Zanine’s kick snaps Wood losing streak against La Salle

PLYMOUTH MEETING >> On a team full of future college players and highly-rated recruits, it’s easy to overlook Dan Zanine on the Archbishop Wood roster.
After all, as the kicker on a team that routinely holds big leads over its opponents, he’s not often called upon to win games for the Vikings. But there are reasons that the junior gave up other sport pursuits, hammers home rep after rep at practice and subjects himself to being yelled at by the coaches any time he misses.
Zanine does this so that when moments like the one he faced Saturday night call, he will be ready.
The kicker’s 25-yard field goal as time expired provided the winning margin in a 27-24 Wood win over La Salle at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School. It was an exquisite high school game that truly needed every second of its 48 minutes to determine a winner.
The win also snapped a long losing streak for Wood against La Salle as the Explorers had won 13 straight games against the Vikings.
“If it wasn’t for that snap and hold, I wouldn’t have made it,” Zanine said. “I really try not to think about it. Close to 1,000 people were here, I just needed to keep my head down, follow through and kick the ball. I do it every day at practice. I have faith in myself, I have faith in my team and they have faith in me.”
To get to Zanine’s field goal, the Vikings needed some late-game magic. They got it from the arm of senior quarterback Anthony Russo, who led Wood on a 2:50 drive to close out the win. Even with his top target, Mark Webb, sidelined with an injury, Russo delivered the same as he had all night.
The Rutgers-bound senior went 15-of-21 for 250 yards and three touchdowns while hitting nine different receivers for at least one pass.
“I had all the confidence in the world with these guys,” Russo said. “Our line was fighting strong and we have such great depth at receiver we could put anybody out there and they’d be able to make a play. I had complete trust in everyone we had.”
What was billed as a collision between possibly the two best teams in the entire state didn’t look that way through a half. Wood came out roaring while La Salle wasn’t able to do much of anything except punt the ball away with its first half possessions, and the one decent drive the Explorers had ended with a missed 32-yard field goal.
The Vikings on the other hand, started the game with a 51-yard pass from Russo to Raheem “Speedy” Blackshear and capped the drive with a 16-yard TD pass to Webb. After trading punts, Wood got the ball back when Gianni Cruel picked off La Salle quarterback Chris Ferguson’s pass at midfield. The turnover proved bountiful, as it led to a 38-yard scoring drive capped by a three-yard Russo pass to Shawn Thompson.
Wood’s final score of the first half came a few plays after Blackshear hit James Gillespie for 44-yards on a slick halfback pass. Russo connected on his third score with 3:45 left in the half when he hit Anthony Diodato for 11 yards.
Notably, Wood had a missed field goal of its own with 35 seconds left in the second quarter when Zanine missed a 26-yarder.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Zanine said. “I didn’t follow through like I should have and my head was up but I didn’t get upset. You bounce back and look what happened, we won.”
Yet, despite trailing 21-0, La Salle didn’t feel like the game was over by any stretch.
“The whole time we were thinking, ‘why are we losing, they’re not better than us by 21 points,’ and we believed that,” Explorers tailback Syaire Madden said. “We said it’s the second half, it’s a second chance. We came out and just executed. Everybody poured out their heart for each other.”
Madden was La Salle’s catalyst in the second half. The back finished with 125 rush yards and 32 receiving yards, with 105 rushing yards coming after the break. La Salle received the opening kick of the second half and Madden got them off on the right foot, ripping off a 42-yard romp to get the drive started.
A facemask penalty negated a huge sack by Wood’s Mack Schwartz, who was a force on the defensive line until he injured his hip in the third quarter. That allowed La Salle kicker Matt Savage to boot through a 30-yard field goal with 8:11 left in the third quarter for La Salle’s first points.
Where Wood’s offense had been nearly perfect in the first half, the Vikings started making mistakes in the second half as La Salle’s defense, spurred by Jimmy Morrissey and Chris Maloney, fed off the offense’s energy.
The Explorers forced a punt and then went right down the field, using a 21-yard catch by Isaiah Jones and 22 rushing yards by senior Nick Rinella to set up a one-yard dive by Ferguson.
“The first touchdown we knew, we’re coming back and we felt like we were going to win this game,” Madden said. “Even down, we still knew we could win if we never gave up and that’s all (coach John Steinmetz) wanted.”
Now trailing 21-10, the Explorers felt like they were really rolling. Fortune smiled on them when Blackshear fumbled on a run and lost the ball at the Vikings’ own 25.
The very next play, Ferguson hit Rinella for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 21-17.
It was a key moment for Wood and the Vikings responded with a seven-minute drive spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters that ended with a 22-yard field goal by Zanine to make it 24-17 with 7:01 left.
“Luckily I got in throughout the year last year,” Zanine said. “We were up by so much it was kind of like why not throw in the secondary guys.”
La Salle had one more rally in it, taking over at its own 27 and leaning on its two horses, Madden and Rinella, to march down the field. The backs combined for all but six yards of the 73-yard march, capped off by a 12-yard run by Madden to knot it up at 24-24 with 2:57 left.
“We see the second half and we see all of our potential and everything we can be,” Madden said. “We feel that if we put in all four quarters, we can’t be beat. The lesson we learned is football is four quarters and if you can’t play all four quarters, you’re not going to win.”
That La Salle made it all the way back wasn’t a surprise to Russo, but he was eager to take the ball and back up his defense with a final drive. He has a 31-yard completion to start the drive and later a critical 13-yard hit to Dan Freeman on 3rd-and-7 to put the ball at the 10. After Thompson ran for two and Wood took timeout with 2.4 seconds left, it was time for Zanine.
“I just visualize the kick, deep breaths,” Zanine said. “It’s basically just visualization, knowing and having faith in myself that I’m going to make this kick. I trust my long snapper and my holder.”
La Salle called a timeout of its own to try and freeze Zanine, but he wasn’t fazed. After all, this is a guy who kicked himself into a hip flexor injury last year because he took so many reps in practice.
“We were thinking drive the ball down and score a touchdown but we had all the faith in the world, no matter where we were on the field, that Danny would make that kick,” Russo said. “I tell him all the time that he’s cold-blooded. Out of everyone on our team, he’s the one (coach Steve Devlin) gets on the most and that’s what makes him so tough. For him to come out and hit that, I’m so proud of him, he’s a great kid.”
The snap, hold and kick were true. From the time he dedicated himself solely to kick around the sixth grade, to giving up soccer, from the time spent with last year’s varsity kicker Dan McDonald to every rep he’s taken the last three years, it was Zanine’s time.
“I go through a lot of practice, all the coaches yell at me if I miss, I just have to block it all out,” Zanine said. “If I missed it, I’d probably would have had to run, but I didn’t.
“My heart was racing, I’ll be honest, it was racing but if I just keep my head down, the ball will go in.”

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