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PIAA “AAA” state championship preview – Archbishop Wood (13-1)

Written by: on Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

It’s been quite the ride for Archbishop Wood this 2011 season. Actually, it’s been a pretty smooth ride. The Vikings have met little resistance with each passing week.

Now, Archbishop Wood has finally arrived at the destination it wanted to reach all season long – Hersheypark Stadium and the PIAA championship game. This time around, though, the Vikings are out to bring home the gold.

Archbishop Wood (13-1) takes on two-time defending District 3 champion Bishop McDevitt (13-2) for all the marbles in the AAA classification Friday night in Chocolatetown, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. The only certainty is that the losing team will take home its second PIAA runner-up trophy in school history.

The last time Archbishop Wood reached this juncture of the season, it was the new kid on the block and was the Philadelphia Catholic League’s first crack at trying to bring home a golden football trophy. Standing in the Vikings’ way was a juggernaut, five-time WPIAL champion Thomas Jefferson, who made short work of the boys from Warminster, 34-7. Each of the Vikings’ last two seasons ended in the PIAA semifinals – to Selinsgrove in 2009 and Allentown Central Catholic in 2010. Both Selinsgrove and ACC were crowned state champs a week later.

In reaching those semifinal games, however, Wood planted itself among an exclusive club of AAA programs from the eastern half of Pennsylvania. Since the PIAA playoffs were begun in 1988, only Berwick (District 2), Strath Haven (District 1) and Wood (District 12) have made four or more consecutive appearances in the PIAA semifinals. Berwick and Strath Haven each made six straight appearances – Berwick from 1992-97; Haven from 1998-2003.

Wood’s berth in the PIAA finals will mark the Philadelphia Catholic League’s sixth appearance in Hershey. The PCL has already claimed two PIAA champions – La Salle College High School in 2009 and West Catholic in 2010. In addition to Wood’s 2008 defeat, West Catholic fell in the 2008 AA title game to Wilmington and La Salle lost last year to North Allegheny. Though its history of PIAA affiliation is short, District 12 is one of five districts which own a sub-.500 record in PIAA title games (2-3, .400), joining Districts 6 (1-5, .167), 7 (WPIAL), (32-35, .477), 9 (0-2, .000) and 10 (6-7, .461).

In its program history, which began in 1966, Archbishop Wood has won 269 games, nine PCL championships (first in 1974) and is the four-time defending District 12 AAA champion. Head coach Steve Devlin has piloted the Vikings’ ship since the 2007 season, and he’s piled up 58 victories against 11 losses in that span. Of Wood’s seven seasons of 10 wins or more, four have come under Devlin. The Vikings own only one solitary undefeated and untied team – its 2003 edition – which went 11-0.

Since the start of that 2003 season, Archbishop Wood is 96-20 overall (.827), and averaged 10.7 victories per season against 2.2 losses.

Wood’s 2011 football team – and season, really – seems almost video-game-esque. The Vikings have only been “held” below 40 points on three occasions. Most of their games have ended with the PIAA’s “mercy rule” in place. In all, Wood has outscored its opposition by a margin of 523 points this season – a whopping average of 37.3 points per game. The Vikings’ closest games came in the first two weeks of the season, a 20-17 loss (with controversy) to WPIAL rep Pittsburgh Central Catholic and a 28-0 whitewash of AA state semifinalist West Catholic.

The Vikings’ 647 points scored this season account for the second-highest single season total in the history of southeastern Pennsylvania, trailing only the 2008 edition of the West Catholic Burrs, who tallied an impressive 775 points. The Vikings surpassed the 1996 Downingtown Whippets for the No. 2 slot this past weekend. The Whippets’ 1996 PIAA championship team scored 630 points, which still stands as the single-season standard for total points scored among District 1 teams.

Wood’s offense has been so incredibly dynamic thanks to the play of its talented offensive line. The Vikings’ line could arguably be considered not only the best in Class AAA, but also in the state. Fronted by seniors Frank Taylor (6’4, 295), Brandon Arcidiacono (6’6, 255) and juniors Chris O’Connor (6’4, 285), Nick Arcidiacono (6’2, 230), George Griffin (6’3, 275) and Fran Walsh (6’1, 235), you have a line combination that averages 262.5 pounds per man. Throw in senior tight end Colin Thompson (6’5, 255), and the average dips only slightly, to 261.4 pounds per man.

It’s not just the size of Wood’s line that has people talking, but also the number of Division-1 prospects on it. Taylor (Boston College recruit), Brandon Arcidiacono (Rutgers recruit) and Thompson (Florida recruit) highlight the Vikings’ senior class, and Nick Arcidiacono and Chris O’Connor are juniors getting some early looks. It is pretty safe to assume the AAA classification has not see a line with this much collegiate talent a part of it.

Wood doesn’t stop there, either. The skill position talent is also lethally good and effective. Senior quarterback Joey Monaghan has connected on 80-of-103 passes (77.6 percent) for 1,563 yards and 22 touchdowns, and is receiving looks from Ivy League colleges. Featured receiver Nate Smith (21 rec., 600 yards, 8 TD) is a West Virginia recruit, and the balance of Wood’s aerial assault includes receivers Kyle Adkins (17 rec., 300 yards, 8 TD), running back Brandon Peoples (17 rec., 219 yards, 2 TD) and Thompson (15 rec., 265 yards, 3 TD). Wood averages 111.6 passing yards per game.

Running back Desmon Peoples (118 rush, 1,085 yards, 20 TD) and fullback Brandon Peoples (87 rush, 841 yards, 16 TD) and third option Ryan McMullin (51 rush, 549 yards, 10 TD) lead a Viking rushing attack which has chewed up 3,472 yards (248 per game). Desmon Peoples is a Rutgers recruit and Brandon Peoples is bound for Temple.

Defensively, the Vikings first string and reserve units combined have allowed a total of 114 points (8.1 points per game), holding nine opponents to eight points or less, with four shutouts. Thompson, Taylor, Brandon Peoples and Joe Vicari head the D-line; Benji Abercrombie, Andrew Guckin and Kyle Adkins spearhead the linebacking corps; and Ulis Jordan, Smith, Monaghan and Desmon Peoples round out the defensive secondary.

Can Wood even the PCL’s overall record in state championship games to .500? Or will McDevitt steal one from the favored Vikings?

Find out Friday night.

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