It’s always bitter-sweet.
Each summer, while my chums are vacationing at various beach destinations, I look forward to the Scranton Lions Club Dream Game. Or sure, there are always critics out there just begging for change for the sake of change, and critics who want to “improve” everything by moving the game to the fall or earlier more like early June, but this game is still something that is fun for me as a fan and a sportswriter. And obviously it remains a staple for this area, because in its 81st season, the all-star classic drew 7,298 fans to John Henzes/Veterans Memorial Stadium.
That is awesome.
In truth, I even have found myself looking for ways to keep the stars who unfortunately could not play because of college commitments, while maintaining the tradition of this classic. Each year, though, I leave the game very happy for the graduated players, many of whom will never play a competitive game of football, again, and a bit sad, as it does signal a transition for relationships I have built with many of the players.
Look, I have been at this a long time. I covered my first Dream Game in August of 1999. Interestingly, that game had a similar outcome only it was the County with the win, 41-8. Seniors in that game are all probably in their mid-30s now and have families of their own. My first daughter hadn’t even been born yet. And there were players in that game who I still hear from every now and then.
Fast forward to the present day. So much has changed. With social media engulfing and essentially moving us closer to Terminator with the machines ruling the world, the bonds I have forged with many of today’s players are just different. Every time Corey Souryavong, my pal Bobby Rinaldi and A.J. Cantarella see me, they yell out my name, carrying on what is becoming a time-honored tradition by Old Forge players. Getting high-fives from the players, and really just having the ability to chat with them on a less professional level does make the Dream Game a bit more meaningful to me as a reporter.
Kevin Sompel had been one of the more talented players I covered in the last two years. He had a brash bravado and he had an overflow of confidence that would make Johnny Manziel a bit envious. Whenever I needed something from Kevin during the season, I simply reached out to him on Twitter and he got back to me. When he saw me covering a Scranton Prep football game, even on the opening kickoff, he would make his way to just say hi, and of course remind me that the Cavaliers were going to shock the world. I knew that this was — like many of the players — his final game. As I fumbled and bumbled my way trying to take stats and film highlights on Tout, I missed capturing each and every one of his great catches on film. That didn’t change the fact that I treasured my one final time to see him play.
Sal Marchese, whose father, Sal, and I were adversaries a very long time ago, introduced himself to me one day at a Dunmore practice. Last season, as I visited the Bucks during my annual summer Tour Around the Camps, I asked if I could interview him for my video. He agreed, and did a great job. Two days later, after my recap and story appeared in The Times-Tribune, which by the way is still the best coverage of District 2 and high school athletics despite what some may claim, Sal couldn’t have been more surprised. Before I reached my destination that day on the tour, Sal had sent me a message thanking me. In a day when I mostly get criticized, that meant a lot to me and is just one example of the maturity of these players. Some 18 weeks later, I found myself angered and hurt when he was limited in his contribution because of an ankle injury suffered during Dunmore’s run to the state final. When I heard that he would see only limited time in the Dream Game because of his college commitment and attending classes at Bloomsburg University, I couldn’t have been more disappointed for him. Then, he was able to make practices, and scored the first touchdown of the game behind several of his Dunmore teammates who were blocking up front. When you cover a team through to the state final, you really learn about the players and you get to know them. The eight Dunmore players — including the Drewes twins, Danny and Timmy, who I have known since they were 6 years old and doing the limbo at a family reunion — I really became connected to through all of this time.
Those are just a couple of examples. I could go on and on at how great each and every one of the seniors who were in this game have been to me during their varsity careers. It’s pretty neat standing on the sideline and having guys just talk with you. That is what makes this job so rewarding. And so sad at times. This was not a goodbye, but even I know that these young players will go on to their daily lives and let’s face it, that won’t include too many more visits. Or chances to hang out at practices.
I hope and wish every year that they all stay in touch. I also know that is very unrealistic. But through Twitter and Facebook, there are ways to stay in touch.
