Colts, Bears in playoff rematch
On Friday night, the lights at Mahanoy Area's Alumni Field might be a little bit brighter.
And the crowd might just be a little bit louder.
Why, you ask?
For the second time this year, the Golden Bears will battle Anthracite Football League rival Marian Catholic. But this time, it will be for the Eastern Conference Division I championship.
"Marian Catholic is definitely a team that you don't want to play twice in a season," said Mahanoy coach Dave Holman. "Coach (Stan) Dakosty will have his kids prepared and ready to play on Friday night."
Holman's Golden Bears (8-3) ran through the Colts in Week 3, picking up a decisive 40-6 win.
But the loss marked a turning point for Marian. The Colts (6-5) went on a 6-2 run to finish the season, highlighted by a five-game win streak after the loss to Mahanoy.
"Marian is a much improved team," Holman said of the Colts. "They ripped off a bunch of wins in a row and they played a number of quality teams down the stretch.
"What they've done to end the season has been very impressive. To start 0-3 and be playing for a title is truly remarkable."
What's been even more impressive is the way a resilient Colts team has gotten to this point.
With starting quarterback KJ Snerr sidelined after reinjuring his shoulder in the season finale against Tamaqua, Marian turned to freshman Ethan Kucyznski in last week's Eastern Conference semifinal against Muncy.
After not attempting a pass all season, Kucyznski stepped in and led the Colts to a 34-13 win over the Indians with four passing touchdowns and 163 yards.
While the performance might have surprised some outside the program, Dakosty knew his freshman had the potential to lead the offense.
"Ethan has worked hard all season," the coach said of Kucyznski. "I sat down and talked with him and felt comfortable that he could come in and handle the situation. And the team really rallied around him."
Kuczynski did well spreading the ball around to the Colts' playmakers, hitting Hunter Nause, Lukas Damian, Nick Sully and Nico Agosti for touchdowns.
Anthony Agosti also provided ground support in the win, racking up 103 yards rushing and a score against an overmatched Muncy defense.
And much like the Colts, the Golden Bears also had to rely on an unproven quarterback in last week's 42-0 win over Nativity.
Mahanoy's Dylan Mahmod left in the first quarter after being blasted by a Green Wave defender on an option run. Mahmod, who was at one time among the state leaders in rushing, was helped off the field and taken to a local hospital with a shoulder injury, ending a record-setting season.
Mahanoy turned to quarterback Matt Yedsena, but the onus wasn't squarely on the sophomore, who threw an interception shortly after coming in. Yedsena leaned on big performances from junior tailback Jason Richmond, sophomore Mason Evitts and senior Austin Forte, as the Golden Bears rushed for more than 300 yards in the win.
The efforts of Richmond, Evitts and Forte were proof that the Golden Bears are still dangerous even without their top playmaker, something Dakosty is well aware of.
"We know they still have a lot of talent on that side of the ball," he said. "We also know that whoever is playing quarterback this week will still be very athletic and physical as a runner. We're preparing for another starting quarterback, not a backup."
Defensively, Mahanoy stymied Nativity's offense, holding the Green Wave to just 86 yards.
Marian had no trouble stopping Muncy's ground game a week ago, holding the Indians to 29 yards rushing and 192 yards of total offense while also forcing two turnovers.
The Colts will need another strong effort on Friday night to finish what has been an incredible season. After overcoming a difficult start, there's little reason to believe it's not possible.
"The seniors on this team are the reason we were able to bounce back this year," Dakosty said. "It would be great if we could send them out with a title in a Coal Region rivalry game."