Buoyed by its potent rushing attack and hard-charging defense, Archbishop Wood is on the verge of capturing its fifth state football championship in seven seasons.
The Vikings (11-2) will try to successfully defend their PIAA Class 5A crown when they clash with District 7’s Gateway (14-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at HersheyPark Stadium.
Since losing to Catholic League Red Division rival and Class 6A finalist St. Joseph’s Prep on Sept. 15, Steve Devlin’s squad has won nine straight games by a combined score of 383-103.
Gateway, which is located about 15 miles east of Pittsburgh, is making its first appearance in the final. The fast and physical Gators arrive with a nine-game win streak.
“When they have the ball, they spread you out and involve a lot of guys in the run and pass game,” Devlin said.
A Gateway offense that averages 36.8 points is directed by standout quarterback Brady Walker. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior has connected on 287 of 444 passes for 4,396 yards and 43 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.
Walker hit on 36 of 51 throws for 468 yards and three scores as the Gators rallied to beat District 3’s Manheim Central, 31-28, in last week’s semifinal. He also scored on a 1-yard plunge.
“He’s very impressive,” Devlin said. “He keeps plays alive with his legs, is always looking downfield for a receiver, and throws well on the run.”
Walker, who has carried 118 times for 745 yards and eight touchdowns, and junior wideout Courtney Jackson make up one of the state’s best pass-catch duos.
The 6-foot, 165-pound Jackson has 94 receptions for 1,903 yards and 24 scores. “We’ll play our regular defense, but you have to know where he is at all times,” Devlin said.
The Gators’ Derrick Davis, a freshman running back with a scholarship offer from Pittsburgh, has carried 75 times for 398 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-foot, 175-pounder has 32 catches for 467 yards and two scores.
Jackson doubles as a lockdown cornerback on defense, where he is supported by fellow linemen Kelvon Nelson (5-11, 230) and Tomi Woodson (6-3, 240), linebacker Tui Faumuina-Brown, and safety Jeremiah Josephs.
Wood’s offensive spark plug is running back Nasir Peoples. The 6-1, 190-pound senior and Virginia Tech recruit has carried 207 times for 1,571 yards and 25 TDs.
Clearing the way for Peoples is a stout line made up of center Tommy Walsh, guards Brett Gross and Albert Glasgow, tackles Luke Stengel, Connor Bishop and Bill Cook, and ends Kyle Pitts and Billy Shaeffer.
Defensively, the Vikings are led by ends Pitts and Shaeffer, tackles Bishop and Dylan Urbanowski, and linebackers Tyler Smith, Matt Palmer, and Joe Wade.
Class 5A Championship Game
Archbishop Wood (11-2) vs. Gateway (14-1)
Friday, 7 p.m., at HersheyPark Stadium.
Twitter: Follow @ozoneinq for updates.
TV: Live on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.
Backfield partner: Joining Nasir Peoples in Wood’s backfield, fullback Adrian Lambert has carried 207 times for 1,571 yards and five TDs.
Late escape: Gateway ousted Manheim Central, 31-28, in the semis on lefty kicker Jayson Jenkins’ 23-yard field goal with 10 seconds to play.
Air attack: Vikings quarterback Jack Colyar’s main targets are wideout Ryan Loughlin (23 catches for 572 yards and five scores) and Florida-bound tight end Kyle Pitts.
Drawing interest: Gators junior receiver and cornerback Courtney Jackson has scholarship offers from Howard, Robert Morris, and St. Francis (Pa.).
Pick: Wood, 42-28.