DALLAS TWP. — It didn’t take long for the Dallas football team to make a statement Friday night.
In fact, it took just eight plays and less than six minutes as Michael Starbuck’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Nikolus Gashi set the tone early against the Tunkhannock Tigers. And Starbuck’s strike foreshadowed what was to come.
The junior quarterback would go on to throw five touchdowns and lead the Mountaineers to a 53-21 bashing of Tunkhannock.
“Hopefully we can carry off of this win to the next week and following weeks after that and the following weeks the rest of the season,” Starbuck said. “We just had a game plan going in, executed very well and ended up coming up on top.
“I saw some openings, coach set up some good plays for me and I executed them.”
The Mountaineers quickly jumped out to a 20-point lead after 12 minutes of play.
While the offense was efficient, with Starbuck connecting with both Gashi and Matt Maransky for a pair of touchdown strikes to sandwich a Lenny Kelley 5-yard touchdown run, it was the Dallas defense and special teams that sparked the fast start.
The Tigers’ first drive ended when Tunkhannock punter Jake Stephens was forced to throw on fourth down after a high snap. Rolling out to his left, the senior threw into tight coverage and was picked off by Dallas defensive lineman Xander Shander. The interception set up Kelley’s 5-yard score five plays later.
Then, with less than two minutes remaining in the half and the Tigers trapped in their own end, Dallas defensive back Dylan Shuster picked off a contested pass from Tunkhannock quarterback Jack Chilson on third-and-8. The junior took Chilson’s pass to the 27 yards to the house to put the Tigers away for good 27-7.
“Yeah, and at key times that really changed (the game),” Dallas coach Rich Manello said. “When they ran those two kicks back, those are hard to overcome and the defensive plays and turnovers happened at the right time. Those were huge. And there’s enough speed now in the back end, there, that we can get them. There’s good depth in the back side of that defense.”
Starbuck made good on all of the extra work he put in during the offseason.
The junior was 8-of-10 for 174 and an impressive five touchdown passes. Starbuck did a nice job spreading the ball around, too. Both Luke DelGaudio and Matt Maransky each caught a pair of touchdowns while DelGaudio racked up a game-high 104 yards receiving.
“What we saw all summer carried over tonight,” Mannello said. “He’s throwing on time. With a year-and-a-half of starts underneath him, and he gets that back foot planted and the ball goes. He’s done a great job of that.”
Despite the 32-point victory, the Mountaineers still have room to improve before they travel to Crestwood next week.
The Tigers gashed Dallas for 206 yards in the return game, including an 89-yard kickoff return to the house by Garret Hopkins and a 43-yard kickoff return by Riley Jones.
Mannelo did add after the game that he noticed some improvements in the second half from his kickoff cover unit.
“We settled down and I thought we executed well in spots, but it looked like the first game.,” Mannello said. “There’s a lot to improve on. The old coaching say is, ‘The biggest improvement’s between Week 1 and 2.’ I was not happy with the kick cover team. That’s unacceptable. Attribute to them, at half ime they got it fixed.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle