OLYPHANT – The top runner and run-stopper is gone, but Old Forge returns the players who fueled the passing game and corralled opposing passing attack during the Blue Devils’ latest championship season.
Dante Lucarelli hit more than 50 percent of his attempts while throwing for 1,496 yards and 19 touchdowns as a freshman for Old Forge when it won the District 2 Class A title and a District 1-2 Subregional game in 2017.
The top three receivers, all seniors, also return. Wide receivers Anthony Rios and Tommy Souriyavong and tight end Brett Wargo are all back.
Rios caught 29 passes for 552 yards and 3 touchdowns and also was the team’s top punt returner. Souriyavong, who also had a team-high seven interceptions and 29.4-yard kickoff return average, caught 18 passes for 344 yards and eight touchdowns. Wargo averaged a team-best 23.4 yards on his 14 catches, five of which went for touchdowns.
They could somewhat alter the look of the Old Forge attack while trying to help the Blue Devils overcome the loss of their all-time leading rusher. Brendan Mozeleski ran for 2,083 yards, scored 29 touchdowns and made 101 tackles.
“Things change year-to-year with what we do,” said Old Forge coach Mike Schuback, who has a 143-54 record in 16 seasons coaching his alma mater. “We have talked about it before about having the ability, not so much to throw it all over the park, but if you have the ability to do some things offensively to exploit someone’s weaknesses, you’d be foolish not to do so.
“Our game plan will be to give our kids the best opportunity to be successful and we do return a slew of kids who have experience at those positions.”
Kevin Pepsin, who turned 37 carries into 235 yards and 5 touchdowns, takes over as the running back after being the team’s second-leading rusher a year ago.
“It’s not like we’re putting a fresh fish out there,” Schuback said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
The Blue Devils return half their starters from a year ago, when they took an unbeaten record into a regular-season finale in which they lost a battle of unbeatens with Dunmore for the Lackawanna Football Conference Division 3 title.
Realignment has switched the LFC to four divisions, separating Old Forge from Dunmore and leaving the Blue Devils as division favorites over Lackawanna Trail in what could be a tight race.
Susquehanna is regarded as the only other potential contender in the five-team division. Montrose and Holy Cross, the other two teams in the division, went a combined 1-19 overall last season.
Only four of the 10 games are in the division, but all the games count toward playoff qualifying and seeding.
“It does make sense to keep your eyes on the whole schedule and not worry about the division,” said Schuback said, explaining he was more aware of schedule changes that were negotiated than he was of the particular alignment.
Old Forge’s schedule now includes Holy Redeemer and Northwest instead of Hanover Area and Mid Valley. The other eight games remain the same.
Adam Samitz is a returning starter in the offensive line and at linebacker.
Jake Burkhart and Jonathan Nicholoff also have some experience in the offensive line. Nicholoff could end up as a two-way starter up front where the Blue Devils will need to develop some new talent.
“You have to be ready to play in 10th grade as a single-A football program and, if you’re a really good football player in ninth grade, you’re going to get an opportunity,” Schuback said.
Pepsin and Wargo are also back with Samitz in a veteran linebacking corps where Colin Holzman also has some experience.
Souriyavong, Rios and Tyler Carey are all back in the secondary.
Others making progress toward possibly landing starting berths are wide receiver Jackson Lynwood, offensive linemen Chester Lenceski and Demetrius Dolinish and defensive linemen Nick Raymond and Zack Weaver.
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