By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
CHAPMAN LAKE – Leo Haros got the ball back for Wyoming Area, put it in the end zone, then took it away one last time to preserve victory.
By the time he was done, Haros had led a short-handed Warriors team through a fourth-quarter comeback to a 19-14, non-league football victory over host Lakeland in a game between Class 3A playoff contenders and teams ranked among the best Small Schools in District 2.
Wyoming Area, the 2019 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state champion, has had the fortune to have one of the state’s deepest rosters for a Small School team in recent seasons and the misfortune of running into the injuries that create the frequent need to prove it.
The Warriors entered the game without arguably their best all-around player, running back/linebacker Drew Mruk, and lost one of the other players who could make that debate, quarterback/defensive end/special teams standout Blaise Sokach-Minnick, on the opening series.
Wyoming Area responded by going deeper into its bench and by increasing the burden on players like Haros and 300-pound, two-way lineman Nick Elko.
When his younger brother, 5-foot-7, 125-pound freshman Damian Lefkoski was not playing quarterback, Haros took the bulk of the snaps there. When Lefkoski took over, Haros moved to a feature spot in the backfield.
Elko, the team’s two-way leader of the interior line groups, harkened back to his early days breaking into varsity football as a fullback, and turned a fourth-and-eight, tackle-eligible pass into a 10-yard gain that set up the winning touchdown.
Wyoming Area had produced just six first downs the entire game and three in its previous five possessions when Haros made the first of his two interceptions.
Lakeland moved in front with 4:22 left in the half. After producing 9 first downs, 157 yards and 14 points without a turnover in the first 19:38, the Chiefs managed only 2 first downs and 33 yards while being held scoreless and losing 2 turnovers over the next 24:57.
The defense helped Wyoming Area overcome four potentially costly personal foul penalties in the third quarter and turn back two Chiefs possessions in Warriors territory.
A lost fumble and personal foul penalty on consecutive had put Wyoming Area in trouble with Lakeland at the Warriors 34, trying to add to a 14-13 lead.
Haros started the winning rally with an interception at the 11 and 16-yard return with 41 seconds left in the third quarter.
“That last drive was our opportunity once we got back possession,” Warriors coach Randy Spencer said. “Once we got into the fourth quarter, if we’re able to drive the ball and get a score – any kind of score gave us the opportunity to win at the end.
“ … First and foremost, as always, the players did an outstanding job. Coach Rich Musinski did an outstanding job with the play-calling and Mike Fanti with our guys up front, getting guys in and out, and the run game and the coordination he does with coach Musinski. I just thought those two guys, especially tonight, supported our players and did an outstanding job.”
Musinski was handcuffed with Haros having more athletic ability but less training in the full playbook and Lefkoski possessing the traditional quarterback skills but still young and undersized on the varsity level.
“Growing up, I was kind of in a quarterback position … so I wasn’t really dumbfounded when I wound up in that position and that helped out a lot,” Haros said. “Along with my brother, who’s the back-up quarterback and he stepped in like he’s been playing all year.
“I’m really proud of him.”
With the line responding to Lakeland being able to pack more defenders close to the line of scrimmage and Aaron Crossley adding tough inside runs to the heavy Haros workload, the Warriors began moving the ball, getting half of their first downs in the 17-play, 73-yard, game-winning drive.
Crossley got it started with a seven-yard run on third-and-three. Haros picked up the next third-down-conversion, going for three yards when two were needed.
Forced into fourth-and-eight from the Lakeland 22 midway through the fourth quarter, Wyoming Area, which managed just 13 yards on its other 7 pass plays in the game, found a way.
Haros flipped a screen pass to Elko, who bulled through the bodies gathering near the sideline to push forward for 10 yards.
An illegal substitution penalty for too many men in the huddle led to fourth-and-11 from the 14.
Jayden Rusyn, another of the busy offense/defense/special teams combined leaders of the Warriors, connected on a 31-yard field goal, but a roughing-the-kicker penalty on Lakeland created decision time for Spencer.
The Wyoming Area coach traded in his first lead of the night for the shot at a bigger lead and less time for a Lakeland comeback.
“Lakeland had all its timeouts left,” Spencer said. “If you’re up two, you give them a chance to kick a field goal, especially with that amount of time left.
“That certainly was primary to see if we could get a few more points and run some more time off.”
Two Haros runs – and 41 seconds later – the Warriors were in the end zone for a 19-14 lead with 3:25 left.
And, just as Wyoming Area’s offense came to life as the fourth quarter was beginning, Lakeland put together a threat.
The Chiefs picked up three first downs on a penalty, a scramble and an 11-yard, Dominico Spataro-to-Kevin Snyder pass on fourth-and-seven.
That extra time Wyoming Area took off the clock proved just as valuable as the three additional points.
Lakeland advanced to fourth-and-one at the Wyoming Area 30, but ran out of time. Spataro scrambled and could have gained meaningful yards, but had no choice but to throw deep and Haros intercepted at the 3 as time expired.
Both teams come out of the game with 5-1 records.
Wyoming Area knocked Lakeland out of the lead in the points race for the top seed in the District 2 Class 3A playoffs and passed the defending champions into second place behind top-seeded Scranton Prep.
The Warriors are second among Small Schools in the Gaughan Auto Store Super Six Power Rankings while the Chiefs are fourth. The rankings, compiled by and presented on NEPAFootball.com, consider Lackawanna Football Conference and Wyoming Valley Conference teams. The Small School category is for Class 3A, 2A and A teams.
Haros finished with 28 carries for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns. He hit 3 of 5 passes for 23 yards. In addition to his two interceptions, Haros also made two tackles, assisted on two others and broke up a pass.
Crossley ran for 51 yards on 8 carries and led the Wyoming Area defense with eight tackles, including two for losses, one assist and a broken-up pass.
Elko had two sacks.
Spataro was 18-for-31 for 152 yards while going over 1,000 yards passing for the season. He also rushed for a team-high 62 yards on 18 carries.
As he routinely does, Spataro moved the ball around, hitting Nick Mancuso and Lacota Dippre five times each, Snyder four times and Jon Seamans three.
Lakeland put Wyoming Area into immediate trouble on the opening drive.
Sokach-Minnick, who was 31-for-53 passing for 642 yards and 10 touchdowns in the previous 4 weeks, never got to take a snap after suffering a lower leg injury while rushing the passer.
“They’re going to evaluate it, but he wasn’t able to return tonight,” Spencer said.
Spataro went 5-for-5 on the opening drive, which he capped with a 10-yard touchdown run less than three minutes into the game.
Wyoming Area came back with 10 straight running plays to cover 55 yards and tie the game, 7-7, on Nico Sciandra’s 1-yard run.
Lakeland reached the Red Zone on its second drive and scored on the third.
Spataro was 5-for-6 passing in the go-ahead drive, including a 4-yarder to Dippre to make it 14-7 with 4:22 left in the half.
The Chiefs gambled on fourth-and-one from the 32 with a seven-point lead and 1:39 left in the half.
A trick play, even by fake punt standards, went awry and Joe Marranca intercepted.
Marranca’s 24-yard return set up Wyoming Area at the Lakeland 17 and the Warriors scored with 30.8 seconds left in the half.
Haros ran 4 yards for the touchdown, but the kick was wide, keeping Lakeland in front, 14-13, until the winning drive.