VARDEN — While it appears certain that Mid Valley will be declared the winner of its Week seven Lackawanna Football Conference contest, Allen "Butch" Keller will never believe it.
Western Wayne's Hall of Fame coach is adamant that officials committed an egregious error in ending the game and awarding the visiting Spartans a 20-18 victory.
"I've been doing this for a long time and I've never seen anything like it," he told TWI Sports. "I still can't believe what they're telling me. It's ridiculous."
The controversy centers around the game's final play, which was a field goal attempt by Western Wayne.
The Wildcats rushed onto the field with less than 20 seconds to play and got the snap off, but the ball was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Mid Valley's Chris Rebar picked up the loose ball and returned it 85 yards to paydirt with all zeroes on the game clock. But, hold everything! There were two separate penalties on the play.
First, Western Wayne was flagged for illegal procedure. In their rush to get in position for a field goal try, the Wildcats had just six men on the line of scrimmage.
Secondly, as Rebar was sprinting toward the endzone, several Spartans ran onto the field and impeded the 'Cats in their pursuit. Hence, Mid Valley was called for illegal participation...at least, that's what Coach Keller was initially told.
"If that's the case, the penalties should offset and we replay the down," he said. "We should've been allowed another shot at that field goal."
However, game officials huddled and discussed the play at length. Players and coaches from both teams milled about, awaiting their decision. Finally, after more than five minutes of debate, the ruling was as follows.
According to the referee (and later confirmed to Coach Keller by spokesmen from both the LFC and District Two), the play was dead when Rebar recovered the ball. The penalty called on Mid Valley was not for illegal participation, but excessive celebration...a post possession foul.
Since there was no time left on the clock, officials ruled the game over and Mid Valley victorious by a score of 20-18. Rebar's runback is disallowed.
As late as Sunday night...after reviewing the game tape ad nauseum... Coach Keller was unconvinced to say the least.
Sadly for Western Wayne players, coaches and fans, he appears to have no recourse for appeal or protest.
"It's a just a shame and I'm really upset for the kids," he said. "In my opinion, they took that game away from the kids and that should never happen. Never."
Page 2 of 2 - The loss is especially bitter since this was Western Wayne's Homecoming game. Should the result stand...and there was no reason to believe it wouldn't at press time...the Wildcats' regular season record falls to a disappointing 2-5.
Next up for the local lads is a Week Eight road trip to Dunmore. That Division Two battle is slated for a 7 p.m. Friday night kickoff.
Western Wayne got off to a solid start in this one long before a chilly Homecoming extravaganza descended into chaos.
Senior tailback Robbie Siclari did not suit up for the game due to flu-like symptoms. Fortunately for the big partisan crowd, though, Jayson Figueroa stepped in admirably.
A hard-charging junior, Figueroa broke the scoring ice late in the second quarter via a 4-yard touchdown run. He would finish up the night with 133 yards on 22 carries and earn high marks from his veteran mentor.
"Jayson ran tough like he always does," Coach Keller said. "He hit the hole hard and broke a bunch of tackles. He played a really good game."
Mid Valley retaliated quickly, tallying twice before intermission.
Martin Walsh lunged into the endzone from a yard out with 1:17 left in the second quarter. Moments later, the Spartans took the lead when Matt Tanner raced in from five yards out with no time left in the half.
After the break, Western Wayne struck back thanks to a 14-yard scoring rumble by Nikolai Pritchyk. The senior fullback was solid on both sides of the ball in this one. He racked up 71 yards rushing on 11 attempts and anchored a tenacious 'Cat defense from his linebacker spot.
"Nikolai did a great job running and blocking," Coach Keller said. "He must've had 50 yards all by himself on that one drive. He gave us some nice kick-out blocks and made a couple of really big hits on defense, too."
Mid Valley surged back into the lead late in the third period when Walsh and Rebar hooked up for an 80-yard touchdown pass.
Matt Rosensweet narrowed the gap to that fateful margin of 20-18 when he hauled in an 8-yard scoring toss from quarterback Johnny Rhodes.
That TD connection came with 3:58 left in regulation and set the stage for what will likely go down as one of the most controversial conclusions in Western Wayne gridiron history.
Score by Quarters...
WW (2-5) 0 6 6 6 - 18
MV (4-3) 0 14 6 0 - 20