PHILADELPHIA >> Communication is key.
Archbishop Wood’s defense saw the gaudy point totals the Archbishop Ryan offense had been posting to start the season, saw the numerous playmakers on the Raiders roster and saw their Philadelphia Catholic League Red Division rivals’ unblemished record. The Vikings knew if they didn’t communicate on defense, they would get shredded by a team that came into Saturday believing it could win.
The end effort wasn’t pretty, but Wood’s defense communicated its way to enough of a shutdown effort to pick up a 27-7 win over Ryan at George Washington High School.
“We knew they had big-time players and speed all around so we just had to fill the holes,” Wood linebacker Dylan Urbanowski said. “I talked to my defense and told them to make sure to communicate. We did that, we came out and we kept hitting.”
Urbanowski and Brett Gross turned in strong individual efforts for Wood defensively at the middle linebacker spots. It seemed like on every running play Ryan ran, either No. 55 (Urbanowski) or No. 50 (Gross) was the first guy to the ball and the last to get up from a pile after the tackle.
Ryan had been averaging nearly 40 points per game offensively during its 6-0 start.
Both seniors’ uniforms were coated in mud by the end of the game, a clear indicator of just how involved they were. Considering Wood held the Raiders to just 34 rushing yards on 29 carries, the Vikings got the job done up front and at the second level defensively.
“We relied on our tendencies and our tendencies brought us to the ball,” said Urbanowski, who stripped loose and recovered a fumble in the second half, said. “Our speed was there, so from there we just made the tackles and executed.”
For the first quarter at least, defense seemed like an afterthought. Wood scored on its third play when fullback Leroy Pendleton ripped off a 71-yard touchdown run. Ryan had a 52-yard pass on its first play of the game, but missed a field goal on that drive.
The Raiders actually took a 7-6 lead when quarterback Jahlil Sanders found superb sophomore Tyreke Chappell for a 30-yard touchdown with 3:46 left in the opening frame. Chappell couldn’t be stopped on the outside, catching seven balls for 139 yards.
“We knew they had a dual-threat quarterback and we had to key him,” Gross said. “Their whole offense went through him and what he did so we had to make sure we had a plan for him and for (Chappell).”
Wood coach Kyle Adkins wasn’t pleased with his team’s overall performance despite the win, citing the team’s 10 penalties, the big gains the Ryan receivers had on the outside and a lot of mistakes his players made. Adkins did feel like his middle linebackers were up to task however.
“We’re not satisfied walking off this field, there were entirely too many breakdowns out here,” Adkins said. “Offensively and defensively we made too many mental mistakes. There is so much to clean up, but we go from here and continue to work on it at practice.”
Urbanowski had to wait his turn, filling in as a defensive lineman last year with two Division I players in Tyler Smith and Matt Palmer at middle linebacker. Now back in his normal role, he and Gross bring a high intensity to the heart of the Wood defense.
“He’s a competitor, I’m a competitor and we just want to win,” Gross said. “We make sure everyone’s doing their job and we each want to make sure no one can run on us.”
Wood took the lead back on a 76-yard touchdown run by junior Tom Santiago. Santiago, who has assumed the lead back role, was a force on Saturday, toting the ball 30 times and powering his was to 253 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.
His 15-yard rushing score put Wood up 19-7 in the fourth quarter before Jake Ross capped the scoring with a 26-yard pass to Billy Cook with Santiago punching in the two-point try. Gross, who also plays offensive line, said Santiago has been an easy guy to block for.
“We were trying to get two on two, double them up and get up to their linebackers, we wanted to beat them up front and we knew if we beat them up front, we would win the game,” Gross said. “He’s a great back, he runs hard, is a great competitor and has been just great to work with.”
Wood (4-2, 2-0 PCL) won its fourth straight game after starting 0-2, and Urbanowski credited the defensive communication as a big reason why. He pointed to the team’s win over Archbishop Spaulding out of Maryland as the turning point and cited the secondary’s communication as a big help against Ryan.
Things aren’t getting easier for the defending PIAA 5A state champions. They face St. Joseph’s Prep next week and La Salle the week after, so the penalties and mistakes that marred Saturday’s performance will have to be cleared up if the Vikings hope to keep their winning run going.
“Our team, all we have to do is communicate,” Urbanowski said. “We practice tendencies all week long, so when we get to the game if we come out and communicate we play to those tendencies. We weren’t on the same page when it came to communicating but we came together and bonded from there.”ded from there.”