HERSHEY >> Gateway quarterback Brady Walker was hurried, hit and under pressure.
Right from the start, he and the rest of the Gators appeared to be stuck on dry land.
“We just knew we had to get on them all night — early and often,” Archbishop Wood’s Bill Shaeffer said of a defense that put the squeeze on Gateway in this PIAA-5A championship game. “We just had to keep coming after them.
“We knew their quarterback wasn’t too tall — probably like 5-foot-10. We have two big D-ends — Kyle Pitts and I. He’s 6-6 and I’m 6-5. We just tried to get our hands up, knock the balls out and get in the way of the passing lanes.”
Shaeffer played volleyball at the line of scrimmage, knocking down three passes and adding a sack as part of a dominant defensive effort Friday night for the Vikings.
Wood allowed just five first downs in the opening half, allowing the Vikings to run away to a mercy-rule lead at the break and a 49-14 victory in the 5A Final, earning the program its second straight state title and fifth overall.
“Every year is exciting, because when you see a bunch of high school kids act and react like this right now,” said Vikings coach Steve Devlin, as his team danced and celebrated and passed around a giant Hershey bar at midfield, “and the sacrifice and the effort and the hard work that they put in and it means that much to them, it means that much to me.”
At the heart of it was Wood’s stifling defense. The Vikings forced back-to-back punts to start the game then came up with consecutive fourth-down stops.
Shaeffer and Pitts tightened their grip on a shrinking quarterback pocket, as Walker — a 4,000-yard passer — was held to just 70 yards through the air in a one-sided first half.
“(Getting after them on third and fourth down) was big because we needed momentum,” Pitts said. “We wanted to go up early and keep putting our foot on the gas.”
— Kev Hunter (@khunter10) December 9, 2017
One of Gateway’s most reliable weapons — the screen pass — never had a chance against a defense looking to stop it.
“That was the big thing,” Devlin said. “We talked about that. We knew the quarterback was smaller than what he was listed at (6-2), and screen passes, we figured they gotta throw towards the side.
“And we knew with our two big ends, we had to get our hands up. And they’ve been doing that all year.”
While Gateway’s attack was grounded, Wood’s could not be stopped.
Nasir Peoples galloped away to 269 yards and four touchdowns, scoring on runs of 68, two, 14 and 13 as Wood piled up a 49-0 lead by the third quarter.
“The holes were there. It wasn’t really that hard for me when they made big holes,” Peoples said. “I just had to get through them.
“The plan was to come out and jump on ‘em early so that’s what we tried to do.”
Peoples, recruited by Virginia Tech as a defensive back, also played a pivotal role defensively. He had one of the Vikings’ three interceptions along with Pitts and Kevin Otto.
“We’re used to seeing spread teams so we just knew we had to stop them from getting big plays,” Peoples said. “Most of the time (with that type of attack), it’s small plays that turn into big ones, so we knew if we swarm to the ball we’d be fine.”
Clearing the path
An offensive line of Connor Bishop (Jr., 6-3, 260), Albert Glasgow (Sr., 6-2, 265), Tommy Walsh (Sr., 6-4, 265), Luke Stengel (Jr., 6-3, 250) and Brett Gross (Jr., 6-0, 210) cleared the path to the trophy.
Adrian Lambert burst through a hole for a 19-yard score just three minutes into the game to quickly make it 7-0 Wood (12-2).
“It was about controlling the line of scrimmage and we did that. We’re not the biggest,” Devlin said. “This is one of the smaller lines we’ve had but we come off the ball and play hard.”
— Kev Hunter (@khunter10) December 9, 2017
Peoples had two first-quarter TD’s and another in the second, and with a six-yard TD pass from Jack Colyar to Pitts off play action, followed by a five-yard scoring run by Lambert, it was 42-0 at the break.
After Peoples scored from 13 yards out in the third, Gateway (14-2) made sure it went out strong in its first state final appearance, scoring twice on TD throws from Walker to Travis Thompson II (69, 80).
By night’s end, Wood had racked up three sacks and three takeaways in as dominant a performance in the state final as you’ll see.
The defense rests.
“This is a special place to play. Not a lot of people get to play here, especially senior year, the last game of your high school career,” said Shaeffer. “It’s just awesome.”
“This is my last game with my brothers,” Pitts said, “so it was a pretty good feeling.”