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Struthers get last laugh

Wacky play helps Wildcats rally past Lakeview

November 9, 2013
By JOE SIMON - Tribune Chronicle ( , Underthelights

STRUTHERS - The first thoughts racing through the mind of Struthers quarterback Gary Muntean during one of the biggest plays of a Division IV, Region 11 clash with Lakeview were pretty comical.

The Wildcats held a 7-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but they faced a third-and-8 situation at midfield and were on the verge of giving the ball back to the Bulldogs with a chance at a game-winning drive. Muntean, who had already thrown an interception in Lakeview territory earlier in the game, fumbled the shotgun snap and watched as the ball took a funny bounce a few feet in front of him.

Reality then hit him as hard as any Bulldog defender did all night.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Lakeview’s Michael Mannella (35) looks for running room as Struthers’ Marcus Donnadio (20) waits to make the tackle during first-half action. Lakeview’s Matthew Orahood (73) takes a hand to the face while blocking on the play.?

"I was looking around and I was like, 'Geez, this is going to be a crap play,' " Muntean said.

Not so fast. Muntean picked up the loose pigskin, kept his eyes downfield and connected with tight end Cameron Suchora for a 12-yard gain and what proved to be a huge first down in the Wildcats' 14-3 comeback victory over Lakeview. Struthers now plays Cardinal Mooney, which beat John Hay 45-20, on Friday at a site and time to be determined.

Luke Witkowski ran for 148 yards on 25 carries and finished off the aforementioned drive with his only touchdown - a 5-yard burst with 4:43 remaining that doomed the Bulldogs (7-4). Witkowski, Nick Pollifrone and a "heavy" package that included a few bigger players to open up holes helped Struthers (9-2) find some running room. The Wildcats recorded just 82 yards on the ground in the first half, but they bucked and battered their way for 159 yards and two touchdowns in the final two quarters in a come-from-behind win.

"We got into a little different personnel, brought in some bigger kids," Struthers coach Curt Kuntz said. "And obviously you saw the results. Other than a few penalties, it worked for us, and maybe I got too cute in the first half."

Not much worked in the first half against a swarming Lakeview defense. The Wildcats were fortunate to only be down 3-0 considering the Bulldogs had four drives enter Struthers territory in the first two quarters. Penalties, sacks and an inability to convert on third down came back hurt a Lakeview team that played much better than it did eight weeks ago, when Struthers manhandled the Bulldogs, 35-14.

"We left some plays out there on the field," Lakeview coach Tom Pavlansky said. "We hurt ourselves with some penalties, which is uncharacteristic of us this year. In a big game like this - a playoff game, a playoff atmosphere - those things can't happen, and we lost some plays there. But I can't say enough about our kids. They played their tails off."

Lakeview had a great chance to add to its lead on the first possession of the second half. Led by Angelo Marino's 112 yards rushing - including a 60-yarder that set up Jake Pishotti's 22-yard, second-quarter field goal - the Bulldogs marched 55 yards to Struthers' 31. They faced a fourth-and-3 and were ready to go for it before an offside penalty pushed them back and forced a punt. Struthers responded with an 88-yard drive that redirected momentum. Pollifrone, a 6-foot, 210-pound fullback, powered his way in from 3 yards out to cap the series.

"Our first offensive possession," Pollifrone said of when the tide turned in favor of the Wildcats. "We got in our power formation and just ran the ball down their throat."

Struthers' matchup with Mooney is its first since 1999 - the last time the Wildcats won a playoff game. Struthers beat Mooney that season, 12-0, in the season opener.

"Bring it on," Pollifrone said of the matchup. "We're worried about us executing what we have to do. We're not worried about who's lining up across from us."