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Lackawanna Trail’s Defeat Doesn’t Diminish Program’s Record Season

December 7, 2018
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Lackawanna Trail’s Defeat Doesn’t Diminish Program’s Record Season

Jordan Edwards stood somewhere near the 20-yard line after it was all said and done, almost walking in place on the turf at Hersheypark Stadium as his chin quivered, the result of some combination of the stiff, biting breeze, the early winter chill and a rush of adrenaline that probably hadn’t had time to wear off.

He and his Lackawanna Trail teammates didn’t get to hoist the PIAA Class 1A championship trophy Thursday afternoon, and the fact of the matter is, that’s what they bussed two hours to Chocolatetown to do.

Edwards gazed quickly over at the scoreboard, and the stark reality hit him all over again. The Lions lost the title game to District 10 champion Farrell, 55-20, and it took a late rally to even get it that close.

This wasn’t what any of them wanted, for sure. They wanted the “Hoosiers” type of underdog story. They wanted to go onto the biggest stage on which most of them will ever play, stare down a heavy favorite, keep it close against everything your eyes tell you is possible and execute that last-minute drive that shocks everyone who saw it happen.

They got the “Rocky” narrative instead. They were outmatched. Outsized. Outgunned. Out-talented. And they did everything they conceivably could to compete anyway. They absorbed the blows most figured they would against a team that looked more like a small college roster than a small high school. But maybe, they delivered a few more than many thought possible, too.

“It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around it right now. I’m only 17 years old, and I’m a little caught up in the moment,” Edwards said, weighing the hope against the reality. “But I’m sure 10, 15, 20 years down the road, when we’re 30 and 40 years old, this is going to be something to hang our hat on and be very proud of.”

That always seems to be the balancing act for Lackawanna Football Conference teams who earn the chance Lackawanna Trail did this season. No District 2 team has ventured to the end and walked away celebrating a championship since Berwick did it in 1997. No LFC team has done it since Valley View in 1992. Of the 12 districts in Pennsylvania, only District 8 has gone longer since winning a state title.

Between 2007 and 2017, five LFC teams came to Hershey — Dunmore in 2007, 2012 and 2014; Riverside in 2010 and Old Forge in 2013. All five walked away with the runner-up trophy.

Anyone from Northeast Pennsylvania who values the success of a season or the value of a team based only on winning the state championship, therefore, is incredibly difficult to impress. Not to mention, missing the point of what competing in this game is really all about.

Lackawanna Trail did what it could. All it could. All, quite honestly, that any team that plays football in our backyard could do.

In a week or so, The Times-Tribune will unveil its All-Region team. It will be loaded with hard-nosed defensive players and our most physical offensive linemen. It will include our best skill position players and young men who posted ridiculous statistics.

That team, if put together on a field, would have their hands full with Farrell.

It’s a given that, when you play for all the marbles, you’re likely going to have to get through the best team you’ve seen all season to do it. But for a Class 1A team to have to play a team that, arguably, was better than any other team from your area, it had to be a football version of a culture shock.

“Until you’re 10 yards away on the other side of the ball, playing against them, you don’t know how fast they really are,” Lions fullback and linebacker Ray Melnikoff said. “They had a lot of speed. A lot of speed.”

And size to go along with it.

Farrell’s quarterback, Kyi Wright, is a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder who is committed to the University of Pittsburgh to play linebacker, and he had enough speed and quickness to run for 129 yards on nine carries and throw for 111 yards on four completions. He accounted for three touchdowns.

Two-way lineman Kobe Hilton, a 6-foot-4, 283-pounder, has scholarship offers from a slew of Mid-American Conference schools and dominated on both sides of the ball. Farrell averaged 12.2 yards per rush, and Hilton finished with a game-high eight tackles.

Then, there is running back Christian Lewis, a 182-pound speedster who is committed to Albany as a cornerback. He rushed for, get this, 249 yards on 19 carries and five touchdowns.

That’s not all the FBS and FCS talent on that roster either, because it’s still a relatively young team.

Lackawanna Trail took a 7-0 lead after Farrell fumbled the opening kickoff and Melnikoff scored untouched from 11 yards out on the game’s second play. All you need to know about the monumental task Farrell posed could be told in this fact: The Steelers tied the game 33 seconds later.

“It is hard to prepare for a team like that,” Edwards said. “They’re very explosive. I think we did the best we could.”

When the PIAA expanded to six classifications in 2016, it did so to give a team like Lackawanna Trail a shot like this. It opened the door to crown more champions, to host more highly visible games, to make the playoff appearance available to more kids, sure. But it also created an opportunity to see a true, small-school championship. To see some kids from the middle of nowhere, Wyoming County, test their skills against a state powerhouse practically from the Ohio border. A matchup you’d never expect to see, and a challenge nobody Lackawanna Trail plays or plays near could realistically be expected to offer.

Farrell and Hersheypark Stadium are a long way from the Lion’s Den, and Lackawanna Trail got there. It’s quite a story for a group of just a few more than two dozen hardscrabble kids to earn that chance, and the result of the game doesn’t change that.

“When you really believe in a mission, a lot can happen,” an emotional Lions coach Steve Jervis said. “They kind of put Lackawanna Trail on the map today.”

DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at dcollins@timesshamrock.com and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.

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