KINGSTON — The final minute and change would paint Wyoming Valley West’s entire night against Wallenpaupack.
The Spartans made plays. Just not enough to beat Wallenpaupack.
Wyoming Valley West even set itself up to win the game with a Hail Mary with seven seconds to go, but Spartans quarterback Jake Shusta was sacked as time expired. Wyoming Valley West fell just short, losing to the Buckhorns 34-28.
“I just think we didn’t make enough plays when we needed to during the course of the game,” Wyoming Valley West head coach Pat Keating said. “We put ourselves in that situation. We just — I know some guys struggled out there tonight. We have a lot of guys playing different positions that they’ve never played in before because of injuries. We’re moving a lot of guys around right now.
“We really have to try to get healthy and try to get guys back to playing where they’re comfortable and that’s out of all of our control. That’s all we can do right now.”
The Spartans (3-3) were looking for their third straight fourth-down stop.
There was a little over a minute remaining in regulation and the Buckhorns (3-3) faced a fourth-and-3 from the Spartans’ 23.
For the fourth straight time Wallenpaupack senior running back Nicholas Ruggieri took the handoff. After getting stopped for gains of 1, 1 and 5 yards on his three previous touches, Ruggieri broke through the Wyoming Valley West defense for the score. He put the Buckhorns up 34-21 with 59 seconds remaining in regulation after the extra point was blocked.
But despite trailing by 13 points with less than a minute to go and coming off of back-to-back offensive possessions without a first down, the Spartans didn’t quit.
Facing a third-and-10 from the Wallenpaupack 30, and coming off back-to-back incompletions, Shusta regained his composure. The senior bought time in the pocket and threw a touchdown strike to Dylan Nastanski. It was the junior receiver’s fifth, and most important, catch of the night, capping off a seven-play, 59-yard drive.
Then the Spartans recovered an onside kick — after an offsides penalty against Wyoming Valley West caused a re-kick.
Seven seconds left and Shusta and the Spartans had at least one try at the end zone from their own 49-yard-line. But the senior quarterback wouldn’t even get a chance to throw the ball.
Wallenpaupack ate up the Wyoming Valley West offensive line and before Shusta knew it, he had a swarm of Buckhorns in his face and he was on the ground.
“I think we had a couple opportunities there. We just didn’t capitalize on them,” Keating said. “Defensively, when we needed to make a play most of the night we didn’t until the very end. Offensively, there, we started out well in the second half, but we sputtered out in the second half and then caught fire at the end of the game, but it was just too late. We just have to be more consistent.”
Even though the Spartans dropped their third straight game of the season, Keating still relayed a positive message to his players after the game.
If they can run the table, they still have a shot at playing come Week 11.
“We knew it was important and it could have a lot of ramifications as far as down the stretch,” Keating said of the matchup. “I said, ‘We can still end up playing here Week 11. We just have to stay positive, get back on track and take care of business down the stretch. That’s all we can do.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle