Old Forge head football coach Mike Schuback is in his 12th season in charge of the Blue Devils, a long time since the end of his playing career.
Still, Schuback can’t help but remember when he played Riverside for the only time.
“I remember it was a hard-hitting game, and I remember when I looked at the scoreboard — this was before a fence was put up in the end zone and it was poles and ropes — people were two and three deep along the ropes,” Schuback said. “I never saw so many people at the stadium in Old Forge.”
More vivid memories will be made Friday night when Riverside travels to Old Forge Veterans Memorial Stadium to face the host Blue Devils in their annual football game.
Now Old Forge has gotten off to a stronger start than the Vikings, but with such a rivalry, the records of the teams mean little. The emotion in such games can produce unlikely upsets that are long remembered by the participants and fans of both the winning and losing teams.
This year, Old Forge has gotten off to the better start and Schuback knows the message that will come from the coaching staff before the game.
“I have assistants who played in this game three, four times, and I’m sure they’ll get up and tell the kids about the rivalry,” Schuback said. “I’ll tell them that an upset will make Riverside’s season.”
Evan Prall enters this game as Riverside’s head coach for the third time, but is no stranger to playing a bitter rival. As a graduate of West Scranton, he was part of Invaders’ teams that fought Scranton in the annual Battle for the Bell.
What he has learned from the many rivalry games he played in both high school and college is that each one is different, each one a personal thing to everybody involved. Riverside-Old Forge invokes the same passion.
“I’ve been to Old Forge-Riverside games as a spectator and a coach, and it’s a little different,” Prall said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have been in my fair share of rivalries.”
Prall noted the differences between the Battle for the Bell and the one he’ll revisit tomorrow night.
Scranton and West Scranton share the city and a school district,” Prall said. “Here, it’s a much more fierce rivalry. The towns are a little closer; they are a couple of small towns who love their sports, support their programs and back their kids.
“It’s fierce and intense.”
“In the Triboro area, the towns are an arms-length away,” Schuback said. “The kids hang out together, but play against each other, in baseball, basketball and football. They are competitive.
“They are friends, but for 3½ hours, they want to kill each other.”
Having the better record going into the game, Schuback is going to preach to his usual message about taking it one game at a time.
“I’ll explain they have to focus on the next game,” Schuback said. “Don’t worry about next year’s game; I remember we finally beat Lackawanna Trail and they said we’ll see you in the playoffs, and lost in the first round.”
In other words, take your best shot when it’s right in front of you, and don’t think about doing anything else.
So Riverside should expect to see a lot of Blue Devils back Brandon Yescavage and quarterback Jake Manetti, and a lot of talented linemen paving the way.
“We know they are a well-coached team,” Prall said. “They have some big boys up front and a lot of good athletes.”
Riverside is growing up, after the loss of many players to graduation, and is seeking a rhythm on offense. Too many new faces often means that it takes time to gel, especially with senior receiver Nico Munley being injured before the season began and is still trying to find his stride.
“We lace them up and see what happens,” Prall said.
Expect to see aggression, determination and a fervent desire to win on display Friday night. Just like every other time the schools meet in any sport.
Also, expect a lot more memories to be made.