HERSHEY, Pa. - Sometime today or tomorrow, or maybe sometime next week, they will be able to absorb it. Playing for a state championship. Playing in front of thousands. The comebacks, the victories. A second straight District 1 championship. Making school history by going farther in the state playoffs than any team before them. A dream season that anyone would remember for a lifetime.
It was an incredible run for the Garnet Valley High football team.
Sometime soon, Garnet Valley's Eric Van Wyk, and Shane Eachus, Dan Duffey and Jon Deardoff will realize what they did and the amazing ride they took in reaching the PIAA Class AAA state championship game.
The Jaguars' seniors just weren't ready to reflect last night, not after Thomas Jefferson ended what was an amazing season with a 28-3 victory at Hersheypark Stadium for the state title.
The victory ended a great year for Jefferson, which finished 16-0, while Garnet Valley ended its season 13-2.
Van Wyk, Garnet Valley's quarterback and most visible leader, was a jumble of emotions afterward. He had a glassy-eyed look, keeping a strong front for his teammates and coaches.
"But it is tough," Van Wyk said. "There's no question we did a lot of special things this year and there's no question it will sink in later. But maybe not for a few weeks. Maybe then I'll be able to look back and really be able to see what we accomplished. But I think what I'll remember most are the people. Everyone around us - the school, the community, the coaching staff. They made this season for us. They made it great."
Garnet Valley had made a habit of coming from behind to reach the state championship game. Against a large, fast Jefferson team, signs began to show at halftime that this wasn't going to be like the 3 previous weeks, when Garnet Valley scratched and clawed its way back to win.
Jefferson went into intermission leading 14-3, buoyed by two big plays: a 23-yard touchdown run by Nate Bota right through the center of the defense, and Trevor Wildman's 20-yard TD reception from Zach DeCicco.
Garnet Valley's Pat McGroarty actually had good position on the TD throw, but Wildman made a nice adjustment on the ball to haul in the score with 33 seconds left in the half.
It was that kind of night for the Jaguars.
Garnet Valley was able to move the ball early, gaining 145 yards of offense in the first half, but was held to 61 yards the rest of the way. Van Wyk rushed for a team-high 62 yards on 14 carries. Stopping Van Wyk became the key.
"The difference I think in shutting them down was moving from a four-man front to a five-man front, trying to take away the edges and focus on their quarterback," said Lucas Nix, Jefferson's massive standout two-way lineman, who has committed to Pittsburgh and could start as a true freshman next season.
"This is a great feeling, though, winning the state championship," Nix added. "We're the best team in the state and we finished 16-0. We get a big, fat ring, and hopefully we go down in history, or something like that."
The interior of Jefferson's offensive line was masterful. Guards Dave Bishoff and Rob McCall, and center Sean Kundrat were explosive coming off the ball, opening gaping holes through the middle of Garnet Valley's defense for 468 total yards, 331 on the ground.
Bota finished with 143 yards on just 10 carries, and Orlando Torres picked up 102 on 20 carries, the bulk of which came on a 44-yard run that set up Bota's score.
"They were a very good football team that did a nice job of adjusting," Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci said. "Our game plan was to take away their tailback, but they came at us with their fullback. Their passing game is something we didn't expect, either. Defensively, they closed well and ran to the ball well."
Jefferson ended Garnet Valley's magical ride early in the fourth quarter when DeCicco hit his younger brother, Brock, for a 15-yard touchdown pass. But it was a journey that not only affected the Garnet Valley players, it left an indelible mark on the coaches who guided them this far.
"I'll eventually sit back and enjoy it," Ricci said. "This team will get a banner in the gym, but more importantly they walked off this field proud. I'll walk off this field smiling tonight, because this team gave me a gift, gave the whole community a gift."
In the Class A game:
Steelton-Highspire junior Jeremiah Young ran for four touchdowns and 292 yards on 45 carries - a Class A final record - in a 34-15 victory over Serra Catholic (15-1) yesterday afternoon at Hersheypark Stadium for the Class A title. The Rollers' front seven dominated on defense and Steelton, a longtime basketball power, won its first state football crown.
A 3,000-yard rusher this season, Young got off to a slow start for Steelton (13-3), fumbling twice during the first quarter. But he exploded for a 52-yard TD run in the second quarter that gave Steel-High a 20-0 lead with 9 minutes, 14 seconds left before halftime.
The Rollers' win was a dramatic turnaround from October, when three straight losses dropped them to 4-3. They won nine straight after their last loss on Oct. 20, including the District 3 title. *