Corey Popovich (4) of Wyoming Area is congratulated by teammate EJ Driving Hawk after Popovich sacked Mid Valley quarterback Martin Walsh in the Warriors victory.
Cody Schmitz (21) of Wyoming Area eludes Mid Valley defender Chris Rebar in the first quarter of Friday’s District 2 playoff in West Pittston.photos by pete g. wilcox
Wyoming Area head coach Randy Spencer signals to his offense during the Warriors win over Mid Valley.
Nick O’Brien (8) of Wyoming Area tries jukes would be Mid Valley tackler Chris Merenich (22) in the second quarter of Friday’s District 2 playoff victory over the Spartans. Below, the WA student body cheers for the Warriors.photos by pete g. wilcox
Wyoming Area knew what was on the line when they stepped on the field Friday night at Anthony “Jake” Sobeski Stadium against the Mid Valley Spartans.
It was not only a spot in the District 2 Class 2A finals, but also the opportunity to keep playing for at least one more game.
The Warriors kept that in mind as they relied on their stud junior quarterback Nick O’Brien - who carved up the Mid Valley defense for 277 yards on 33 carries and added one catch for 77 yards and a touchdown - in a 35-28 win in the District 2 Class 2A semifinals.
“It’s win or turn the gear in,” said WA Head Coach Randy Spencer. “I think you’ve got to let your guy carry the load and be supported by the rest of his team. (O’Brien) did a great, great job.
“I think you saw not only the skills but you saw the heart. I think you saw the grit and I think you saw the leadership. He wanted to play next week.”
Mid Valley capped a six minute, 13-play, 78-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run by Antonio Russo to take a 7-0 lead with 5:35 left in the first quarter.
Wyoming Area (7-3) took just 29 seconds to answer.
O’Brien took the snap and moved to his right. He burst through the line and bounced off a tackler before turning on the jets to go for an 85-yard score. Freshman kicker AJ Lenkaitis drilled the first of his five extra-points on the night, and the score was tied 7-7.
After fumbling the ball on the 4-yard line on its next possession, the Wyoming Area defensive line stopped the dangerous Mid Valley offense, holding them to minus-1 yard to force the punt.
A 5-yard run by O’Brien followed by an incomplete pass set up another electrifying moment from the 1,400-plus yard back. O’Brien faked the handoff, scrambled to his left, jolted into the second level, spun around a would-be tackler and dashed 85 yards to the endzone as time expired in the first quarter, bumping the Warrior lead to 14-7.
A big sack by Corey Popovich forced the Spartans to punt the ball back to WA on the ensuing possession.
Starting on its own 31, the Warriors put together an eight-play drive in 3:12 capped off by an 8-yard run by Cody Schmitz when he took the pitch left and exploded through a huge hole in the line for an easy score, pushing the lead to 21-7 with 7:40 left in the half.
After both teams went three-and-out, Mid Valley cut its deficit to 21-14 on a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Martin Walsh to Russo, capping an eight-play, 49-yard drive with 2:11 left in the half.
The first play of the third quarter saw O’Brien get picked off by Mid Valley’s Matt Flume, but two plays later, Jordan Zezza returned the favor for the Warriors as he snagged an interception at the 1-yard line, thwarting a scoring opportunity for the Spartans.
However, WA was held to a punt and the return by Chris Collins went 51 yards for a Mid Valley touchdown tying the game at 21-21 with 8:56 left in the third.
After a holding call, Wyoming Area started the fourth quarter with a second-and-17 from their own 23. Zezza, at quarterback, took the snap and threw a quick bubble screen to O’Brien who went about 10 yards before disappearing into a crowd a defenders. O’Brien bounced off few tackles, popped out of the other side of the crowd and went 77 yards to regain the lead for the Warriors at 28-21.
Mid Valley came right back a minute later when they successfully ran the hook-and-ladder play for an 80-yard score tying the game at 28-28 with 10:42 left in the game.
Wyoming Area wasted no time as Matt Kintz went for three before O’Brien showed his play-making ability again in what might have been the play of the game.
Lining up at tailback, O’Brien took the handoff and found himself surrounded by Spartan defenders. He bounced of a few tackles, spun off of another and busted out of the pile still on his feet. He avoided defenders as he bounced out to the right hash, then he juked his way across the field to the left sideline en route to a 54-yard gain.
“Speed, quickness, vision and the things you can’t teach. I think the special ones have it, and (Nick) just does a tremendous job,” said Spencer.
A horse collar penalty gave WA the ball at the 8, and two plays later O’Brien went right up the middle for the 35-28 lead and the victory.
“This is playoffs. Our kids decided they wanted to stick around for another week and play for a district championship,” said Spencer. “I’m very proud of them and this was a team effort.”
“It feels good,” added O’Brien. “We are going to the district championship, we haven’t done that in a long time so it feels great.”
The Warriors will take on the winner of the Lakeland v. GAR game which was suspended on Friday night due to a malfunction in a light tower at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium. The Chiefs and Grenadiers resumed action on Saturday afternoon with GAR leading 14-7.
A win by the Grenadiers would lead to a rematch between Wyoming Area and GAR. That matchup would be scheduled to be played Friday night at GAR, but the site, and or date could be changed due to the problems at Memorial Stadium.
A win by the Chiefs would allow the Warriors to host Lakeland on Friday night at The Jake.