For almost any team a one-year hiatus from the state playoffs probably won’t be viewed as nearly unacceptable but when it comes to Archbishop Wood it’s pretty much the minimum standard.
“That’s our goal. Our goal every year is to compete for a state championship,” Wood coach Steve Devlin said. “We felt we left some things out on the field last year and that’s not to take anything away from (Imhotep Charter) but we felt like we gave it to them so we were determined all year to get back to this point and now we’re going to take it one game at a time and go from there.”
The Vikings will be returning to the PIAA class 5-A state playoffs after a 61-18 drubbing of Simon Gratz in the District-12 championship game Saturday afternoon at Northeast High School.
“(It took) hard work,” Wood receiver and cornerback Mark Webb said. “(There was) a lot of ups and downs. The journey here was very long.”
If you’re familiar with the Wood football program you might have been struck with a bit of déjà vu as Wood has now won the district-12 championship eight out of the last nine years all under the direction of Devlin.
“I never really thought about it,” Devlin said of the success of his tenure. “I’m just glad for the kids, I’m doing this for the kids. We just want them to have memories that they’re going to remember 20 years from now.”
The only loss in the district title game in Devlin’s tenure came a year ago as a late interception sealed the 20-14 loss for the Vikings.
“Last year, that feeling on the field wasn’t normal,” Webb said. “We just took it with a grain (of salt). Worked out, did everything we had to do. Training to 100 percent.”
It’s been a long trip back for Wood. The Viking started out the season 1-2-1 after playing three of the top teams in the country in those weeks.
It’s pretty tough to find a weak spot on Wood. The Vikings play smothering and dominant defense, though at times can be susceptible to giving up some big plays but for a team that is usually playing with a multi-score lead it’s not that hard to see how that can happen.
Offensively the Vikings attack with a two-headed monster in the backfield with Raheem Blackshear and Shawn Thompson. Both backs are explosive and capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Both backs also catch the ball well out of the backfield, which the Vikes take full advantage of with screens and other designed passes.
Of course, Webb’s name has to be mentioned when talking about the Wood offense. Webb might not be putting up the eye-popping numbers he put up a year ago but he’s still a super threat when he lines up on the outside and everybody on the defense has to know where no.18 is when he’s on the field.
“They way we started off it was new,” Webb said of the difference between the Vikings offense now and at the beginning of the season. “We knew it was going to take time. We knew we needed to practice more to get in sync and now we are where we are now.”
As always for Wood, it’s a one game at a time approach and attention to getting better every week. It’s tough to say that it is state championship or bust for Wood but it’s also hard to say that it is not. If the Vikings can put together another run to a state championship game would mark the fourth time in six years after winning the whole thing in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
“Well at this point its what we’re fighting for,” Devlin said of championship or bust mentality. “We want to get better. I believe we’re playing Whitehall next week and we’ll have to study them up. I know they’re a great program with a lot of tradition and we’re going to have a great week of practice and give it our all next weekend.”