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Game of the Week

Wolverines earn playoff berth

Ellwood City (24) vs. Riverside (21)
Written: Oct 30, 2010
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By JOE SIMON

j_simon@ncnewsonline.com

The temperature was near freezing prior to Ellwood City Lincoln High’s matchup against Riverside and yet Gino Ceriani was sweating.

Maybe it was because he was sick. Maybe it was because he was anxious, or maybe it was just a sign of things to come.

Regardless of the reason, he never cooled off.

The senior quarterback was one of many stars who stood out for the Wolverines in an epic, 24-21, Midwestern Athletic Conference victory over Riverside that gave Ellwood City its first playoff berth in a decade.

In a game that will be remembered for years to come for several reasons, Ceriani was near perfect. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns, the last being a game-winning, 17-yard TD to his favorite target, Kyle Crawford. The score came with two minutes remaining and gave the Wolverines (5-3 conference, 6-3 overall) more than just their first trip to the playoffs since 2000.

“We have bragging rights for the year,” a smiling Crawford said of beating Ellwood City’s arch rival for the first time since 2003. “Making it to the playoffs means everything, but beating Riverside makes it 1,000 times better.”

Earning those rights didn’t come easy in a game where the winner moved on to the WPIAL Class AA playoffs, and the loser’s season was over.

While Ceriani and the Wolverines were lighting it up with an aerial attack, Riverside (4-4, 5-4) was pounding the ball with a power running game. The Panthers’ Jared Desensi ran for 140 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. He had 34 yards at halftime.

Desensi helped Riverside steal the momentum midway through the second half by bulldozing through a tough Wolverines defense. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound senior put the Panthers up, 21-17, early in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run with 10:51 remaining.

Riverside’s defense then forced a three-and-out and was driving with five minutes left. The Panthers faced a third-and-14 after a big tackle by Garrett Thomas on Desensi. Crawford then broke up a deep pass, forcing Riverside to punt and give the Wolverines a chance for one final drive.

“I knew if our defense gave our offense a shot, we weren’t going to be denied,” said Ceriani, who battled a cold all week. “I have all the faith in the world in them.”

Ceriani, who completed his first nine passes, guided Ellwood City on an eight-play, 69-yard drive that will not soon be forgotten in Ellwood City.

After hitting Crawford for six yards on the first play, Ceriani ran for 10 yards. Two passes to Nicholas Polka went for 23 yards and moved the Wolverines to Riverside’s 21. A 10-yard screen pass to Thomas moved them even closer, but Ceriani was sacked on the next play, pushing the Wolverines back to the 17 and quieting a raucous Ellwood City crowd. They weren’t silenced for long. Ceriani dropped back and heaved a fade route to Crawford in the corner of the end zone. The 6-foot-1 junior made a miraculous catch as he leaped up and snagged the ball over a defender as he was falling backward, and Helling Stadium erupted.

“When I saw it was one-on-one coverage,” said Ceriani, who was 5 for 5 on the drive, “I knew if Kyle wasn’t coming down with it, no one was. He’s the best athlete in the county if you ask me.”

He sure looked like it yesterday. Crawford caught seven passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns and played exceptional as a corner on defense.

While his touchdown was impressive, the score left the Panthers two minutes to score. That task became more difficult after the Ellwood City kickoff went off a Riverside player’s hand and rolled out of bounds at its own 7-yard line. The Panthers threw four straight incompletions, and after the turnover on downs, Ellwood City ran the clock down to 1.8 seconds. The Wolverines batted down a desperation Hail Mary by Riverside on the final play, and the Ellwood City student body swarmed the field in celebration.

Coach Don Phillips, who transformed Ellwood City into a playoff team a year after the Wolverines suffered their 31st straight loss and went 1-8, endured a Gatorade shower in the freezing weather, yet he never felt better.

“I’m cold and wet, but it’s a good wet,” he joked. “The most gratifying thing to me is watching these kids evolve into a team. They take a lot of pride not only as individuals, but they represent their school, they represent their community and right now, they have rallied to say, ‘We know we can be competitive.’ From my perspective, as their head coach, I love watching that evolution into being the team I’ve always thought they could be.”

Riverside made them fight for it, scoring 14 straight points after Ellwood City took a 7-0 lead. The Wolverines’ Scott Lewis kicked a 38-yard field goal late in the second quarter to make it 14-10. Crawford then caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Ceriani on the third play of the second half to make it 17-14. That gave way to a classic fourth quarter.

“I thought we played the first half tentative,” Phillips said. “Possibly because of the nature of the game, meaning a big rival game and there was so much on the line for both teams, we were tentative because the kids have never been in that situation. We challenged them at halftime, and when I say we challenged them, believe me, we challenged them. We appealed to their inner pride to step it up, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of these kids.”

RIVERSIDE ELLWOOD CITY

17 First downs 10

244 Yards Rushing 75

8 Yards Lost 17

236 Net Rushing 58

13 Passes Attempted 21

4 Passes Completed 16

1 Passes Intercepted 0

79 Yards Passing 278

315 Total Yards 336

0-0 Fumbles-Lost 3-2

2-31 Punts-Average 1-56

5-40 Penalties-Yards 4-38

RIVERSIDE 0 14 0 7 — 21

ELLWOOD CITY 7 3 7 7 — 24

Scoring plays

ELLWOOD CITY — Garrett Thomas, 18-yard pass from Gino Ceriani (Scott Lewis kick).

RIVERSIDE — Jake Thellman, 25-yard pass from Tom Mansfield (Tyler Bailey kick).

RIVERSIDE — Mansfield, 14-yard run (Bailey kick).

ELLWOOD CITY — Lewis, 38-yard field goal.

ELLWOOD CITY — Kyle Crawford, 61-yard pass from Ceriani (Lewis kick).

RIVERSIDE — Jared Desensi, 4-yard run (Bailey kick).

ELLWOOD CITY — Crawford, 17-yard pass from Ceriani (Lewis kick).
GAME SCOREBOARD
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 OT SCORE
Ellwood City 7 3 7 7 0 24
Riverside 0 14 0 7 0 21
GAME OF THE WEEK ARCHIVE
One step short 12/3/16 Neshannock season comes to end 11/27/16 The (im)perfect season 11/19/16 WPIAL championship game 11/18/16 New Castle advances to WPIAL Class 4A title game 11/11/16 Neshannock routs Serra Catholic 11/4/16 Neshannock hosts Serra Catholic 11/4/16 Thriller 10/28/16 Union at Shenango 10/28/16 'Canes stumble; playoff berth on line in finale 10/21/16 New Castle hosts Ringgold on Senior Night 10/21/16 Wilmington falls in battle of unbeatens 10/15/16 Wilmington at Hickory 10/13/16 On the defensive 10/8/16 Neshannock hosts Riverside 10/7/16 New Castle struggles in home loss to Mars 9/30/16 New Castle hosts Mars 9/30/16 'Canes hope to even score against Mars 9/30/16 Stayin' alive 9/23/16 Union hosts Western Beaver 9/23/16 Ground assault 9/17/16 Wilmington hosts Sharpsville 9/16/16 Too many mistakes for Laurel 9/10/16 Riverside travels to Laurel 9/9/16 Neshannock routs North Catholic 9/3/16 Canes quipped 8/31/16 A good mix 8/27/16 Black Friday 11/14/15 Wilmington vs. Cambridge Springs 11/13/15 Defense steps up for Lancers 11/7/15 Neshannock vs. Bentworth 11/5/15 No doubt about it 10/31/15 Neshannock vs. Union 10/30/15 Crowning effort 10/24/15 Shenango vs. Riverside 10/23/15 Playoff hopes dashed 10/17/15 Laurel vs. Beaver 10/16/15 A costly brawl 10/10/15 New Castle vs. Central Valley 10/9/15 Inching closer 10/3/15 Union vs. Shenango 10/2/15 'They had us on our heels' 9/26/15 South Side Beaver at Union 9/25/15 Shootout 9/19/15 Neshannock at Riverside 9/18/15 Pivotal 9/13/15 Neshannock, Shenango clash Saturday 9/11/15 Under the weather 9/5/15 New Brighton at Laurel 9/4/15 Heartbreaker 11/15/14 Neshannock vs. Clairton 11/14/14 Weathering the storm 11/8/14 Neshannock vs. Jeannette 11/7/14 Fast and furious 11/1/14 Springdale at Shenango 10/31/14 Opportunity lost 10/25/14 Sharpsville at Wilmington 10/24/14 One for the books 10/18/14 Ellwood City at Laurel 10/17/14 Ground war 10/11/14 Ellwood City at Mohawk 10/10/14 Drenched with happiness 10/4/14 South Side Beaver at Shenango 10/3/14 The perfect storm 9/27/14 Moon at New Castle 9/26/14 Coming up short 9/20/14 West Middlesex at Wilmington 9/19/14 Back in the saddle 9/13/14 Neshannock at Riverside 9/12/14 Tough act to follow 9/6/14 New Brighton at Ellwood City 9/5/14 'We will get better' 8/30/14 West Allegheny vs. New Castle 8/29/14 End of the road 11/16/13 Neshannnock vs. North Catholic 11/15/13 'Sharks in a frenzy' 11/9/13 Lancers advance to WPIAL semifinals 11/9/13 Neshannock vs. Monessen 11/8/13 The best defense 11/2/13 Neshannock vs. Brentwood 11/1/13 'We battled to the end' 10/26/13 New Brighton at Mohawk 10/25/13 Costly blunders 10/19/13 Sto-Rox at Laurel 10/18/13 West Allegheny rallies in fourth to defeat 'Canes 10/12/13 West Allegheny at New Castle 10/11/13 Mohawk wins thriller behind McConahy, Barber 10/5/13 Ellwood City at Mohawk 10/4/13 Spartans ride big second half to win over Union 9/28/13 Laurel at Union 9/27/13 Burkes stars as Lancers escape upset bid 9/21/13 Shenango at Neshannock 9/20/13 So close ... 9/13/13 Neshannock at Sto-Rox 9/12/13 Run to glory 9/7/13 Laurel at Neshannock 9/6/13 Dando, Spartans roll over South Side Beaver 9/5/13 South Side Beaver vs. Laurel 8/30/13 Turnovers spell doom for Wilmington in D-10 title game 11/26/12 Wilmington vs. Hickory 11/24/12 Caught in a 'Bear' trap 11/17/12 Neshannock vs. Clairton in WPIAL Class A semifinals 11/15/12 Neshannock advances 11/10/12 Neshannock vs. Monessen 11/9/12 Neshannock vs. Monessen 11/9/12 Neshannock vs. Monessen 11/8/12 Neshannock advances 11/3/12 Neshannock vs. Jefferson-Morgan 11/2/12 Down and out 10/27/12 New Castle at Hopewell 10/26/12 Pugh paces Wilmington to win over Sharon 10/22/12 Wilmington vs. Sharon 10/19/12 Mohawk falls to Beaver 10/13/12 Beaver vs. Mohawk 10/12/12 ‘We tip our hats to them’ 10/8/12 Neshannock at Rochester 10/5/12 Big-play display for Union 9/29/12 Union vs. Laurel 9/28/12 Lancers rout Shenango for fourth win 9/24/12 Blend of