Before the play, Max Keller told Archbishop Wood coach Kyle Adkins he wanted to go for the win. He didn’t want to kick the field goal and head into overtime.
“I knew we needed a big play,” the junior quarterback said.
With less than 10 seconds left in the game, Keller connected with junior wideout Cardel Pigford on a 3-yard touchdown pass to take the lead and then beat Cheltenham, 19-15, to win the PIAA Class 5A championship game for the sixth time since 2011 on Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium.
“[Pigford] is an incredible player,” Keller said. “Whenever you need a guy to catch a football, he’s the guy to go to. He made an outstanding catch.”
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Keller added. “You work for it since January. You come out, get it done in a 19-15 game. There’s no better feeling.”
Archbishop Wood took over with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter trailing, 15-12, on its own 35-yard line on the go-ahead drive.
Keller made the play to Pigford that gave the Vikings the victory, but junior running back Kaelin Costello also made one of the biggest plays of the game.
Costello set up the touchdown to Pigford with a 15-yard run on fourth-and-1. The Vikings called a timeout after the play, and the rest became history.
“I knew I had to get it for my seniors and my team and the whole school,” Costello said. “I knew I had to just dig deep. I was battling cramping, I was battling being tired and all of this adversity coming my way and the team’s way. We just fought through it.”
Costello finished the game with 280 rushing yards and one touchdown on 38 carries. His 28-yard score early in the third quarter gave the Vikings a 12-0 lead.
The Vikings relied heavily on Costello to generate positive gains on offense, especially in the first half. Costello’s ability to find holes helped set up field goals from Ryan Morgan and Robert Meyer.
“[Kaelin] was the MVP of this game,” Keller said. “He won us this game. He’s an outstanding player. There’s nothing else to it.”
The Vikings held an explosive Panthers offense in check for the majority of the game. The 15 points scored by Cheltenham is the lowest since it scored 7 in a loss to Abington.
The Panthers nearly added another chapter to their storybook season, one in which they set a program record for wins and won its first district title in school history.
Panthers senior quarterback Adonis Hunter connected with senior running back Siddiq Williams on a 3-yard score to take a 15-12 lead late in the fourth quarter. Hunter went 7-for-16 with 79 passing yards and two touchdown passes. His other score went to senior wideout T.J. Harris on a 20-yard pass on fourth-and-5 in the third quarter.
Senior running back Jamir Barnes rushed for 89 yards on 20 carries, but he was held in check for most of the night.
Costello said the plan going was to limit Cheltenham’s ability to make plays and they did. Now, the Vikings can celebrate.
“We knew they were a juggernaut on offense, speed all over the field, but we buckled down and went 1-0 in this game,” Costello said.
Archbishop Wood 0 6 6 7 -- 19
Cheltenham 0 0 7 8 -- 15
AW: FG 42 Ryan Morgan
AW: FG 22 Robert Meyer
AW: Kaelin Costello 28 run (Max Keller pass failed)
C: TJ Harris 20 pass from Adonis Hunter (Andrew Moreland kick)
C: Sidiqq Williams 3 pass from Hunter (Zachary Gaffin run)
AW: Cardel Pigford 3 pass from Keller (Meyer kick)