There is absolutely no truth to the rumor Lackawanna Steelers coach Bill Moore spent Sunday night celebrating by rolling the dice at nearby Turning Stone Casino.
Moore did his gambling on the Carrier Dome field Sunday afternoon as Lackawanna beat Harrison, 22-18, for its second consecutive Class B state football championship.
The Steelers (13-0), winners of 25 straight games, were rewarded handsomely when they ran a fourth-down play from deep in their own territory in the first quarter and faked a punt in the fourth quarter. The latter allowed them to run out the clock.
"I'm really not a gambler," Moore said. "I was nervous on the fake punt. I told somebody on the sideline that if we didn't make it, I'd have to move to Elma because I'd get run out of town."
On that gamble, Lackawanna was facing a fourth-and-7 at the Harrison 49-yard line, nursing its 22-18 lead with 4:25 to play.
The Steelers lined up in punt formation, but then called timeout.
"We saw that they had taken a couple of their better players who play their right side on punt defense out of the game, so we called timeout to see if they would put them back in," Moore said. "When they didn't, we went with the fake."
Quarterback Charles Kowalski, lined up as the protection man for punter Robert Sireika, took a direct snap and made a beeline across the field for the left sideline. Doug Harding and Wade Turner threw the key blocks on the outside as Kowalski ran for 8 yards and a first down.
The Steelers then ran out the clock.
"They surprised us with the fake," said Harrison coach Art Troilo Jr. "We had taken a couple guys off the field to rest them for offense, but we never got the ball back. We weren't going hard after it to try to block it, but we weren't able to tackle Kowalski."
"We really wanted to go for the fake there," Kowalski said of the players on the field. "I really think coach wanted to go for it, but we might have talked him into it a little bit."
"Let's just say I went into the huddle during the timeout with an open mind," Moore said. "That fake punt has been in our playbook since the fourth week of the season, but this was the first time we used it."
The other gamble was also a Kowalski run on the Steelers' second possession. On fourth-and-inches from the Lackawanna 27, Kowalski gained 2 yards and, moments later, Lackawanna was on the scoreboard.
"That was a no-brainer," Moore said of that decision. "If you can't get that amount of yardage, you shouldn't be in the ball game. We were confident that our line could get enough of a push to get the job done."
Three plays after Kowalski got that first down, Lackawanna opened the scoring on a 59-yard run by junior running back Joe West with 3:16 remaining in the first quarter.
West took a handoff from Kowalski, raced around the right end and then cut back across the grain of the Harrison defense to reach the end zone.
West finished the game with 12 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns while his running mate, Turner, was held to 70 yards on 20 attempts, but scored on a 6-yard run.
"We knew it would be tough to repeat as champions, but we were determined," West said. "Harrison gave us a heck of a game, but we didn't come all this way to lose."
Harrison running back Sam Maldonado, a junior, came into the game with 2,203 rushing yards this season and boosted his total with a 26-carry, 178-yard performance that included all three of the Huskies' touchdowns.
Harrison (9-3), the Section I champion, replied when Maldonado broke off a 40-yard TD run with 3:17 left in the first half.
Bill Herron's PAT kick for the Huskies sailed wide to the right, as would his next attempt, after Maldonado had scored on a 23-yard run to put Harrison up, 12-6, with 7:58 left in the third quarter.
Those misses would be costly as the Huskies later had to go for a two-point conversion, which failed. Lackawanna converted a pair of two-point conversions, the margin of victory.
Turner's 6-yard scamper with 4:44 left in the third tied it and his two-point conversion dash to the right corner of the end zone, around a pair of Harrison defenders, put the Steelers up, 14-12.
An interception by sophomore cornerback Mel Wilder got the ball right back for Lackawanna at the Huskies' 27-yard line.
The Steelers showed their quick-strike capability when West followed crushing blocks from Sireika and tackle Rich Sikorski up the left sideline for a 25-yard TD on the final play of the third period.
West tacked on the two-point conversion by snaring a pass that was tipped by Harrison linebacker Jamie Telesco to make it 22-12.
Harrison staged a rally behind quarterback Matt Handelsman, who connected with Telesco for completions of 9, 11 and 36 yards to set up Maldonado's final TD on a 4-yard run. Handelsman totaled 111 yards through the air.
Lackawanna took the ensuing kickoff with 7:50 left and, thanks to the fake punt, was able to hold the ball to the final whistle.