old, new sparks Union win 9/22/12 Union hosts Western Beaver 9/21/12 ’Hounds rise up for win over Hickory 9/15/12 Wilmington vs. Hickory 9/14/12 Milestone victory 9/10/12 New Castle at Riverside 9/7/12 699 and counting 9/1/12 New Castle vs. Central Valley 8/31/12 Turnovers lead to season-ending loss for Wilmington 11/21/11 Wilmington vs. General McLane 11/17/11 End of the dream 11/12/11 Ellwood vs. Greensburg Central 11/11/11 Ellwood advances 11/5/11 Ellwood City vs. Freeport 11/4/11 Mixed reviews 10/29/11 New Castle vs. Blackhawk 10/28/11 Wilmington rolls to Region 3 title 10/22/11 Wilmington vs. Sharon 10/21/11 It's Polka time 10/15/11 Ellwood City vs. Laurel 10/14/11 Aliquippa cruises past Ellwood City 10/8/11 Aliquippa vs. Ellwood City 10/7/11 Wilmington holds on for thrilling win over Hickory 10/1/11 Wilmington vs. Hickory 9/30/11 Union pulls away for win over South Side Beaver 9/24/11 South Side Beaver at Union 9/23/11 Big plays spell doom for New Castle 9/17/11 Central Valley vs. New Castle 9/16/11 Defense delivers for Neshannock 9/10/11 Defense delivers for Neshannock 9/10/11 Neshannock vs. Serra Catholic 9/9/11 New Castle suffers disappointing loss in opener 9/3/11 New Castle vs. Butler 9/2/11 Sharon ends Wilmington’s dominance 11/22/10 ‘Underdog’ Greyhounds move on to a rematch with Sharon 11/15/10 Wilmington vs. North East 11/12/10 Tough lesson 11/6/10 WPIAL Playoffs: Ellwood vs. South Fayette 11/5/10 Wolverines earn playoff berth 10/30/10 Riverside at Ellwood City 10/29/10 'Hounds lose heartbreaker 10/23/10 Wilmington at Sharon 10/22/10 Wolverines outlast Spartans 10/16/10 Laurel at Ellwood City 10/15/10 'Canes fall to Parkway foe Hopewell 10/9/10 New Castle to battle Hopewell 10/8/10 Lancers fall to Western Beaver 10/2/10 Western Beaver at Neshannock 10/1/10 Wolverines fall to Beaver 9/25/10 Beaver at Ellwood City 9/24/10 Shenango runs past South Side 9/20/10 Greyhounds lay hammer down on Greenville 9/11/10 Wilmington vs. Greenville 9/10/10 New Castle comes through 9/4/10 New Castle vs. Butler 9/4/10 Memorable run ends for Wilmington football team 12/14/09 Wilmington vs. Greensburg Catholic 12/11/09 Wilmington survives close call against Forest Hills 12/4/09 Wilmington vs. Forest Hills 12/4/09 Wilmington blanks Sharon 11/28/09 Wilmington vs. Sharon 11/27/09 Laurel season ends with setback 11/21/09 Laurel vs. Clairton in WPIAL semifinals 11/20/09 West Allegheny ends New Castle’s season 11/14/09 New Castle vs. West Allegheny 11/13/09 New Castle holds off Greensburg Salem 11/7/09 New Castle at Greensburg Salem 11/6/09 Wilmington routs Slippery Rock 10/30/09 Slippery Rock at Wilmington 10/30/09 Shenango blanks Union 10/24/09 Shenango at Union 10/23/09 Spartans overwhelm Monaca 10/17/09 Monaca at Laurel 10/16/09 Mohawk outlasts Ellwood City 10/10/09 Mohawk at Ellwood City 10/9/09 Rochester turns back Laurel in battle of unbeatens 10/3/09 Laurel at Rochester 10/2/09 Laurel opportunistic against Neshannock 9/26/09 Neshannock at Laurel 9/25/09 New Castle ends streak against Blackhawk 9/19/09 New Castle hosts Blackhawk 9/18/09 New Castle passes test against Indiana 9/12/09 Indiana at New Castle 9/11/09 Ellwood comes up short against Freedom 9/5/09 Freedom at Ellwood 9/4/09 Wilmington wins PIAA title! 12/15/08 'Hounds headed for Hershey 12/6/08 Wilmington vs. Aliquippa 12/5/08 Wilmington holds off Martinsburg Central 11/29/08 Wilmington edges Slippery Rock for District 10 title 11/24/08 "Down and Out" 11/19/08 New Castle outlasts Indiana in quarterfinals 11/8/08 New Castle vs. Indiana 11/7/08 New Castle vs. Indiana 11/6/08 New Castle routs Franklin Regional 11/1/08 Franklin Regional at New Castle 11/1/08 Laurel wins, but not enough 10/25/08 Shenango at Laurel 10/25/08 New Castle routs Ambridge 10/18/08 Ambridge at New Castle 10/18/08 Rochester blanks Neshannock 10/11/08 Wilmington handles Sharon 10/4/08 South Side Beaver blanks Neshannock 9/27/08 Neshannock vs. South Side Beaver 9/27/08 Neshannock holds off Laurel 9/20/08 Rochester blanks Union 9/13/08 Union-Rochester 9/12/08 Mohawk routs New Brighton 9/6/08 Butler outlasts New Castle 8/30/08
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