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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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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.”


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).
Ellwood City 7 3 7 7 0 24
Riverside 0 14 0 7 0 21
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