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Archbishop Wood mauls Wyoming Valley West, advances to PIAA-5A semifinals

Adrian Lambert scores for Archbishop Wood during the Vikings' PIAA-5A quarterfinal against Wyoming Valley West on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

SLATINGTON >> Wyoming Valley West did just what Archbishop Wood football coach Steve Devlin had hoped for to start the game.

The Spartans had won the pregame coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff of their PIAA 5A quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Northern Lehigh High School. WVW, with its massive offensive line, wanted to try and send a message to the defending state champions.

Instead, it was Wood’s defense that sent the message and the Vikings spent most of the afternoon mauling the Spartans on both sides of the ball on their way to a 41-14 win.

“We executed today, especially defensively, we got after it and we knew we had to because of their size,” Devlin said. “We’d seen and read a lot of people couldn’t deal with their size and we said ‘they haven’t played us yet.’ Our defensive line and linebackers really got after it.”

Wood’s lines weren’t intimidated by the considerable bulk the Spartans put on the field. Anchored by Chris Bleich (6-foot-6 305 pounds), Dominic Alunni (6-foot-5, 330), Sammy Solomon (6-foot-5, 275) and Cortes Adams (6-foot-5, 275), the Spartans certainly had the size to benefit their power running attack.

While the Vikings couldn’t mimic that size in practice, they knew they could count on a couple of things in their favor. First was their preparation after a good week of practice, second was trust in their technique and fundamentals and third was their speed getting off the ball, which helped negate some of the size advantage.

“We knew if we could open up holes and not get pushed back, our running backs would be able to get into the secondary and make moves,” Wood lineman Connor Bishop said. “We just focused on being low, quick off the ball and being able on outside plays, to out-flank them and just give our running backs room.”

Linebacker Tyler Smith was especially fired up early, making the first two tackles of the game as Wood forced a three-and-out off the opening kick. While Wood quarterback Jack Colyar’s first pass was picked off, the Vikings got the ball right back when defensive end Kyle Pitts forced a fumble that Smith recovered.

Archbishop Wood’s Nasir Peoples breaks away for a long run against Wyoming Valley West during their PIAA-5A quarterfinal on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

Wood then needed just five plays to score as senior tailback Nasir People, a Virginia Tech recruit, went in from 16 yards out.

Smith, a hard-hitting senior, said being physical early and making the Spartans feel Wood’s presence with their hits helped set the tone.

“We just came out executed, all week we prepared and we went out and played our game,” Smith said. “We don’t get worried about a bigger team, I think half the teams we’ve played have been bigger than us. We came out and hit them on every down, if you keep hitting them, eventually they’ll fold.”

Bishop, who also plays defensive tackle got plenty of help up front from ends Pitts and Billy Shaeffer, along with interior linemen George Mazzacano and Dylan Urbanowksi.

Wood went heavy with its own running game. In the contest, the Vikings completed just two of four passes, though one was a 37-yard touchdown from Colyar to Pitts with the big tight end picking up most of the yards after the catch. Otherwise, it was Peoples, Adrian Lambert and Chris Blackstone doing the work.

Peoples ran for 173 yards and two scores on just 15 carries while Lambert had 54 yards and two scores on just four runs. Lambert put Wood up 14-0 on first play of the second quarter thanks to a punishing 19-yard run where he simply obliterated WVW safety/quarterback Rob Dwyer on an attempted tackle.

For Bishop and his fellows on the line like Tommy Walsh, Brett Gross, Albert Glasgow and Luke Stengel, they need only to get their backs to the second level for good things to happen.

“If we can hold guys at the line and get our hands on ‘backers, then we’re pretty confident we’ll break a long one,” Bishop said.

“They were quick off the ball, they hurried up to get on their man, gave me a hole and let me run,” Peoples said.

Wood’s defense forced another turnover late in the second quarter following a bizarre sequence. Linebacker Matt Palmer had appeared to sack WVW’s second quarterback, Jake Shusta as the ball came out of his hands. The officials then ruled it only a sack for an 11 yard loss before again changing it to an incomplete pass.

