid-field that led to the Lions third scoring march of the game.
“We fully expected the fake right there,” Dunckle said. “They like to run the gut-trap on the fake punt. This is a great win for our defensive unit.”
In the second half, Lackawanna Trail collected three fumbles with Jordan Edwards, Resto and Zac Cost each pouncing on loose balls.
Old Forge’s final turnover landed on its own 4 on a bad snap and Cost made the recovery.
Resto slammed the door on Lackawanna Trail’s second district title in three years and their ninth overall since 1999 on a 4-yard run that made it 29-12.
“They just beat us up front,” Old Forge coach Michael Schuback said. “They are a veteran team and we are a little bit ahead of schedule.”
Trail 29 Old Forge 12
Old Forge 12 0 0 0 12
Trail 7 0 15 7 29
OF - Souriyavong 85 kickoff return (kick failed). 11:44 LT - Moyle 58 run (Rolka kick). 4:38 OF - Carey 80 kickoff return (run failed). 4:26
LT - Rolka 1 run (Rolka run). 5:56 LT - Moyle 25 run (Rolka kick). 2:58
LT - Resto 4 run (Rolka kick). 1:33
First Downs 5 15
Rush-Att-Yards 21-37 3-400
Comp-Att-Int 8-15-0 1-2-0
Passing Yards 55 5
Total Yards 92 405
Punts-Average 4-35.0 4-36.0
Fumbles-Lost 4-3 2-2
Penalties-Yards 3-13 5-35
Rushing: OF – M.DiGregorio 10-41; C. Holzman 3-16; K.Pepsin 3-8; D.Lucarelli 3-(- 4); Team - 2-(-24). LT – J.Resto 19-132, 1 TD; R.Melnikoff 14-129; C.Moyle 4-100, 2 TDs; N.Rolka 15-38; N.Coleman 1-1; Team - 0-0.
Passing: OF – D.Lucarelli 7-14-0, 52; M.DiGregorio 1-1-0, 3. LT – N.Rolka 1-2-0, 5.
Receiving: OF – T.Souriyavong 4-22; B. Wargo 1-22; A.Rios 1-3; J.Lynwood 1-6; T. Carey 1-2. LT – R.Melnikoff 1-5. Dunmore 5