KINGSTON — Carson Canavan raced for a 70-yard touchdown with 3:09 left in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory for Wyoming Valley West, 24-13, Friday night at Spartan Stadium.
Canavan, a 5-foot-10 senior running back, took the hand-off from quarterback Jake Shusta, shook a couple of tacklers and then hit open field for the score.
“It’s our favorite play in practice,” Canavan said after the game. “Coach (Pat Keating) knew it would work and it did. I just followed my blocks and got free.”
The Spartans got off to a slow start in the first quarter, mishandling several snaps and hand-offs, but they managed to battle back after Scranton had opened the scoring at the 2:07 mark in the first quarter. Senior Jerrod Brown scored from 25 yards out to put the Knights on the board.
Spartan Coach Pat Keating said he planned to alternate seniors Jake Shusta and Nate Baranski at quarterback and the plan worked. Baranski connected with Canavan on a 67-yard pass that gave the Spartans a first down at the Knights’ 11 yard line. From there, sophomore Darius Redguard hauled it into the red zone to tie the game with 32 seconds left in the opening quarter. Adam Sivak’s kick was good for the extra point and a 7-6 Spartan lead at the end of the quarter.
Sivak tacked on a 25-yard field goal with 4:06 left in the second quarter to give the Spartans a 10-6 halftime lead.
Valley West couldn’t mount a scoring drive in the third quarter and the Spartans would lose their lead on a freak play. After Shusta missed on a long pass sure to be a TD to sophomore Nah-Syr Garner that went through the receiver’s hands. He followed that with a completion that somehow was stripped and returned by Scranton’s James Vieira for a 20-yard touchdown. Marco Guerrero’s kick was good, giving the Knights a 13-10 lead with :03 left in the third quarter.
Down 13-10, the Spartans defense rose to the occasion. The Knights couldn’t move the ball on a drive that began on their own 9 yard line. Scranton was forced to punt from its own end zone and after a penalty on the fair catch, Valley West had it first and 10 at the Scranton 29 yard line.
Gardner and junior Zack McDaniels each gained six yard to put the ball on the Scranton 17. Baranski then found Canavan open for a 17-yard TD to regain the lead with 6:23 left in the game. After Sivak’s PAT, the Spartans were up 17-13.
Scranton started its next possession on its own 20 yard line, but couldn’t move the ball. With 6:06 left in the game, Scranton Coach Steve Shumbres opted to punt. That would prove to be a fatal mistake.
After two short gains, Canavan then galloped his way 70 yards for the clinching score, giving the Spartans the lead for good at 24-13 with 2:55 left to play.
After the game, Keating said several Spartans played in their first varsity game Friday night. He credited his senior leadership for keeping the team focused.
“When we went down, 13-10, I just told them to keep their heads up and to stay together,” Keating said. “I think we were dealing with some nerves, but that is to be expected with inexperience. But our seniors wouldn’t let the moment get away.”
Keating said his team regrouped and managed to notch a victory.
“We will be looking at a lot of film this week,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes. We have to work on that.”
Canavan, from Larksville, said this year’s Spartan team has a family bond that showed through Friday night.
“We created that bond this year,” he said. “It really set a good tone.”
Valley West is at Hazleton Area next Friday.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle