WRIGHT TWP. — Keemar Woodruff wasn’t a household name prior to Pittston Area’s first game of the 2016 high school football season.
He and the Patriots put the Wyoming Valley Conference on notice.
Although Pittston Area would end up falling to Crestwood, 35-28 on Friday night, the Patriots showed signs of vast improvement following an 0-10 season last year. Junior running back Woodruff and junior quarterback Walter Coles led Pittston Area’s best offensive performance since last season’s 38-35 loss to Crestwood in Week 4.
Woodruff finished the game with 97 yards on 12 carries, including a 72-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He added six catches for 75 yards in his first game as a true starter for the Patriots.
“We had five or six guys touch the ball offensively and I think we have a lot of weapons,” Pittston Area head coach Jim Norris said. “I think we’ll be able to play with a lot of the better football teams this year.”
Coles, a junior, entering his second season as the starting quarterback, rallied Pittston Area and finished the game with 123 yards passing and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns went to wideout Kevin Krawczyk.
A few mistakes, however, cost Pittston Area a win in the opening game of the season.
With the game scoreless in the first quarter, Crestwood faced a fourth-and-goal from the 18. Quarterback Lance Blass hit running back Patrick Rother in the flat, and Rother did the rest on his way to the game’s first touchdown.
Fortunately for the Patriots, the next time they touched the ball, Woodruff went up the middle for his 72-yard score to tie the game.
After the Comets scored three minutes into the second, Woodruff was stripped of the football and Crestwood’s Garrett McAfee snatched up the loose ball and ran 53 yards to make it 21-7.
“He worked hard all offseason,” Norris said of Woodruff. “It was a game changer, unfortunately, but those things are going to happen. The good teams have to rebound.
“That was a big point in the game but we can talk about how we weren’t able to recover (the fumble).”
The Patriots, however, would answer.
Three plays after taking over on the Crestwood 36, Coles hit Krawczyk for a 26-yard score. To keep the game as close as possible, Pittston Area forced a turnover on downs inside their own 5 to send the game to halftime.
“These guys are resilient guys,” Norris said of his team. “What happened tonight is our age played into it. We got pushed around a little bit on defense but we played well.”
The Comets came out in the second half and forced a three-and-out from Pittston Area’s offense. After a six-minute drive, Blass plunged into the end zone to make it 28-14.
Pittston Area’s Rich Wallace returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to set up the Patriots with the ball at the Comets’ 26. Seven plays later, Coles hit Krawczyk for the duo’s second touchdown of the game to get Pittston Area within a touchdown. Krawczyk finished the game with three catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns.
Another six-minute drive from Crestwood would doom the Patriots. The drive, which went for 80 yards, ended in a Grigas touchdown and Pittston Area was down 35-21 with less than seven minutes to play.
Pittston Area’s final drive went for 69-yards, capped off by a 4-yard pass from Coles to tight end John Delucca on fourth down. The ensuing onside kick from Pittston Area was recovered by the Comets.
Most of the night, Pittston Area struggled to keep Crestwood’s three runners in check. Blass and Rother, along with Owen Grigas, finished the game with 291 yards rushing on 51 carries. Those three accounted for all of Crestwood’s touchdowns except for the fumble recovery.
“We scored 28 points against a really good defense and an experienced defense,” Norris said. “At the end of the year Crestwood is going to be a really good team and we were toe-to-toe with them in the fourth quarter.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick