Lackawanna Trail is headed back to the PIAA Class 1A quarterfinals after rallying to defeat Williams Valley, 44-30. Junior Ray Melnikoff helped lead the way for the Lions, rushing for 142 yards and scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter off a blocked punt.
Here is more of Melnikoff’s Athlete of the Week interview:
Family: Father, Ray; mother, Tia; sisters, Aimee, Allison
Other sports I play: Baseball
Favorite teams: New York Giants, Miami Heat, Philadelphia Phillies
Athletes I admire: Saquon Barkley. He’s just real good at his job. Lawrence Taylor. He’s very inspirational, played real hard. And Bryce Harper because he’s got a certain attitude to him.
Favorite food: Steak
Superstitions and rituals: Me and my teammates have a couple of handshakes that we do. I wear the same headband and same shirt underneath my pads for every game.
Three people I’d like to have dinner with: Saquon Barkley; our defensive coordinator, coach (Jim) Becchetti; and Mr. (Harry) Powell, our former athletic director who retired before this year.
You had 142 yards on 23 carries and the team had 379 rushing yards. Did you feel you could run on Williams Valley? That’s where we make our money. We like running the ball a lot. That puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line, but they were doing a great job all night.
When the team fell behind, there was no panic. Is that a result of having been in the state playoffs last year? Absolutely. We played a lot of games against a lot of good teams last year. The seniors really took over at halftime, making sure the younger kids kept their heads up if they messed up a play, making sure no one gets down on themselves. Keep that confidence.
What was the biggest thing you learned from last year’s playoff run? Experience and the grit you need to win. You’re not playing any easy teams when you get this far in the playoffs. Playing all those good teams we did really opened our eyes this year to realize there’s a lot better teams than some of the teams we play during the regular season. So we have to keep working week in and week out and keep getting better at the little things.
Did you feel the punt block and your scoop-and-score touchdown changed the momentum of the game? Yeah, we knew it was going to be a shootout. They were scoring a lot of points, we were scoring a lot of points. It was going to come down to the team that got that big stop and we got it on special teams. Whenever you a touchdown like that, it’s a huge momentum shift. That really turned the heads of the younger guys on the team that we can do this. It really sparked some confidence in them.
On the final drive, you carried six times for 36 yards and the team scored with 1:24 left to seal the victory. What was the mentality like in the huddle during that drive? Just hold onto the ball, don’t turn it over and keep chewing clock. Keep moving the chains and keep their offense off the field.
You play District 4 champion Muncy in the quarterfinals. What do you have to do to be successful against them and to get back to Hershey? Just play our game. Run the ball hard, get the physical yards. Don’t give up any explosive plays to them. The coaches will watch the film and break down everything they have on both sides of the ball. We’ve just got to do our thing, play our game and we should come out on top.
You also handle the placekicking duties. How did you get involved doing that? I kicked all through the Junior Lions and last year I kicked a little bit. Nate (Rolka) was our main kicker, but for a couple weeks there he had something wrong with his ankle and the coaches looked to me. You just have to have confidence in yourself and focus on putting the ball through the uprights. How hectic does it get after you score a touchdown, then have to put on your kicking shoe? It’s gets pretty stressful sometimes, especially after I come off a long run. I’m trying to catch my breath and change my shoe at the same time. My main focus doing that is to make sure I move fast enough to the point where we have plenty of time to get the snap off in time before we get a delay of game call. I think I’m getting pretty good at it. The coaches are starting to get out on the field more and making the distance I have to run to get the show a little shorter. I have to give thanks to them for that.
Post-graduation plans: I’m definitely going to go to a four-year college. I’m hoping that some windows open up for me to play football. If I get the chance, I’ll definitely play.
During more than 30 years at The Times-Tribune, Scott has covered everything from high schools to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. His current beats include motor sports, local colleges and high school cross country. He also is a copy editor and page designer. His articles have won awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Eastern Motorsports Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Pro Chapter and the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association Keystone Press. He also has been honored by the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League and the Minor League Football Alliance. In 2016, he was presented the Media Service Award by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. A Long Island, New York, native, Scott graduated from the University of Scranton in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He lives in Peckville with his wife, Andrea, and daughters, Bridget and Emily. Contact him at email@example.com; 570-348-9100, x5109; or @swalshTT on Twitter