HERSHEY - This was Old Forge’s version of a near-miracle.
A leaping, last-minute, athletic, acrobatic catch by Shane Schuback along the left sideline gave the Blue Devils one final prayer of winning the state championship.
In the end, it wasn’t answered.
But Schuback answered the bell for the biggest game of his high school career with a game that will live for the ages at Old Forge.
He gained 63 yards on eight carries from the Wild Devil formation, Old Forge’s version of the Wildcat, helping the Blue Devils move the ball against Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic’s stingy rushing defense.
Schuback made all seven of Old Forge’s receptions for 63 yards, including the game’s first score on a 20-yard flea-flicker catch.
He made a handful of big stops from his linebacker post on defense, averaged a game-high 33.3 yards on three punts and converted both of his extra point attempts in the kicking game.
“I feel for him,” said his father, Old Forge coach Mike Schuback, after the Blue Devils’ heartbreaking 15-14 overtime loss in Friday’s PIAA Class A title game at Hersheypark Stadium. “He played his (butt) off. He wanted this game more than anything in the world.”
Shane Schuback nearly got it.
He got Old Forge on the board first, first taking a snap out of the Wild Devil set, handing it to quarterback Jake Manetti and then grabbing Manetti’s toss for a 20-yard touchdown to give the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead just 28 seconds from halftime.
Then, he came close to extending Old Forge’s lead.
At the start of the second half, the Blue Devils lined up almost exclusively in their Wild Devil formation, and Shane Schuback took the direct snap five times and gained 47 yards as Old Forge advanced to North Catholic’s 10-yard line before a penalty stalled the drive without points.
His work on that march included a 26-yard burst for the game’s longest run from scrimmage.
“I think I can walk off with my head high,” Shane Schuback said.
The ball from the arm of Manetti was high in the air with less than 20 seconds to play in regulation of a 7-7 tie when Shane Schuback went up over a North Catholic defender. Somehow, Schuback came down with it in bounds, for a 29-yard catch that moved the ball to North Catholic’s 16-yard line with 14 seconds to play.
“In practice, we goof around (with long passes) a lot,” Shane Schuback said. “He just threw it up there. I went up, I reeled it in.”
It was the best snapshot of the day of Old Forge’s senior team leader delivering on his promise - to his teammates and to his dad.
“I’m going to miss the bond that we had, I’m going to miss him, honest to God,” Shane Schuback said of his father and coaching guru. “That last play, he was looking at me. I was like, ‘Give it to me, I’ll put the team on my back.’ “
The last great catch of Shane Schuback’s storied high school career at Old Forge didn’t quite make for a storybook ending. The team’s regular punter, he took over the kicking duties for the state title game. And his 29-yard field goal attempt to win a state championship in regulation fell short.
So did the Blue Devils’ bid to win the school’s first PIAA football title, when North Catholic quarterback P.J. Fulmore ran 10 yards for a touchdown and then edged across the goal line on a two-point conversion run.
But not before Shane Schuback gave Old Forge a seven-point overtime lead by kicking his second extra point in as many tries through a soft wind in Hershey.
“I’m happy we got this far, it never was accomplished here,” Shane Schuback said. “It was a heck of a journey. It was a great game today. I tried doing my best today. The scoreboard says we lost by a point.
“In my heart, I think I won.”