DOWNINGTOWN >> Experience is something you can’t teach, and is an invaluable trait to have on a football team. The Downingtown West Whippets are fortunate to have that with their senior class.
“My seniors are everything to us,” said Downingtown West coach Mike Milano. “We had a good group last year and it carried over to this group and these guys have led us all the way to where we are now.”
Winning in the postseason had been something that had eluded the Whippets’ program ever since 2009, when they defeated Conestoga, 40-8. That all changed when West took a 42-20 win over Upper Darby in the first round of the District 1 Class 6A playoffs Friday night.
Following an Upper Darby touchdown that would trim the Whippets’ lead to eight points with just over 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, West would need to come up with a few big plays on its next possession to put the game out of reach. Luckily, the seniors for West delivered.
On a 3rd and 9 for the Whippets in Upper Darby territory, senior quarterback Ryan Wetzel would scramble out right and find fellow senior wide receiver Dan Byrnes to convert on a crucial conversion.
Earlier in the game, Wetzel would find Byrnes for a 62-yard touchdown. Byrnes would finish with five catches and 108 yards. Wetzel would throw for 166 yards on 6-for-8 passing.
“I thought it was an overall team win, not just for our seniors but for everybody on the team,” said Wetzel.
Later in the drive, Upper Darby had another chance to get the ball back for its offense with West facing a fourth and one. However, it was Wetzel who would keep the ball and pound his way to a first down with under five minutes left in regulation.
Wetzel has assumed the starting role of quarterback after West star and Division I college target Will Howard went down with a wrist injury in a 42-14 loss to Coatesville on October 5.
“It was rough to swallow when he (Howard) went down,” said Wetzel. “Even though we lost him for the year, we knew we had to step up and have that next man up mentality.”
Following Wetzel’s conversion, the drive was capped off with a touchdown from running back Tyriq Lewis after he recovered a Tyler Alston fumble in the endzone.
“We make it a point each week to control the front seven,” said senior linemen Nolan Hale. “We have four seniors on the line and we all take it upon ourselves to make sure that the run game is going each week.
The running game was in full effect versus Upper Darby, when the Whippets would rush for a total of 281 yards. Lewis would end the night with 147 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns.
However, Lewis, a junior, knows his success, as well as the team’s, is due largely to the senior led offensive line.
“Our seniors have been a huge part of our success this year,” Lewis said. “They have been the heartbeat and the reason why our brotherhood and football family are so strong.”
Trailing by 15, the Royals would look to get back in the game, but Byrnes would halt their efforts with an interception to put the game on ice and send the Whippets into the second round against Harry S. Truman Friday night at Kottmeyer Stadium.
“What coach always tell us, is that we need at least three big plays each game and we got a handful of those tonight,” said Byrnes.
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