Even though, the Dream Game is a swan song of sorts, it is also the dawn of a new day. Very soon, I will take that same grueling Tour Around the Camps.There will be new seniors who I will get to know and hopefully they, like just about all 73 players in last night’s game, are following me on Twitter and Facebook. The 2015 season is fast approaching and my life goes from being quite mundane to very exciting.
So, without boring you all to death with any more trips down memory lane, I wish the graduated players who poured their hearts and souls out on a steamy July evening the very best of luck. And more importantly, I thank you all for the memories.
Now to the action. …
Recapping the game, it was a dandy early on, as is often the case in these games. Everybody is a solid player if you are chosen for the Dream Game. The City’s punishing offensive and defensive lines eventually overwhelmed the County, 41-6. Here are some highlights:
- Dunmore’s Joe Waters hauled in a 23-yard pass from Susquehanna’s Austin White as the City drive to the County 26-yard line before an interception by Lakeland’s Jared Bomba ended it. Western Wayne’s Andrew Sledzinski had three tackles for the County.
- Western Wayne’s Kyle Haines grabbed a pass and took it 14 yards giving fans a flash of just how fast he is and the type of skills that Shippensburg University is getting. But the City defense tightened up and Brody Dial made a strong tackle to help stymie the drive.
- Highlighted by Kevin Sompel’s 21 yard catch and run and his 35-yard diving catch, the City cracked the scoreboard when Sal Marchese ran in from 4 yards. City 6, County 0.
- Mid Valley’s Corey Tomasetti, who is a linebacker playing tailback, powered his way through the City defense for some hard fought yards in between the tackles. Then, Lackawanna Trail’s Vic Mallory hit Haines on a pump and go route and Haines did the rest sprinting in for the tying touchdown. City 6, County 6.
- It didn’t take long for the City to strike back. Delaware Valley quarterback Brett Cohen hit Scranton Prep tight end Justin Belardi on a 7-yard pass and again on a 35-yard reception where the big guy showed some speed. Delaware Valley’s Lex Rosario cashed it in on a 2-yard touchdown. Susquehanna’s Steve Jesse drilled the first of his five straight extra points. City 13, County 6.
- On the final possession of the half, Lackawanna Trail’s Jordan Hannon had a tipped pass, A.J. Cantarella had a sack and Bomba had a pass defensed to highlight a strong finish for the County.
- The City defense took over the game. Susquehanna’s Christian Miller and Scranton’s Jordan O’Hearn were relentless in their pursuit. Dunmore’s Justin Rogan was all over the field and Scranton’s Charlie Pabst and Scott Gorton had some big hits. They set the tone for the final 24 minutes as the heat began to take its toll.
- Honedale quarterback Josh LoBasso hit Abington Heights’ Jake Henzes on a deep post for 32 yards, but Henzes lost the ball. Scranton’s Victor Burns recovered and the City never looked back.
- Again, White found Sompel on a second-and-14 from the County 41 for a 13-yard completion. And on a second-and-19 from the 34, Sompel made an over-the-shoulder catch worthy of a SportsCenter Top 10. Two plays later, Rosario was in the end zone again. City 20, County 6.
- Things began to further unravel for the County when West Scranton’s Kyle Kroptavich had an interception on the first play of the quarter. On offense, Kroptavich hauled in a key pass and Pabst broke into the secondary on a powerful 14-yard run that set up Belardi’s 5-yard touchdown reception from Cohen. City 27, County 6.
- On the County’s next possession, Miller got a brutal sack on Mid Valley’s Tyler Shay after he avoided a hard-charging O’Hearn. Two plays later, a snap sailed over Shay’s head and Belardi grabbed it and scored his second touchdown. City 34, County 6.
- The City’s defense did not allow a first down in the second half. North Pocono’s Pat Monahan had a 14-yard run and a 9-yard run, and Marchese bolted for 24 yards. As the clock ticked away, Monahan scored a touchdown behind several of the all-star players from Dunmore. City 41, County 6.
It was a good game despite the lopsided score. The City now holds a 40-37-4 lead in the series.
Congratulations to the City and I hope that all of the players stay in touch.