By Ted Waddell
LIVINGSTON MANOR September 30, 2003 Thursday was a lucky day for the Livingston Manor Wildcats.
The team won a gridiron battle that when weighed on the sports scale hinged on a safety and a sack.
Going into the game against the visiting Chester Crusaders (2-2), the Wildcats were winless, quite a letdown from dominant years in the recent past.
But with a couple of lucky breaks and the team riding on the back a of hardcore running back named Big George Thomas, Manor (1-2) carried the day to emerge victorious over the Crusaders, 16-14, thus claiming its first win of the 2003 gridiron season.
Things started looking pretty good for the Wildcats when they recovered a Chester fumble on the opening kickoff.
Thomas carried it to a first and 10 at the Chester 23-yard line, and in the wake of a 5-yard penalty, crashed his way through a determined defensive line on a fourth-and-one situation.
After having a first-and-goal at the Crusaders 9-yard line, Thomas was stopped at the 1-yard line on fourth down.
On the second play about as deep as they could get in their own turf, the Crusaders QB was sacked by Manors Anthony Larry for a safety at 4:22 in the first quarter to give the home team a 2-0 lead.
After Manor regained possession a couple of plays later, Thomas picked up 12 yards for a first down in the wake of some nifty moves in the backfield.
On the opening play of the second quarter, Ronayne Hamilton intercepted a Mike Perry pass.
Later in the quarter, Manor stepped up to the plate and offered the Crusaders a generous helping of extra yards first by giving up 15, and then getting tagged for 5-yard penalty for defensive encroachment as Chester was gearing up to punt on fourth down.
A few plays later, the Wildcats got the ball back after sacking the Crusaders quarterback. Thomas then scooted untouched around the right side for a 25-yard touchdown to give the home team a 8-0 lead.
The attempted 2-point conversion pass to Terence McCann was unsuccessful, however.
At the 6:42 mark in the second quarter, Chester QB Bryan VanDemark hooked up with Anthony Basile for a 50-yard ariel TD. On a two-point conversion pass attempt, Hamilton managed to plant his left foot in the end zone before being pushed out-of-bounds to tie it up 8-8.
With about three minutes left in the half, gains by Thomas, McCann and Lackey had the Wildcats clawing at the end zone door.
At 1:21, Thomas was hardly touched by a Chester defender as he scored the go-ahead TD. On the conversion attempt, it wasnt quite so hands-free and Thomas got pounded into the muddy turf.
But it was worth a mouthful of dirt, as Manor went up 14-8.
In a span of 13 seconds, however, Hamilton fielded the ensuing kickoff and raced 76 yards into the end zone.
At first, it seemed as if Chester had made it a 16-16 game on a 2-point conversion, but it was called back for an illegal shift. On the following play, Lackey sacked the Crusaders QB to end the first half.
In the second half, possession see-sawed back and forth. With 3:20 left in the third quarter, a miscue in the Wildcats backfield gave the opposition the ball deep in their own territory.
As the quarter ran down, the ball eluded Thomas and his teammates on a Chester punt, and it was recovered by the Crusaders near the Wildcat 40-yard line.
At :34, Lackey saved the day for Manor by intercepting a Crusaders pass that was seemingly destined for paydirt.
About midway through the final quarter, Chester was driving toward the end zone when a fourth down pass was broken up by Lackey and McCann.
Manor took over, and a fourth down and crunch time, Big George, as Thomas is known to coaches, teammates and friends, racked up the first of two critical first downs to keep the ball in Manors hands as the game clock ticked away towards the Wildcats first win of the season.
Manor stats: Thomas gained 228 yards on 40 carries (including two TDs and a pair of 2-point conversions); Lackey picked up 50 yards on 12 carries and McCann rushed for 63 yards on four carries. As a team, the Wildcats pounded out a total of 400 yards on the ground.
For the Wildcat defense, Larry had eight tackles and two sacks; Rich Trotti had 10 tackles and Lackey earned seven tackles and a sack
I thought it was a nice, cleanly played game, said Ron Stover, coach of Chesters brand new varsity football team.
The kids played well on both sides, he added. It was a good team effort.
Manor Coach Scott Branning said his team was lucky to win, adding that the game could have gone either way.
It could have been a lucky win or a hard loss, Branning said. We both had opportunities. I think the penalties [against Chester] helped a lot.
Were finally over the hump, added Branning, summing up the Wildcats first win of the season.
Notes: This Saturday, Oct. 4, the Wildcats are scheduled to play their first league game of the season. Manor hosts arch rival Roscoe at 1:30 p.m. in a Section IX Class D game.
A game later this season between Chester and Manor will count in the standings as a Class D contest. That game is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24 in Chester.