By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
DUNMORE – Nico Ruggiero did not start carrying the ball until the fourth quarter Friday night.
Once he did, the Dunmore offense could not be stopped.
Ruggiero turned 6 fourth-quarter carries into 101 yards and 2 touchdowns and turned a tight, defense-dominated game into a comfortable, 21-2 victory for the Bucks over visiting Lake-Lehman in a non-league football game.
“Every single run play the line stayed on their blocks, gave me a hole and I just hit it,” Ruggiero said.
The Bucks entered the fourth quarter with just 3 first downs and 82 yards of total offense, more than half of which had come on the game’s lone touchdown.
To that point, Ruggiero’s biggest contributions had come on an interception at the 8 with 47 seconds left in the first half and a tackle for a loss in the Red Zone midway through the third quarter as the Bucks repeatedly turned away threats by the Black Knights.
“We were going play after play, 100 percent on defense and we just never gave up,” Ruggiero said.
As a result, all eight Lake-Lehman drives reached Dunmore territory, but only one got closer than the 25.
Before scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter, Dunmore had scored exactly 15 points in the first 11 quarters this season, putting constant pressure on its defense.
“They played tough,” Bucks coach Kevin McHale said. “That was the one thing even with our 0-2 start, our defense has played well in some spots. They were on the field a long time, but that was the lone bright spot.”
The defense was on the field more than 10 of the 12 minutes in the third quarter when Lake-Lehman was gaining 65 yards while Dunmore was losing 11.
The biggest threat the Black Knights could produce ultimately helped lead to them picking up two points on defense.
Lake-Lehman held the ball for the first 7:15 of the second half, using passes to convert third- and fourth-down situations on the way to third-and-five from the Dunmore 8 while trailing, 6-0.
The Black Knights relied heavily on their option game throughout the night. Nicholas Pierro helped take away the inside, leading to a pitch which Ruggiero came up and stopped for a six-yard loss with help from Zaaki Rosario.
Lake-Lehman turned the ball over on downs at the 14.
While rolling out looking to pass on second-and-11 from the 15, Dunmore quarterback Thomas Bowen lost the handle on the ball. It bounced off his leg and into the end zone where Bowen had to race two defenders to be able to cover it and limit the damage to a safety.
Colby Roberts returned the ensuing free kick 23 yards, then ran for 9 on the first play, setting up second-and-one from the 25 with the Black Knights only trailing by four.
Consecutive holding penalties ended that threat and Dunmore pulled away.
The Bucks started the fourth quarter with third-and-seven, but Bowen hit Danny Pigga for 12 yards, sparking a drive in which Ruggiero took a reverse 35 yards for a touchdown on third-and-11 with 8:57 left.
Lake-Lehman hit third- and fourth-down passes while facing a 14-2 deficit with less than eight minutes remaining, but Lorenzo Mitchell delivered a big hit on third down, then Josh Malone made a tackle, with Mitchell’s help, a yard shot of the sticks on fourth down.
Two plays later, Ruggiero broke tackles running up the middle, spun into the open and went 44 yards for the game-breaking score.
“They said I was going to get some touches,” said Ruggiero, who had picked up 10 yards on the play before the touchdown. “Then, when I started running the ball, they gave me some more.”
The only scoring of the first half came after Liam Crolly blocked a punt and Rosario recovered it at the Lake-Lehman 45.
The Bucks turned to play action and Mitchell got behind the defense to pull in a touchdown pass from Bowen on the first play with two minutes remaining in the half.
Defensively, McHale moved some pieces around, including switching Malone from linebacker to starting in the secondary. With the team short on linemen, Pierro and Andrew Fazio stepped in there.
“We were down a few starters on defense, so we had a few kids step up,” McHale said. “They played great and did not allow any points.”
Nicholas Donvito led the defense with four tackles, five assists and a pass rush.
Cal Talutto made five tackles, one of which was for a loss. Rosario had three tackles, including one for a loss, along with two assists and rushing the passer into two incompletions. Mitchell had four tackles, an assist and a broken-up pass.
Ruggiero chipped in with three tackles and an assist to go along with his interception.
“We knew our backs were against the wall in this game and we needed to come out and prove something to everyone,” he said.