Local gridders celebrate Dream Game success
At this time of year, the local high school football programs are typically occupying themselves with summer camps, week-long clinics, and captains’ practices in preparation for the official beginning of the upcoming season next month.
These things, are but like the breezes that precede the storm. The thunderclap that signals the start of the gridiron calendar in the Lackawanna Conference is the annual Scranton Lions Club Dream game.
This year marked the 83rd straight clash of league greats, none of which will have any say in how their respective alma maters will do come this fall.
This year, five players representing the two Pike County high schools in the conference made an appearance in the game.
Donning the white shirt of the City team was Wallenpaupack Area’s lone ambassador, Zach Rode.
Showing the flag for Delaware Valley and taking on the red jerseys of the County squad were John Actisdano, Jake Mills, John Manganella, and off the disabled list for the first time for any sport since Week 3 of last fall, Kyle Dillon.
DV and Paupack players were on the same side and shared in the City squad’s victory, last year.
Such would not be possible this go around.
Not only was the mercury hitting 88 on the thermometer, factor in the humidity, the heat index at 7 p.m. on July 19 made it seem like 94 degrees at John Henzes/Memorial Stadium.
More than 7,400 eager fans still packed into Valley View’s bleachers to watch the all-star spectacle.
“We all meshed from the first day,” said Mills
The County kicked off to City and Manganella made the first tackle of the game when he stopped North Pocono’s Matt Craig on the return.
Rode saw action on the O-line during the first half, making a number of quality stops and tying up County’s defense a on several occasions.
County’s offense sparked on their second drive when a second down carry by Dillon set in motion a subsequent touchdown for a 7-0 lead with 5:42 to go in the seemingly lengthy first quarter.
County held the lead through the opening chapter in spite of a City safety moments before the squads switched sides, making it 7-2.
The City posted another safety in the early moments of the second quarter but with just 19 seconds remaining in the half, the County crew brought it in again but missed the PAT.
At the intermission, County was up 13-4.
“We came out with a lot of energy and were really psyched to get going,” said Manganella. “There’s a lot of talent on both sides and it’s a lot of fun.”
While he’s known for his years of leading Honesdale and Western Wayne, over the past several seasons Allen “Butch” Keller been known to be seen on the Paupack sidelines supporting his grandson, Matt Vosburg, the Buckhorns placekicker through the fall of 2015.
His other three grandsons, Derrick Vosburg, and AJ and Ehren Keller are also Paupack students and all four accompanied him to midfield where he was honored as the Scranton Lions Club “Man of the Year” award.
A former star running back at Tunkhannock High School and Mansfield University, Keller went on to become a Hall of Fame coach at Honesdale, Western Wayne, Holy Cross and Bishop O'Hara.
He was also briefly a volunteer coach at both Delaware Valley and Wallenpaupack Area.
Keller also coached for many years with the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Eagles, helping guide the country's most successful semipro franchise to four national championships.
He was named Empire Football League Coach of the Year, AFA Coach of the Year, United State Football Association Coach of the Year, and finally EFL “Coach of the Decade” for the 1990s.
County extended its lead to 20-4 in the third quarter and ran it up more in the fourth.
An 11:50 touchdown made it 27-4.
Mills and Actisdano added to the defense and backfield for the County team. When the County picked off a pass with 9:35 left in the contest, the stands, already thinning through the final stanza, abruptly drained.
Few were on hand to see City’s last stand, Craig’s touchdown followed by a 2-point conversion.
That brought the score to 27-12, but that’s where it would stay.
“This has been a really great night. We all worked well together right from the start and just kept it going,” Actisdano stated.
“It felt great to be out there and play with everyone,” said Dillon, “I didn’t do much but I’ve got some good memories.”
While it may be ironic that the event which primes the local fans for the football season features an all-star cast of recently graduated players, a chance to see some of the conference’s best once more before they move on to college play was certainly welcome by everyone in attendance.
For the players, even those not coming out with a win, the experience was certainly memorable.
“At first, it was a little weird to play with all these people you are usually playing against,” said Rode,
“But, it was interesting how the team came together. We had a lot of fun during practice and in the game.”