OLD FORGE — Lackawanna Trail hung with state-ranked Old Forge early in the District 2 Class A football championship game, but the Blue Devils’ balanced offense proved to be too much for the Lions to handle.
Old Forge, the sixth-ranked team in the Pennsylvania Football News Class A rankings, claimed its third consecutive District 2 title with a 49-14 win Friday night.
The Blue Devils limited Lackawanna Trail to only 66 yards in the second half and scored 42 unanswered points after the Lions took a 14-7 lead on a 1-yard run from Thomas Huffsmith with 5:31 left in the first quarter.
Old Forge opened the scoring when quarterback Joey Gutowski, who completed 15 of 18 passes for 219 yards, found tight end Armando Sallavanti for a 12-yard touchdown two plays after Jaret Horn returned the opening kickoff 78 yards. Horn added the extra point to give the Blue Devils a 7-0 advantage with 10:59 remaining in the first quarter.
Lackawanna Trail responded on the ensuing drive when running back Rocco Pacini scored on a 3-yard run after quarterback Nathan Rolka connected with Matt Bergey for a 52-yard completion down the sideline. Huffsmith’s extra point tied the game with 8:14 left in the first quarter.
“I was proud of how our kids came out,” Lackawanna Trail head coach Steve Jervis said. “We made it pretty interesting in the first quarter, but as the game went on they wore us down a little bit. We weren’t able to get any real rhythm on offense and they made some big plays in the passing game.”
Gutowski, who also rushed for 79 yards on five carries, helped set up the Blue Devils’ next touchdown when he picked up 48 yards on a third-and-7 play. Cooper Califano, who finished with 108 yards on 27 carries, capped the possession with a 3-yard touchdown but Horn misfired on the extra point attempt.
The Blue Devils got the ball right back after Horn dove on the loose ball after his kickoff bounced off a Lackawanna Trail player.
“You always have to be ready for anything when you’re on that front line,” Jervis said. “Special teams always play a role in these games.”
Old Forge (11-1) regained the lead when Gutowski hooked up with Horn for a 12-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first quarter. Horn’s extra point gave the Blue Devils a 20-14 lead.
Gutowski and Horn connected again, this time for a 5-yard touchdown, on the Blue Devils’ next drive. After Horn’s extra point, Old Forge led, 27-14, with 7:45 remaining in the second quarter.
“We’ve been buddies forever and the chemistry was always there,” Gutowski said his friendship with Horn. “It showed tonight what great chemistry this entire team has.”
Lackawanna Trail (6-6) moved the ball into Old Forge territory during its next possession after a 19-yard run from Huffsmith, but the drive stalled and the Lions punted.
Gutowski, who connected on his first 12 passes, moved the ball to the Lions’ 5-yard line after an 11-yard completion to Horn. On the next play, Califano found the end zone. Gutowski ran in the two-point conversion to give the Blue Devils a 35-14 advantage with less than a minute left in the third quarter.
Old Forge turned a Trail turnover into points in the third quarter. After Gutowski intercepted a pass from Rolka, the Blue Devils put together a 11-play, 81-yard drive that was capped by a 5-yard touchdown run from Horn. Brendan Mozeleski’s extra point attempt was no good.
“Once we found a groove, it was smooth sailing,” Horn said. “I do give a shout-out to Lackawanna Trail; they played us really tough.”
Califano added the final touchdown of the game on a 9-yard run with 11:27 remaining in the fourth quarter. Gutowski ran in the two-point conversation.
Despite the loss, Jervis was satisfied with his team’s effort and perseverance after losing four of its first five games.
“I thought our kids had a great season,” Jervis said. “We really improved in the second half. I’m very proud of where we came from to where we finished. We’re still hungry to take that next step.”
Old Forge will play Wellsboro in the first-round of the PIAA Class A playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at Scranton Memorial Stadium.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.