Fourth down plays on two consecutive possessions late in the fourth quarter were crucial. Both of them worked for Wyoming Area in their 27-20 win over Pittston Area at Charlie Trippi Stadium Friday night.
With a little over five minutes left PA had a 4th-and-1 at the WA 24 with WA clinging to a 21-20 lead. PA tried a fullback trap to get the yard but Trent Grove and Alex Gercak stopped it and WA took over.
The Warriors drove to the PA 27 where they faced a 4th-and-3. WA quarterback Nick O'Brien, the Falcone MVP winner, faked a hand off to Zack LaNunziata, spun to his right into a gaping hole and ran untouched into the endzone to make it 27-20 with only 1:15 left.
WA went for two on a run, hoping to go up two scores, but PA stuffed it, setting up a heart-pounding ending.
Starting from their own 41 after the kick off, PA quarterback James Emmett kept his cool and engineered a drive connecting on 25 and 15-yard completions to Joe Starinsky for first downs, then spiking the ball to stop the clock.
With 39 seconds left Emmett tried to connect with Jordan Houseman over the middle in the back of the endzone, but O'Brien stepped in front of Houseman for an interception to seal the game.
With the interception added to his 154 yards rushing, three touchdowns and a touchdown pass, O'Brien was an easy choice for MVP, but had one or two more plays gone PA's way Joe Starinsky would have taken home Falcone 35.
Starinsky, generously listed at 5-7 and 160, caught six of PA's nine receptions for 110 yards and returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown.
In the first half it looked like the Warriors might pull away. After a hiccup on their first possession when they lost a fumble at the PA 10, PA went three-and-out and punted to the WA 45. On first down O'Brien rolled to his right and threw back to his left to Jordan Zezza for a 37-yard gain to the PA 18. It took four running plays from there, including a 9-yard run by LaNunziata, to get to the PA 2, from where O'Brien snuck for his first Td. The point was missed at it was 6-0 with 5:55 to go in the first.
The Warriors made it 14-0 on the first play of the second quarter when O'Brien, after dropping the snap in the shotgun, picked the ball up and threw a 38-yard Td pass the Cody Schmitz to finish a 72-yard drive. O'Brien had runs of 17 and 14 in the drive and LaNunziata had a nine-yard carry. Schmitz ran for two after the score to make it 14-0.
PA got seven back quickly. Jordan Houseman returned the kick off 53-yards to the WA 18. After two runs for five and an incompletion PA had a 4th-and-5 from the WA 13. Emmett hit Mike Chisdock on a quick slant for a 1st-and-goal at the 4. Justin Wilk carried for a Td and R.J. Haas kicked the point to make it 14-7 with 9:08 left in the first half.
Three minutes later, after WA linebacker Jeff Skursky batted down a pass on a 3rd-and-7, O'Brien returned a PA punt 51 yards for a Td to make it 21-7 with the PAT by A.J. Lenkitias. O'Brien made two tacklers miss and got a block from Dylan Pegg to get down the left sideline for the score.
Starting with 1:14 left in the half, PA threatened, driving from their own 26 to the WA 30 on a 25-yard pass to Starinsky and a 12-yard run by Kyle Gattuso running out of the shotgun, but lost the ball on downs with nine seconds left.
PA had some success with Gattuso, spelling Emmett, and running out of the shotgun, as he ran for 53 yards on 12 carries, but the team picked up only 57 yards on 24 other carries. Skursky, LaNunziata, Zezza, Joe Taylor and O'Brien were leaders on the rush defense.
PA punted on the first possession of the second half and WA looked miserable on theirs. Two penalties and a fumbled snap put them in a 4th-and 24.
After the punt PA took over at their own 25 and drove for a Td to make it 21-14 with the Haas PAT. Big plays were a pass interference on WA and a 39-yard Emmett-to-Chisdock completion. Hassan Maxwell got the Td from the three with 37 second left in the third.
Starinsky's interception return made it 21-20 with 11:03 left in the fourth. He returned it with a run straight up the middle, escaping a pile. The PAT attempt was blocked.
Eric Danaher, Joshua John, and R.J. Gabello led the PA defense.
WA lost two fumbles, threw the interception and were penalized six times for 40 yards, while PA was nearly mistake free before the late O'Brien interception, having been penalized once for five yards.
A new post-game wrinkle was the presentation of the Kiwanis team trophy on the field. In the past the trophy had been presented after the season.
With the win Friday Wyoming Area leads the series whcih began in 1967, 24-22.
The field was soft, understandably, put held up pretty well.
The Patriots finish 3-7, having lost to Crestwood by two points and Berwick by three.
The Warriors are 8-2, after a 1-2 start, and clinched the number one seed and homefield in the District 2 2A playoffs and the WVC Division 2A-A title.
It's good to be home, Wyoming Area coach Randy Spencer said. We have a special feeling when we're at home. For these seniors, the special thing is our alumni keep saying ‘One more game, one more home game at our place.
WA – Nick O'Brien 1 run (kick failed), 5:55
WA – Cody Schmitz 27 pass from O'Brien (Schmitz run), 11:52
PA – Justin Wilk 1 run (R.J. Haas kick), 9:08
WA – O'Brien 51 punt return (A.J. Lenkaitis kick), 6:01
PA – Hassan Maxwell 1 run (Haas kick), 0:37
PA – Joe Starinsky 70 interception return (kick blocked), 11:03
WA – O'Brien 27 run (run failed), 1:35
RUSHING – Wyo. Area, O'Brien 22-154, Schmitz 5-15, Zak Lanunziata 11-52, Jeff Skursky 4-30, team 3-(minus-13). Pittston Area, Maxwell 3-8, Wilk 13-35, Mark Romanczuk 6-15, Kyle Gattuso 12-53, James Emmett 2-(minus-1).
PASSING – Wyo. Area, O'Brien 3-6-1-79. Pittston Area, Emmett 8-21-1-126, Gattuso 1-2-0-30. team 0-4-0-0.
RECEIVING – Wyo. Area, Jordan Zezza 1-42, Schmitz 1-27, Farrad Condry 1-10. Pittston Area, Mike Chisdock 2-40, Starinsky 6-110, Jordan Houseman 1-6.
INTS – Wyo. Area, O'Brien 1-0. Pittston Area, Starinsky 1-70.
With Friday's win the Warriors are 8-2, after a 1-2 start, and clinched the number one seed and homefield in the District 2 2A playoffs and the WVC Division 2A-A title.