HERSHEY, Pa. In one of the most exciting PIAA state football championship games in memory, underdog Wilmington upset West Catholic, 35-34, in double overtime in the Class AA final yesterday at HersheyPark Stadium.
After a 2-yard touchdown run by Raymond Maples in the second OT answered a Wilmington score, Burrs coach Brian Fluck elected to go for two points and the victory. On a left-side conversion run, quarterback Curtis Drake was tripped up and hit the turf 1 yard shy of the end zone.
"We have athletes out there," Fluck said, explaining his decision to go for the victory. "We thought we could go in from the 3-yard line. We fell just that much short."
Wilmington, a District 10 school located in New Wilmington, about 60 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, won its first state championship. In 1988, the Greyhounds advanced to the final before losing to Bethlehem Catholic, 26-11.
"It wasn't something that I wanted too bad, that's not it at all," Terry Verrelli, Wilmington's 30-year coach, said. "I don't coach just to win a state championship, but it's just a tremendous reward for me that these kids could come through like that and win that game. I'm just amazed."
At least two other times, West Catholic, so dominant all season, was a play away from clinching the crown and bringing the championship trophy home to 45th and Chestnut Streets.
In the first overtime, after Maples scored on a 5-yard run and the Burrs went ahead by 28-21, the Greyhounds (15-1) faced a fourth-and-goal situation from the 16.
Somehow, QB Shane Wagner, zigzagging from left to right, found his way to the end zone. He escaped at least four would-be tacklers on the incredible scramble.
"I rolled out left, there was nobody open, so I decided to run," Wagner said. "It felt like the play was happening in slow motion. When I was at about the 5, I just held up a bit and waited for their last defender to commit."
Another heartbreaking moment for the Catholic League and city champions came with just a little over a minute left in regulation. After driving 78 yards on 11 plays, they were faced with a fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Fluck rolled the dice and opted to go for the TD instead of sending Tim Carroll onto the field for a try at a game-winning field goal of 18 yards. That decision backfired. Drake, on a keeper over left tackle, was stopped short of the goal line.
"You don't know what's going to happen there," Fluck said. "You're at the 1-yard line. Put it in [Drake's] hands and see if he gets it done."
Electrifying all season on offense, West Catholic (14-2) came in averaging nearly 50 points per game. Yesterday, after taking a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter, it looked as if the Burrs were going to bring home District 12's first state football championship.
But Wilmington fought back with a pair of third-quarter scores to forge a tie. The second, a 1-yard plunge by fullback Derrick Burns, followed an interception and 25-yard return that set the Greyhounds up just 12 yards shy of paydirt.
"In the second half, we came out and we got it done," Verrelli said. "We moved the ball, used the clock, scored. I don't know what else to say."
West Catholic regained the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter, a 5-yard burst by Rob Hollomon. But Wilmington answered with a 12-play, 82-yard scoring drive to make it a 21-21 contest.
Wilmington 0 0 14 7 7 7 - 35
West Catholic 7 7 0 7 7 6 - 34
WC: Maples 28 run (Carroll kick)
WC: Drake 29 run (Carroll kick)
W: Wagner 11 run (Wilson kick)
W: Burns 1 run (Wilson kick)
WC: Hollomon 5 run (Carroll kick)
W: DeMedal 1 run (Wilson kick)
WC: Maples 5 run (Carroll kick)
W: Wagner 16 run (Wilson kick)
W: Burns 1 run (Wilson kick)
WC: Maples 2 run (run failed)