The pep rally on Thursday, the weeklong hoopla and buzz at the school, the countless good-luck wishes from classmates, friends and family.

Sean Cunningham, a standout running back and inside linebacker for Archbishop Wood, which last night took on Thomas Jefferson for the PIAA Class AAA state football championship at Hersheypark Stadium, savored all of it.

"It's been great," the 6-foot, 200-pound senior said. "The support from everyone has been tremendous. I can't say enough about it."

Cunningham was a catalyst in the drive to Hershey. Before last night's 34-7 loss to the favored Jaguars, a perennial power from suburban Pittsburgh, he had carried 268 times for a single-season school record of 1,749 yards and 26 touchdowns.

On defense, the 17-year-old from Warminster was a rugged, quick-to-the-ball performer who played a key role in the Vikings' posting shutouts in all four of their Catholic League Division AAA regular-season games and in a semifinal league playoff matchup versus Lansdale Catholic.

"He's been the heart and soul of our team," Steve Devlin, Archbishop Wood's second-year coach, said. "He's not the biggest kid in the world, but he's a tough kid."

On Nov. 15, in the District 12 championship versus Dobbins, Cunningham snapped the school record for rushing yards in a season. With 108 yards and four TDs on 16 carries, he upped his total to 1,497 and eclipsed the old mark of 1,417 set by Bryan McCartney, brother of Wood quarterback Sean McCartney, in 2003.

Cunningham, who was involved in five tackles and batted down a pass in the first half of the 56-7 romp over Dobbins, earned first-team all-Catholic honors on both sides of the ball.

Said Devlin, "He takes a pounding at running back and gives a pounding at linebacker."

The Vikings' march to the state final was paved by many other players. McCartney, who doubled as a safety and was selected as the Catholic League Division AAA most valuable player; 6-foot-5, 320-pound two-way linemen Adam Citko and Scott Kajmo; two-way end Anthony Narisi; and fullback-end Nick Devine are the ones that easily come to mind.

Receiver-linebacker Mike Maxwell, two-way lineman Matt O'Connell, and placekicker James McFadden (11 field goals, 50-plus extra-point kicks) also deserve considerable praise.

Of course, Devlin, formerly the offensive coordinator at St. Joseph's Prep, says each and every player that wore a black-and-gold uniform this season, down to the deepest sub, had a hand in a historic season.

"These kids really bonded together," Devlin, 37, said. "There is so much camaraderie between these guys, in everything they do."

In making it to Chocolatetown, the Vikings posted 12 wins against two losses. Without McCartney, still recovering from a broken collarbone suffered over the summer, they were nipped by Pennridge, 43-42, in triple overtime, in their opener. In Week 5, versus former Blue Division arch-rival West Catholic, which today plays for a Class AA state crown, they fell, 28-17.

Against West Catholic, now 14-1 and averaging nearly 50 points a game, the squad had hoped to avenge back-to-back losses to the electrifying Burrs in the Blue Division championship game.

"As a coach, you'd like to have every loss back," Devlin said. "But I have a lot of respect for [West Catholic coach] Brian Fluck and his kids."

Devlin was an assistant at the Prep from 2000 to 2006. In that span, the Hawks went 77-12 and bagged four Catholic League titles.

How would this Archbishop Wood team match up with some of the Prep's best-ever squads?

"It's hard to compare," Devlin said. "But this is a very good team. In the last couple of weeks, we've beat some very good football teams."

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019

or robrien@phillynews.com.