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BG defense must stop Trail’s run game

Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic and its opponent Friday in the PIAA Class 1A high school football semifinals, Lackawanna Trail, are no strangers to the stage they will take at Danville High School for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

The Lions actually were in this same spot just a season ago and came away with a 24-14 victory over District 6 champion Juniata Valley.

“After last year, there’s no game that’s too big,” Lackawanna Trail coach Steve Jervis said. “This year we followed up our trip to the state championship by traveling and playing some top-tier opponents. In those kind of games, our kids are comfortable, and we have such quality senior leadership along with an influx of solid freshmen.”

One of those seniors, quarterback Nico Berrios, will be under center for Lackawanna Trail. Berrios was a wide receiver for the Lions last season but has transitioned into Lackawanna’s latest game manager.

The Lions don’t pass the ball much, Berrios is 42-for-77 for 748 yards with five touchdown passes and three interceptions, but they aren’t incapable of doing it.

Ray Melnikoff, the team’s star fullback, is also the leading receiver with just 14 catches, but what he’s done on the ground is much more impressive.

As a sophomore, he ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries against the Green Hornets. This year he’s been an even larger part of the offense with 171 carries for 1,410 yards and 14 scores.

“The key for us is to control the line of scrimmage,” Jervis said. “We have four quality backs (three other Lion running backs have at least 371 yards and Berrios has rushed for 492 yards). We spread the ball around and earn the tough yards. We run physical and protect the ball.”

Bishop Guilfoyle is aware of the threat it faces.

“Anyone who knows anything about Lackawanna Trail knows you have to stop their fullback,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said. “They run a Wing-T offense, and the fullback is the guy. He doesn’t go down easy, and our primary goal will be to stop him, but the other backs can do good things. We can’t fall asleep on the other kids.”

Lackawanna Trail’s trip to last year’s PIAA final ended with a 55-20 loss to Farrell, but it has left the team and community hungry for a title.

“Lackawanna Trail had a storied past before I got here (the Lions have had winning records in 12 of the past 16 seasons), but last year we took it to the next level,” Jervis said. “We have a great community with a lot of support and a great coaching staff with quality players. Our coaching staff has been together a long time, and that’s one of the big secrets to success in high school football.”

With both teams likely relying on winning at the line of scrimmage, Jervis knows whoever is able to run the ball more effectively will probably be headed to Hershey on Dec. 5 for a 1 p.m. kickoff against either District 10 champion Farrell or WPIAL champion Clairton.

“Bishop Guilfoyle is a very storied program, and they understand that to make a deep run it comes down to running the ball,” Jervis said. Our styles of play are similar, but it will be all about who can score in the red zone. We have to be disciplined on defense and tackle. They have some good players coming back from injury, and we need to be able to wrap them up.”

Juniata Valley coach Bill Musser may have a better idea than anyone how the teams will match up since his team had to deal with Lackawanna Trail’s line and Melnikoff last season and just played the Marauders last week. He isn’t picking a winner, though.

“I think it’s going to be as even a game as you can find,” Musser said. “They play similar styles and both play hard and are well coached. Those are two teams that really like to get after each other.”

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