WILKES-BARRE — In a season that the Wyoming Valley West football team had to overcome obstacle after obstacle, head coach Pat Keating didn’t want to use youth and inexperience as an excuse anymore.
It was time for the Spartans to get back in the win column.
Keating challenged his players at halftime. He wanted “more effort and more desire” from his team.
The Spartans were leading a winless Coughlin by just eight points at that point and his stern message worked. His players responded for a 28-14 win on Friday night.
Valley West (4-3) opened the second half with a driving killing interception, then scored 14 unanswered points to pull away and secure its first victory in four weeks, beating the Crusaders (0-7).
“I got on my guys at halftime,” Keating said. “We’re just content with giving people easy stuff — the kickoff return in the second quarter there. We just have to have more effort and more desire in a lot of situations. Thankfully we responded there in the second half and came out and did what we needed to do, but we have to get back on the right track in that area as far as effort is concerned.
“We can’t use ‘we’re young’ as an excuse anymore. We’re going into Week 8 now. We just have to look ourselves in the mirror and do better in a lot of areas.”
While the offense didn’t truly get going until the second half, when Jake Shusta’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Nastanski put the Spartans up 21-6 midway through third quarter and then Darius Redguard put Coughlin away for good with his 5-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth, the defense was always there.
Especially when the Spartans needed a spark.
The Crusaders came out of the locker room with the ball and a chance to tie the game, trailing 14-6. But after nearing midfield thanks to a 27-yard run from Antwan Gray-Dates, the Crusaders were left facing a second-and-25 from their own 35 after a block-in-the-back penalty and Coughlin quarterback Sa’id Hollis was tackled for a 3-yard loss.
Trying to make a play, Hollis threw his second interception of the night and Wyoming Valley West cornerback Nah-Syr Garner returned it 25-yards to set the Spartans up with a drive in enemy territory, setting up the would be Nastanski receiving touchdown seven plays later.
In fact, the defense was so stout that Hollis never completed a pass and the Crusaders didn’t score their lone offensive touchdown until there was less than two minutes left in regulation and Wyoming Valley West had already subbed out some starters.
“It was tight and these guys were motivated coming out of the locker room and we were able to make that big play and get on top of those guys. That was big,” Keating said. “I was very pleased — that way — as far as (the defense) is concerned. We were able to keep them out of the end zone there until we put our young guys in at the game. That was a nod to my defensive staff and the kids and the way that they played.”
Wyoming Valley West running back Carson Canavan led the charge offensively for the Spartans.
Not only did Canavan rush for 149 yards on 24 carries, but he also scored the Spartans’ second touchdown of the night on a 67-yard catch-and-run.
With Canavan running with ease int he second half, things opened up for Shusta as well. The senior quarterback completed his final five passes of the night, bumping his total to 124 yards and two touchdowns on 7-of-13 passing.
Shusta did throw a pair of interceptions, both caught by Coughlin cornerback Rafael McCoy. The junior scored both of the Crusaders’ touchdowns, a 96-yard kickoff return and a 25-yard run.
“It all starts with the offensive line,” Shusta said. “They work hard all the time to open lanes for me, Carson, keep me upright and do what I do.
“The was a huge win. This could really set the momentum for us down the stretch because we really control our own destiny in the sub-region. This is a really big win.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle