NEPA Sports Nation

Spataro, Gelderman help Chiefs fight off challenge from Wildcats

By Tom Robinson,

CHAPMAN LAKE – Dominico Spataro rolled out, made a split-second decision and sprinted toward the sideline just beyond the first-down markers.

Facing a fourth down for the second time in a late-game possession, Spataro correctly assessed that he had enough clear space to extend the drive with a first down.

He got a bonus.

Instead, he extended the lead.

Spataro bounced off a hit after passing the first-down marker and went the rest of the way for a 25-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-six with 2:26 remaining to help Lakeland finish off Western Wayne, 35-28, in a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 battle that all but decided the Lackawanna Football Conference Division 2 title.

There was still work to be done, but Luke Smurl and others took care of that as the unbeaten Chiefs drove the Wildcats back on their last possession to clinch no worse than a tie for first place. All Lakeland needs to complete an unbeaten regular season and win the title outright is to beat last-place Mid Valley in the finale.

“(Sean Owens) got me really good, but I was able to bounce off of him,” Spataro said. “Coach P (Dave Piwowarczyk) called me over right before the play to told me just to out there and be me and make a play, whether it be throwing or if I had to use my feet.

“The line gave me real good protection. I had time. I couldn’t really see anyone open, but I just escaped to the right and saw the sticks. I just put my head down. I knew I was getting it and I ended up bouncing off and making the play.”

It was the fourth time in the game that Spataro used his feet for a touchdown. He also passed for a score, giving the senior quarterback six games this season in which he has produced five touchdowns.

Lakeland’s offensive line took pass protection to an extreme in the 10-play, 57 yards, 5:50 scoring drive after Western Wayne had closed to within, 29-28, in the fourth quarter.

That was clear on both fourth-down conversions on a night when Lakeland was also 7-for-11 converting on third downs.

Piwowarczyk elected to go for fourth-and-seven from the Chiefs own 46 with 6:30 left. Spataro was able to take several seconds to scan the field with several yards of clear space in front of him before finally locating a window in which to hit Ethan Shea for the first down.

Lakeland had been behind for just one play all season – the time it took Jon Seamans to return a kickoff after an Old Forge touchdown – before Western Wayne arrived on a six-game winning streak with eyes on the title.

The Chiefs were able to turn back the Wildcats despite big efforts by Sean Owens and Luke Janiszewski, who left with a potentially serious ankle injury late in the third quarter.

Spataro, Lacota Dippre and Andrew Gelderman made sure Lakeland had enough to improve to 4-0 in the division and 9-0 overall while protecting its No. 1 position among Small Schools in the Gaughan Auto Store Super Six Power Rankings of District 2 football teams.

Second-ranked Western Wayne fell to 3-1 and 7-2.

Spataro carried 19 times for 91 yards while going 9-for-14 through the air for 144. Dippre caught 5 first-half passes for 116 yards and the game’s first touchdown. Gelderman led the defense, which improved as the game wore on, finishing with nine tackles, six assists and a broken-up pass.

“Going into the year, middle linebacker was the biggest question mark on our team,” said Dippre, the Holy Cross commit, who spent time at both linebacker and defensive end in the win. “(Gelderman) being a junior and first time really seeing the field, he really stepped up.

“ … We’re really proud of him for it. He’s proud of it and as long as he keeps playing like that, we can do some damage.”

Most of the night was about the offenses and the two takeaways Janiszewski and Owens provided.

Those not only were the only two times the Wildcats could stop the Chiefs, but they also led to conversions from the Lakeland 25 and 32 into the touchdowns Western Wayne used to storm in front in the second quarter.

“I made a couple lousy mistakes, not being the smartest with the football,” said Spataro, who fumbled the mesh on an option read after bobbling a snap, then threw an interception. “The guys had my back. They were telling me, ‘keep your head up, we’ve got you’.

“ … We knew we had some things we had to clean up, especially me, but we all came together and we stayed as a team. That’s what I’m really proud of this team for, we always stay together and have each other’s backs.”

Immediately after Josh Vinton gave Western Wayne a 20-14 lead on a 1-yard run with 2:01 left in the half, Spataro and Dippre went to work on the Lakeland response.

Facing the prospect of kicking to the Wildcats to begin the second half, the Chiefs took the lead back 27.1 seconds before the break.

Spataro went deep down the middle to Dippre for 24 yards on the first play of a six-play, 76-yard scoring drive.

“We knew there was a weak spot and we attacked it,” Dippre said. “ … (Spataro) put it wherever I needed to catch it.”

They connected again for 25 yards to the 6 where Spataro took it in on a quarterback draw, fighting for the last yard after again taking a big hit.

Zach Janosky’s third extra point made it 21-20 at the half.

Janiszewski, who ran for 85 yards on 16 carries, ripped off a 32-yard run on the second play of the second half.

Lakeland then held on downs at the 22, setting up the first of two long, second-half scoring drives by the Chiefs.

Taking 8:25 off the clock, the Chiefs covered the field in 17 plays, overcoming back-to-back holding penalties.

Following the penalties, Spataro found Evan Pochas wide open in the right flat for 18 yards on third-and-15. He also ran for the tough yards needed to convert two shorter third-down situations.

Spataro ran 4 yards for the score on the first play of the fourth quarter and Seamans added the two-point run to make it a two-score game at 29-20.

Western Wayne fought right back.

The Wildcats drove 61 yards without ever facing a third down. Frankie Leyshon hit Carter Mistishin with an 8-yard touchdown pass and Mistishin ran for the conversion to make it a one-point game with 8:16 left.

Spataro’s two big fourth-down plays opened a seven-point lead, but this time Western Wayne stopped the two-point try to remain within a score.

Western Wayne wound up throwing an incompletion with Dippre chasing Leyshon on fourth-and-21 on the Wildcats’ last play.

Riley Rovinsky provided the coverage on the final play after Gelderman and Shea had broken up passes earlier in the series.

The teams had matched scoring drives to open the game.

Lakeland went 90 yards on 13 plays, 10 of them runs, before Dippre took a split-end screen 7 yards for the score on third-and-goal.

After Janiszewski carried on five of Western Wayne’s first six plays, Owens got behind the Lakeland defense to pull in a 39-yard touchdown pass from Leyshon.

The game was tied at 7-7 after one quarter, but Lakeland was already working on its next score.

Spataro hit Dippre on a 40-yard post pattern, then on the next play, Dippre went into more crowded space in the middle and tipped the ball to himself for a 20-yard gain.

Spataro scored from the 1 on the second play of the second quarter to put Lakeland ahead.

Western Wayne moved in front following the turnovers.

Janiszewski scooped up the fumble and advanced it 6 yards to the 25.

Leyshon and Owens scored from there on the next play, the result of a spectacular catch as Owens fell backward into the end zone between two defenders.

Owens then intercepted a pass on the sideline and the Wildcats went 32 yards in 7 plays

Vinton’s 16-yard run set up his 1-yard score for the lead.

“We just kept fighting and fighting,” Gelderman said. “They got two big scores on us early, but we just kept going.”

Lakeland ran 49 times for 239 yards. Pochas picked up 76 on 14 carries and Seamans had 68 on 12.

In addition to his offensive work, Spataro had six tackles, including two for losses, and two assists.

Western Wayne’s Leyshon went 4-for-7 for 92 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Owens had seven tackles and five assists to go along with his interception and two touchdown receptions.

Lakeland finished with statistical advantages of 20-10 in first downs, 239-142 in rushing yards, 144-92 in passing yards, 383-234 in total offense and 29:28-18:32 in time of possession.

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