PHILADELPHIA >> Archbishop Wood knew the way Friday night, as the powerful, relentless strides of Nasir Peoples led the Vikings past Unionville and back to the state final for the sixth time in seven years.
Wood’s impressive 49-28 victory over the Indians sends the defending PIAA-5A State Champs to Friday’s 7 p.m. Championship Game at Hersheypark Stadium, to face Gateway.
“It feels great going back to Hershey,” said Peoples, who racked up 145 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries — all in the first half. “We want to win (the title) a lot. That’s the goal. We’ve been working for that, so to get back there, it’s time to go.”
The Viking lead spiked to 42-7 midway through the third quarter, enforcing the mercy rule and a running clock. Wood will compete for its second consecutive state crown and fifth in the last seven years (3A in 2011, 2013, 2014).
“It’s an awesome experience. I’m real happy for the kids and the coaches and the school,” said Vikings coach Steve Devlin, who has guided Wood to nine straight victories and an 11-2 record overall. “We put a lot of work into this and these kids come out and grind every day.
“They make a sacrifice to really dedicate themselves to this, and one of the goals was to get to the state championship game and now we’re there.”
Unionville (13-2), with a six-game win streak coming in, saw a tremendous season come to a close. The Indians reached the first round of districts a year ago and followed that up with a trip to the state semis.
“I love our group. I love our kids,” said Indians coach Pat Clark. “I think we got everything out of them that we could. I think if you look at it, we played well 99 percent of the time this year in 15 games — 15 games is a lot in high school.
“And I couldn’t ask for anything more from this group.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) December 2, 2017
Wood’s opening statement was a 10-play, 61-yard drive that culminated with a two-yard scoring burst by Peoples.
The drive was kept alive by a Viking fake punt, with punter Bill Cook taking the snap and whipping around the right end, taking off for a 35-yard gain down to the Unionville five.
Wood needed only six plays to reach the end zone again on its third series.
The Vikings moved it 60 yards, the final three coming on Peoples’ second touchdown of the night, making it 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Said Devlin of Peoples, a senior headed to Virginia Tech next year: “He’s so talented. He’s such a great kid. He’s as tough as they come. He’s got great vision and burst and turns small runs into big gains. He just wears you down.”
With the Wood defense dominating, the Viking offense began to put the game away in the second quarter. Wood used seven consecutive runs by Peoples to set up a one-yard QB sneak by Jack Colyar, boosting the margin to 21-0.
“They had some players, and we had to control them,” Devlin said. “We knew the best way to do it was to control the ball.”
Unionville’s biggest play of the first half came on the ensuing kickoff.
Pinned in along the left sideline, James Hower cut it back right, using his breakaway speed to pull away to an 80-yard TD return, cutting the deficit to 21-7.
“He’s as good as anybody around,” Clark said of Hower. “But then we get the facemask penalty on the (ensuing) kickoff and the pass interference (to give Wood the ball at the Unionville 44).”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) December 2, 2017
Soon the ball was back in Peoples’ hands and back in the end zone.
The Vikings scored with 1 minute, 5 seconds left in the first half, as Peoples bounced it out left and raced to the corner for a nine-yard score and a 28-7 lead at the break.
“The offensive line has been doing a great job all year,” Peoples said of a unit that includes a pair of seniors in center Tom Walsh (6-3, 250) and guard Albert Glasgow (6-2, 255). “They’re not the biggest line but they get on their blocks. They just make holes for me to run through.”
After limiting the Indians to just two first downs in the opening half, Wood’s defense took it a step further in the third quarter by providing points of its own. Bill Shaeffer scooped up a fumble and returned it 33 yards for a score and a 35-7 lead.
A 35-yard connection from Colyar to Kyle Pitts led to a five-yard TD run by Adrian Lambert and a 42-7 margin.
Quarterback Alex Gorgone broke away for a 30-yard score for the Indians and Wood answered with a one-yard run by Chris Blackstone, making it 49-14 in the fourth. Unionville did the rest of the scoring, a 20-yard run by Joseph Farriello followed by a 78-yard fumble return by Nicholas Schnaars with just 30 seconds to play.
Wood heads back to the state final, conjuring up memories of another football dynasty.
“I have a lot of respect for the way they run their program. I see a lot of old-school CB West in that program,” Clark said.
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