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Fake punt provides Archbishop Wood an early boost in PIAA-5A semifinal win

Archbishop Wood’s Bill Cook runs the sidelines during the Vikings PIAA-5A semifinal against Unionville at Northeast High School on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

PHILADELPHIA >> Bill Cook said Archbishop Wood had pulled out the fake punt in its season opener.

“We tried once in Florida,” the junior said. “But it didn’t work.”

Cook and the Vikings found better success with the trick play Friday night on the first drive of Wood’s 49-28 victory over District 1 champ Unionville in the PIAA-5A semifinals.

“I was surprised he called it, but I’m happy it worked,” Cook said.

The Vikings appeared poised to punt from the Unionville 40 after coming up three yards short of a first down on a 3rd and 6. But punter Cook took the snap and began to run right with blocking and plenty of room in front of him.

“I saw the players going in, like as if they’re all pinching in and I knew Matt Palmer’s going to make the block on the edge, so I just knew I had open space,” he said.

Cook charged down the field, side-stepping one tackle attempt then plowing through another before finally getting taken down after a gain of 35 yards, setting up the Vikings with a 1st and Goal at the five.

“I wanted the touchdown,” Cook said. “But then I said better not fumble.”

Three plays later, Wood found their way across the goal line, Nasir Peoples scoring from two yards out with 6:28 left in the opening quarter.

“It was big. It helped,” Cook said of the fake punt. “It gave us that first drive — we were stalled. It was a big play.”

Unionville’s Dante Graham looks for running room during the Indians’ PIAA-5A semifinal against Archbishop Wood at Northeast High School on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

One of many standout plays that helped Archbishop Wood pick up a ninth straight victory and with it another trip to Hershey — the Vikings earning a spot in a state final for the sixth time in the past seven years and the seventh time overall.

Wood gets the chance to defend its 5A crown Friday night in Hersheypark Stadium against District 7 champion Gateway, a 31-28 winner over District 3 champ Manheim Central in the other semifinal.

“It’s great to get back. We got one more game to go,” Peoples said.

A win over Gateway would give Archbishop Wood a fifth PIAA championship, a title plateau reached by only three other programs in the commonwealth — Southern Columbia leads with seven, Berwick next with six followed by Mount Carmel Area’s five.

“We got a special group of seniors,” said Wood’s Bill Shaeffer, a senior tight end/defensive end. “It just means a lot to us. We’ve been working since January. Just real special.”

Peoples ran 23 times for 145 yards and scored three rushing touchdown as the District 12 champs took a 28-7 at halftime and went on to match their season-high for points — previously putting up 49 in back-to-back weeks against Father Judge and Archbishop Carroll. A Virginia Tech commit, Peoples said getting a TD on the first drive provided the Vikings’ with a nice early boost.

“It’s was great. I think that’s what gave us momentum,” he said. “And it just gave us a lot of energy and we capitalized on it.”

After forcing a Unionville 3-and-out Archbishop Wood fumbled on its first offensive play, giving the Indians the ball at the Viking 34. But Wood’s defense held and the Indians turned the ball over on downs at the 40 after an incompletion.

“We saw they had some speed and just like misdirection, all their motion, stuff like that. But we knew if we could contain them, we could stop them,” Shaeffer said.

The Vikings’ next two series ended with touchdown runs, extending the margin to 21-0. JT Hower had Unionville within 21-7 with his 80-yard kickoff return TD with 3:29 left in the first half only for Wood to answer with a nine-yard Peoples touchdown 65 seconds before the break.

Archbishop Wood quarterback Jack Colyar throws a pass during the Vikings’ PIAA-5A semifinal against Unionville at Northeast High School on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

“Outside was open. The line did a great job blocking and just made a whole for me to run through,” said Peoples of what was working on the ground for the Vikings.

Wood piled up 326 rushing yards while it defense limited the Indians to 167 yards of total offense. The Vikings’ D also go in on the scoring, Shaeffer scooping up a fumble and taking in for a touchdowns just 70 seconds into the second half.

“We wanted to get after them the whole game,” Shaeffer said. “That just happened. Good things happen when you get after them.”

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