By Marian Valanoski
For The Daily Item
COAL TOWNSHIP — Brandon Yescavage was where you’d expect the game’s “shining star” to be at the conclusion of one of the most surprising upsets to date at Kemp Memorial Stadium. Near the end zone surrounded by a throng of jubilant, shocked but surprising Old Forge fans following the Blue Devils stunning 19-14 knockout of District 4 titlist and state-wide powerhouse Southern Columbia.
No that is not a misprint. District 2 champion Old Forge (12-1) not only knocked off the PIAA Class A No. 1 team but accomplished on the site where the Tigers throughout their playoff and regular season history have never lost a game (Kemp Memorial Stadium) by playing the type of football throughout the game usually associated with the Tigers and their formula for postseason success, and that’s tough, physical football.
Yescavage and his teammates lost to Southern at Kemp in 2011, 45-34, and when the contest was on the line Southern simply rolled up its sleeves ran over its opponent in the fourth quarter while smothering the opposing team’s usually potent offensive attack.
Such was not the case this Friday night.
This year the Blue Devils were underdogs once again to the Tigers and given few, if any, chances of vanquishing their opponent, which had just completed its 12th consecutive mercy-rule win in claiming its 22nd District 4 championship.
“We had a chip on our shoulders coming into the game,” Yescavage said. “Nobody gave us much of a chance to beat Southern but this team relishes the role of being the underdog and I knew we had hearts big enough to go out and give them a game.”
Southern, to the surprise of no one, grabbed a 14-0 lead after one quarter and the defense was superb in bottling up the Blue Devils’ standout runner, who came into the game with 2.050 yards and 37 touchdowns.
The Tigers are accustomed to facing big name backs and don’t pale at the sight of a huge statistical resume and held Yescavage to nine yards on just four carries in the opening quarter, but you can’t hold a good back down even if he’s not well-known in the area.
“At halftime, coach told us not to give up and keep playing like we were,” Yescavage said “We knew if we could keep it close going into the fourth quarter we would be alright.”
With time slowly becoming a precious commodity, Old Forge first came up with a huge stop on fourth down to gain possession on their own 22 but 78 yards from scoring the go-ahead touchdown, but there was no sense of panic on the visitors’ sideline.
Two running plays and an eight-yard completion from Jake Manetti to Shane Schuback advanced the ball to the 33. Yescavage took a pitch and circled left end for a 17-yard gain to midfield. His next run put a dagger into the hearts of the Southern Columbia faithful.
The Tigers did not roll over, but put on one of their patented drives that in the past usually either cemented a victory or brought the team back from the brink of defeat and into the victory column.
Moving from its own 20, sophomore quarterback Nick Becker twice on fourth down complete passes, one each to Luke Rarig for 12 yards and a first down and then between two defenders to Blake Marks for 19 to the Old Forge 19.
Unfortunately, this time fate had other plans for the Tigers as they could only manage two yards on the ground and two passes fell incomplete handling the ball over to Old Forge and only a few seconds on the clock.