Archbishop Wood’s Nasir Peoples dives for the leg of Wyoming Valley West quarterback Rob Dwyer during their PIAA-5A quarterfinal on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

The Vikings simply got the ball on the next play when a tackler punched the ball away from a Spartans running back with Peoples recovering the ball. Three plays later, Colyar and Pitts connected and Wood took a 21-0 lead to the half.

At the break, the Spartans had totaled just 80 yards of offense compared to 189 for Wood.

“You win up front on both sides of the ball and we did that tonight,” Devlin said. “We wanted to show them what we’re about. They’re a great team and they caused some worry coming into this, but we just executed today.”

Peoples scored on a 49-yard run in the second half, followed by a 30-yard jaunt by Lambert that made it 35-0. Wood then put in its backups, with quarterback Tom Cattalico leading the final scoring drive, which he punctuated with a one-yard plunge into the endzone.

Wyoming Valley West tacked on two late touchdowns against Wood’s second-team defense with the second, a 49-yard pass from Dwyer to Jake Blaski, the only completed pass of positive yardage for the Spartans all game.

“We’ve always focused on being low and quick off the ball and this week was the same as any other week,” Bishop said. “We stressed it a little more and we knew our technique is what would win us the game.”

The Vikings blocked a field goal on Wyoming Valley West’s second drive and had a strip-sack fumble recovery for a touchdown wiped out by a defensive holding flag. Devlin noted the number of flags, with at least two other touchdowns called back on penalties, as something Wood would need to clean up for its next game.

Wood will face District I champion Unionville next week, tentatively set for Friday night at Northeast High School, in the state semifinals.

“We’ll enjoy the win today and starting tomorrow, we’ll turn our focus to Unionville,” Bishop said. “It’ll be the same as any other week, preparation-wise it’s always about the next team in front of us. We practiced really well for this game, we knew everything they were going to be doing and I feel like with our preparation we won the game before it started.”

ARCHBISHOP WOOD 41, WYOMING VALLEY WEST 14
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 7 14 14 6 – 41
WYOMING VALLEY WEST 0 0 0 14 – 14
Scoring Plays
1st Quarter
AW – Nasir Peoples 16 run (Bobby Hennessey kick) 6:43
2nd Quarter
AW – Adrian Lambert 19 run (Hennessey kick) 11:52
AW – Jack Colyar 37 pass to Kyle Pitts (Hennessey kick) 22.7
3rd Quarter
AW – Peoples 49 run (Hennessey kick) 10:43
AW – Lambert 30 run (Hennessey kick) 6:31
4th Quarter
AW – Tom Cattalico 1 run (kick blocked) 11:07
WVW – Rob Dwyer 22 run (Jake Gurtis kick) 5:16
WVW – Dwyer 49 pass to Jake Blaski (Gurtis kick) 46
Team Stats
AW WVW
First Downs 13 6
Rushes-Yards 32-306 34-142
Passing 2-4-1-1 2-10-1-0
Passing Yards 45 49
Total Yards 351 191
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-Yards 9-83 11-114
Individual Stats
Rushing: AW – Nasir Peoples 15-173, Adrian Lambert 4-54, Chris Blackstone 3-52, Ryan DiVergilis 3-6, Tom Cattalico 2-3, Jack Colyar 1-3, Ryan Loughlin 1-6, Tahmir Barksdale 1-8, Colin Murt 2-1; WVW – Sean Mikovitch 11-35, Rob Dwyer 14-72, Darrin Tyson 4-33, Zach Davies 4-3, Jake Shusta 1-(-1).
Passing: AW – Jack Colyar 1-3-1-1-37, Tom Cattalico 1-1-0-0-8; WVW – Dwyer 2-8-1-0-49, Shusta 0-2-0-0-0.
Receivng: AW – Kyle Pitts 1-37, Murt 1-8; WVW – Jake Blaski 2-49.

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