HS FOOTBALL: Lakeland At Riverside
TAYLOR — Giovanni Spataro came up big for Lakeland.
A sophomore running back with darting speed, he had 154 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving and returned an interception 60 yards for a score spearheading a quick-strike attack by the sixth-ranked Chiefs in a 40-13 win over Riverside in a Lackawanna Football Conference Division III game Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“We couldn’t get going early, but our defense gave us a chance and once we made big plays, we just built confidence,” Spataro said.
Lakeland (3-0 overall, 1-0 in Division III), normally a grind it out offense, had five plays of 30 or more yards with four going for at least 50 yards to counter a wide-open Riverside offense that produced 380 total yards in 61 plays.
In addition to his interception return, Spataro had a 53-yard touchdown in the first half, and had a 57-yard run and a screen pass he turned into a 50-yard gain, Thomas Pidgeon had a 75-yard touchdown reception and Colin Walsh hauled in a 38-yard scoring pass.
Lakeland quarterback C.J. Dippre showed off his strong arm that helped him win a PIAA bronze medal in the Class 2A discus last spring. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore threw for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
“I hope we can succeed throwing the ball more,” Dippre said. “It was tough in the first quarter. We got the passing game going and that really helped us in the end.”
Lakeland’s defense, which entered the game having given up 272 total yards combined in its first two games, buckled but did not break while trying to slow Riverside’s multi-weapon assault.
Despite giving up 181 yards on the ground, the Chiefs had seven tackles for loss, including three sacks, and two stops for no gain.
And Riverside quarterback Johnny Gilchrist threw for 199 yards — spreading the ball to seven receivers — and a touchdown, but Pidgeon had a pair of interceptions to go along with Spataro’s scoring pick.
“Lakeland’s play makers made the plays when they needed to,” Riverside coach Harry Armstrong said. “I felt like our team played extremely tough. We were sound with a lot of our assignments. The couple of times they got opportunities they took advantage of that.
“I don’t think the score was indicitive of how close the game was.”
The teams played to a scoreless standoff in the first quarter where Riverside had four first downs and 83 yards of offense as opposed to Lakeland, which ran just six plays.
But in the second, Spataro found his first crease and burst through for a 53-yard sprint that broke the Chiefs offensive chill with 5:14 on the clock.
“The offensive line did great opening up the hole and I just ran,” Spataro said. “That was good momentum for us.”
On Lakeland’s next possession, Dippre found an uncovered Walsh for a 38-yard touchdown, and two Riverside plays later, Spataro stepped in front of a pass in the middle of the field and cut to his left, going 60 yards to make it 20-0 with 51 seconds left in the half.
In the third, facing a third-and-11 from its 25, Lakeland struck again. Dippre launched a deep aerial to Pidgeon for the first of their two scoring connections.
“That was the first time I touched the ball on offense,” Pidgeon said. “It was a great ball and I just ran with it.”
Jonathan Naniewicz had a sack and Walsh had a tackle for loss that pushed Riverside back to its 10 on its next possession and Lakeland forced only its second punt.
Sophomore Casey Williams contributed a pair of runs for 11 yards and Garrett Korner-Usher scored on a 16-yard run to make it 33-0 with 7:28 to play in the third.
Riverside (2-1, 0-1) avoided the shutout when Gilchrist found Jay Koller for a 20-yard touchdown.
Pidgeon stopped another Riverside threat with his second interception at the Lakeland 3.
Spataro got the Chiefs out of the shadow of the goal line by ripping off a 57-yard run. And it was his screen pass reception and dash that set up Pidgeon for his second touchdown and a 40-7 lead with 9:35 to play.
“(Riverside) was electric in the first half,” Pidgeon said. “In the first quarter, neither team scored, but they got to the red zone twice. Our defense stayed disciplined and when we had to make a play, we made a play.”
Mikey Moran, who had 69 yards rushing, closed out the scoring for Riverside with a 10-yard run in the fourth.
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