After last year's drive to the PIAA Class AAA state championship game, Archbishop Wood opened the 2009 season with a 21-point setback against Cardinal O'Hara and an overtime loss to Chestnut Hill Academy.
At that point, Wood coach Steve Devlin and his assistants had to think, at least momentarily, that frustration might be commonplace this season.
"Yeah, it was a rough start," Devlin said, "but those were two great opponents. Also, we were still feeling out what our kids could do. You could see the potential was there."
Since then, the Vikings have won 11 straight games by a combined score of 305-110. "I give the credit to all the work and effort the kids have put in during the year," Devlin said.
Wood is gearing up for another state semifinal playoff vs. Selinsgrove. Like last year, when the Vikings triumphed, 13-7, tomorrow's 7 p.m. matchup will be played at HersheyPark Stadium. Can you say déjà vu?
The Seals, owners of six consecutive District 4 titles, are 14-0 and have won by a combined 642-89. Yes, 642 points. They average nearly 46 points per game.
The catalyst of Selinsgrove's I-formation/multiple offense is quarterback Cory Briggs. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior, bound for Harvard, has completed 130 of 232 passes (56 percent) for 1,875 yards and 28 TDs.
"He's very bright. He's tall, and he's good at finding the open receiver," said Dave Hess, Selinsgrove's second-year coach. "He does a variety of things. He's more of a pocket passer than anything else."
In last year's semifinal, Briggs was 9 for 19 passing for 62 yards. He threw for 2,241 yards and 30 TDs last season.
Said Devlin: "He has a strong arm. We have to get after him, make him get rid of the ball as soon as possible."
The Seals' other catalysts are tailback Kyle Reinard (132 carries, 1,195 yards, 14 TDs), fullback Matt Wenrich (59 carries, 437, 7) and wideout Ryan Keiser (51 catches, 939, 14). An offensive line that Hess said averages between 220 and 225 pounds is anchored by 6-1, 240-pound center Jon Trego.
A 3-5 defense that has notched five shutouts and yielded only 6.4 points per game is led by linebackers Wenrich, Bryant Trautman and Dylan Elliot, middle guard Trego, tackle Spencer Myers (6-4, 230), and cornerback Seth Lauver. "It's a fundamentally sound group, and they all tackle pretty well," Hess said.
Wood's offense is buoyed by dual-threat QB Jerry Rahill. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior has passed for more than 1,300 yards and 15 TDs. He has averaged 72 yards rushing in the last five games.
"He's a very good athlete, very fast and elusive," Hess said. "When he throws the ball, he's got a nice touch. He's a special kid."
Under Hess, Selinsgrove, located along the Susquehanna River and about an hour east of State College, is 27-2 overall. "I inherited a pretty good situation," the coach said. "And we have good kids that respond well to coaching."
Hess lavished big praise on Devlin and his squad. "I know they're battle-tested," he said. "Obviously, they've gotten a whole lot better during the year. I have a lot of respect for Steve Devlin and his staff. When you look at that team on film, you see how fundamentally sound it is."
In another state semifinal rematch, Lancaster Catholic and West Catholic will meet Saturday at 1 p.m. at Coatesville High.
Because Lancaster Catholic played West Catholic at Northeast's Charlie Martin Memorial Stadium last year, with the Burrs racking up 394 rushing yards en route to 37-14 victory, the District 3 champions expected to play this game closer to home.
Crusaders coach Bruce Harbach was critical of the PIAA. "They [West Catholic] played in their backyard last year. This game should have been somewhere in District 3. Fair is fair," he said yesterday.
Devlin said he expects offensive tackle Chris Knott, who suffered a sprained ankle in the District 1 final vs. Pottsgrove, to start against Selinsgrove. Dave Messina filled in for Knott against the Falcons. . . . Lancaster Catholic senior QB Kyle Smith is the state's all-time leader in passing yardage (8,345) and TDs (117). This season, the southpaw has connected on 155 of 247 passes for 2,557 yards and 49 scores, with 6 interceptions. He eclipsed the old yardage mark of 8,162 set by Downingtown East's Pat Devlin (now at Delaware) in 2005.