HAWLEY – When Wyoming Area lost senior leader P.J. Angeli just four plays into the season Friday night, it was time for the Warriors talented sophomore class to get to work in a hurry.
Dominic DeLuca, F.J. Braccini, Corey Mruk and Darren Rodney all responded.
As a result, Wyoming Area escaped Wallenpaupack with a 7-3 victory in the non-league high school football opener for both teams and gave itself time to reorganize.
Angeli, the team’s quarterback, strong safety and punter, was just beginning his fourth season as a starter. He went down clutching his right knee on Wallenpaupack’s first offensive play and spent the rest of the night being checked on by medical staff and with his leg elevated while he sat on the bench.
The Warriors simply improvised.
DeLuca took over at quarterback and joined Braccini and Mruk in leading a strong defensive effort. Rodney raced 23 yards for a touchdown in the first minute of the second half. After a rocky start, Braccini also handled a busy night as punter in the defensive struggle.
“Early in the game, when we lost P.J. I think everyone initially was shocked,” said Marc Anthony Minichello, Wyoming Area’s other four-year starter, who had expected to be on the receiving end of Angeli’s passes.
DeLuca stepped in and went 6-for-12 passing while running an offense that struggled, but never turned the ball over.
“Incredible effort for a young guy,” Wyoming Area coach Randy Spencer said. “When you’re that second guy, you don’t get a lot of reps. You’ve got to learn by watching.
“ … I just think he did a great job, going in managing the game and making some key throws. We didn’t pop any big plays, but all those little plays added up to being enough.”
DeLuca did that while still playing well defensively as the free safety. He made five tackles and assisted on five others.
“P.J. went down early,” DeLuca said. “I wasn’t ready for that, but I had to step up.”
He was not alone.
While DeLuca and Mruk were varsity players a year ago, Braccini was pressed into the starting lineup for his varsity debut when linebacker Justin Joseph suffered an ankle injury leading up to the game.
Braccini’s night was busier than he could have ever anticipated. He made nine tackles, assisted another, broke up a pass and was in on two of the game’s biggest defensive plays in the fourth quarter.
Cameron Carr forced a fumble on fourth-and-one with 10 minutes left and Braccini recovered it. When Wallenpaupack drove 74 yards to first-and-10 at the Wyoming Area 15 with 2:35 left, Braccini broke into the backfield to force a three-yard loss.
The Buckhorns sputtered from there and gave the ball up on downs.
“You know it’s tough, but you play for P.J.,” Braccini said. “He’s a great player; a leader. He’s our captain.
“You just have to trust your players and do your job. I trust my players … and played as hard as I can.”
Braccini got even more work as the third punter with both Joseph and Angeli unavailable. His first kick, after having trouble with a low snap, went just two yards, but he got away seven more without incident.
Mruk, who became a starting linebacker as a freshman linebacker, made nine tackles and assisted on six others.
“The sophomores played very well,” Mruk said. “I think it’s just from practice. We mature very quickly.”
Rodney scored the game-winning touchdown in his first start at tailback.
Zajquay Williamson – yes, another sophomore – recovered a fumble on the second half kickoff.
DeLuca passed nine yards to Minichello on the first play, then Rodney burst off tackle for the touchdown.
Spencer said after the game that it was too early to know the extent of Angeli’s injury.
“You’re hoping for a strain or a sprain or something like that going forward,” he said. “He’s a great kid.
“You hate to see him start his senior year like that, but hopefully there’s more of his senior year to come for him.”
Wyoming Area 7, Wallenpaupack 3
WAL – Aiden Maldacker 42 FG, 1:02
WYO – Darren Rodney 23 run (F.J. Braccini kick), 11:12
RUSHING — WYO, Darren Rodney 13-40, Marc Anthony Minichello 3-22, Dominic DeLuca 7-0, P.J. Angeli 1-minus 1, Corey Mruk 3-minus 3. WAL, Nicholas Ruggieri 12-64, Joe Ingulli 12-40, Aiden Maldacker 3-3, Exzavier 2-0, Tom McCormick 4-minus 3.
PASSING — WYO, DeLuca 6-12-0-50, Angeli 1-1-0-2, Team 0-1-0-0. WAL, McCormick 11-20-0-88.
RECEIVING — WYO, Minichello 5-30, Shane Eslick 1-15, Robbie Trottini 1-7. WAL, Adam Haupt 3-28, AMaldacker 3-15, Ingulli 2-19, Thomas Vanbuskirk 2-9, Eric Smith 1-17.
INTERCEPTIONS — None.
MISSED FIELD GOALS – WYO, None. WAL, AMaldacker 37, 41.