IT'S A SCENE that still sticks with Archbishop Wood High senior Justin Rubin.
Then a sophomore, Rubin watched as senior lineman Fran Walsh spoke to a somber Vikings locker room minutes after Wood fell to Erie Cathedral Prep in the Class AAA title game.
"It was really sad," Rubin said. "All the guys were upset, all the seniors especially. [Walsh] wanted us to get back and win it for them last year. It was a sad moment but it definitely left an impact on how I play the game now. It's for everyone now."
Walsh, now a sophomore lineman at Villanova, witnessed his wish after Wood claimed last season's PIAA title - the Vikings' second in three seasons.
"I was really happy for them," Walsh said via phone. "Me and a couple buddies I played with [Andrew Guckin, Chris Rahill, John Berthcsi] drove to Hershey and saw the game. That was awesome!"
Next season, Rubin, a 6-1, 210-pound linebacker, will play at the University of Richmond so a return trip to Hersheypark Stadium may be difficult.
Besides, the 3-year starter is looking to take care of business now to avoid further locker room dread.
"Me being a senior," Rubin said, "I don't want my last game as a high school athlete to be a loss, let's just put it that way . . . That was one of the worst losses that I've faced in my football career so I'd never want to repeat that."
The two-time, first-team Catholic League coaches' selection (as a junior and senior) will be tested with a few Wood defenders battling injury. Seniors Devon Cobb and Jake Cooper had been somewhat limited recently.
"Our defense isn't run on one or two people," Rubin said. "It's all 11 guys to the ball. I mean, those guys not being 100 percent will hurt us, but it shouldn't wreck our defense in general because it's a team defense.
"We have guys that know what they're doing behind them if they need to play. We're not too worried about it, but it can definitely take a toll on the defense because they're two key guys who are not 100 percent right now."
Walsh won't be in attendance this time because the Wildcats host Sam Houston State in a Division I Football Championship quarterfinal toomorrow.
"I'm obviously hoping they win it," he said. "Three out of 4 years would be incredible for any school so I'm hoping they pull it off."
Tonight at 7 o'clock, Wood (13-1) will face District 7 Central Valley (15-0), a program grieving after senior lineman Dom Treemarchi's recent death.
According to multiple reports, the 17-year-old died at 11:35 p.m. Sunday after hanging out with friends. Autopsy results have not been released, pending further investigation.
On Monday, two 18-year-old men (Noah Lalama and Terell Shelton) pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter after police say they moved Treemarchi from one car and left him in another rather than helping while the teen was in distress. Police also charged two juveniles in the death.
Central Valley school superintendent Nicholas Perry said the team decided to go forward with the game, believing it would have been important to Treemarchi.
"I definitely feel bad for them, absolutely," Rubin said. "I feel so sorry for them . . . I think if something happened to one of our players they'd want us to carry on the game and go from there."
Archbishop Wood vs. Central Valley
What: Class AAA final
When: Tonight, 7 o'clock
Where: Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey
St. Joseph's Prep vs. Pine Richland
What: Class AAAA final
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.