The District 10 football playoffs are 2 weeks away, but in the midst of a global pandemic nothing can be assured. However area football aficionados already are anticipating Wilmington vs. Farrell, Part III.
Last week’s win by Wilmington, 21-20 at Greyhounds Stadium, only reinforced how formidable Farrell remains. So, too, the Greyhounds’ great program.
Farrell is the reigning 2-time Class 1A commonwealth kingpin, while Wilmington went to back-to-back PIAA Class 2A championship games (losing to perennial power Southern Columbia) and narrowly missed a 3rd consecutive statewide stage appearance last season. Farrell has forged 5 straight D-10 Class 1A titles, while Wilmington has won 4 consecutive crowns in 2A.
Against Farrell, while Wilmington was not at its best – out-gained 432-262; committing a couple crucial personal-foul penalties and a fumbled center-quarterback exchange at Farrell’s goal line as the 3rd quarter concluded (negating a chance to take a 2-score lead) – the Hounds’ Hammer preserved the win. Darren Miller blocked a potential game-tying PAT with 8:02 remaining. Then in the waning seconds Weston Phanco tackled Christian Hartley just inside the Greyhounds’ 10-yard line on 4th-and-2.
“Something I’ve got to be proud of my players, the way they stayed together,” Phillian reflected moments following the win. “‘Each of us needs all of us’ – that’s one of our favorite team beliefs. And it would’ve been real easy when (the Steelers) started drivin’ the ball down the field and entered the Red Zone for our guys, maybe, to be hangin’ their heads; but, instead, our guys not only handled the adversity, but conquered the adversity. They rose to the occasion.
“ ... This is a memory I’ll take with me for a lifetime,” a smiling Phillian said, before being greeted by his daughter Braelyn.
Miller and Ethan Susen stung the Steelers for 110 and 104 yards rushing, respectively. Miller mustered 4- and 40-yard scores, and Luke Edwards added another 4-yard TD run. Providing paths for them were Brayden Penwell, Morgan Whiting, Phanco, Connor Vass-Gal, Jake Chimiak, and tight end Jordan Hess. Defensively, Chimiak chipped in a QB sack.
“What a luxury it is to have two guys – Darren Miller and Ethan Susen – to carry the football,” Phillian began. “I think we’ve got four dynamic backs with Caelan Bender and Luke Edwards rounding out the foursome. In key moments, they all had big-time plays (against Farrell).
“They’re so unselfish. Whenever you get backs like this that put up the numbers that these guys are capable of putting up, a lot of times in a lot of programs coaches are worried – ‘How many carries did this one get?’ or ‘How many yards did this one have?’ But I can tell you, to a man, I NEVER worry about our ‘carry-count,’ cause these guys are selfless. All they want to do is win, and I feel blessed, I feel fortunate to have guys like that on our football team,” Phillian related.
Hartley, Anthony Stallworth and Brice Butler bolstered the Steelers’ offensive output led by linemen Gary Satterwhite III and Preston Williams. A junior, Stallworth sprinted for 166 yards rushing, including 16- and 8-yard scores, and collaborated with Hartley on a 76-yard TD toss. Hartley had 158 yards passing, and Butler brokered 4 receptions for 111 yards. All three drew Pegues’ praise.
“I played two quarterbacks (also, Trian Holden), and I was goin’ with the one that caught fire, and Hartley was the guy; played real well (Saturday) night. ... Brice is Brice. Good player, he works hard, he does everything he can, his senior leadership showed. ... Anthony is Anthony. He’s one of the best backs in this area, if not the state. Class 1A player of the year in the state, (NCAA) Division I prospect. The kid runs hard, he works hard. He is that guy, and everything he is gettin’ right now he deserves.”
In the Week-2 meeting in Farrell’s Lou Falconi Field at Anthony J. Paulekas Stadium, Hartley and Stallworth twice exploited Wilmington on screen plays, including a 46-yard TD. Last Saturday the 1st-half aerial Steelers’ success was about to be employed again with the game on the line.
“We basically called our running back outs, lookin’ for Stallworth on an ‘out’ route, and we were tryin’ to get the tight end in there across the middle of the field,” Pegues explained. “But (the Greyhounds) did a great job. They jammed our tight end Taidon (Strickland). Hartley was holdin’ off for as much time as he could, then tried to get the first down if he could; he just came up a couple yards short.”
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Phanco fought off a double-team block to harness Hartley, a powerful 225-pounder blessed with quick feet.
“Early in the game it was hard to wrap him up,” Phanco said of Hartley. “But that play, I had to get the stop on fourth down. ... But,” added Phanco, channeling his inner Phillian, “Each of us needs all of us, really, out on the field.”
“Weston Phanco is one of our captains, he’s one of the leaders on our football team. And what an outstanding, outstanding play that was!” Phillian praised. “There was a big gap there, things really opened up.
“Hartley’s a good runner, a very good runner (65 yards against the Greyhounds). So for Weston to come up with that tackle, what an individual effort by Weston Phanco! Weston did what he had to do and held on to preserve the win.”
Regarding the PAT he KO’d Miller humbly explained, “Our coaching staff figured out a weakness that we could capitalize on. They were prepared for it, so huge credit to them. The whole team, we know we’ve gotta go every play, and eventually good things’re gonna happen. I gave it everything I’ve got and somethin’ (good) happened. But the credit to our coaching staff, credit to our team for goin’ the whole game and keepin’ us in it.
“But that’s definitely part of being a leader, a senior leader on the team. In the big moments you step up and make a play, for sure,” Miller added, concluding,
“That was the craziest football game we’ve ever been in, and it definitely felt like a playoff game. Farrell’s a great team, and I can’t wait to play ‘em again – one more battle. It was great atmosphere and it was a lot of fun. It was an awesome game.”
Phillian could only chuckle for a moment. He hardly had a moment to enjoy the recent win when he was asked about a potential District 10 championship game rematch with Farrell.
“I was talkin’ to Coach Pegues a little bit before the game, and we both said we sure liked it a lot better the last two years ... after we’d play (Farrell won, 31-19, in Week 2 in 2018, while Wilmington won, 40-0 last season in Week 2) ... it sure was a lot more fun for the two of us when it was one game, let’s make each other(’s team) better, then root for each other the rest of the season.
“Definitely a different dynamic this time around. I think it’s two great football teams. I think the biggest winners are not Coach Pegues and myself, but I think the biggest winners are the Mercer County football fans, who’re gonna get to see this game play out for a third time.”
In 2 games against the Greyhounds Farrell finished with 24 penalties for 124 lost yards. Pegues, speaking specifically of last week’s game, said, “ ... we clean those up, we have a different outcome.”
While Wilmington was penalized just 4 times in the recent win, 3 were majors, including a pair of personal fouls on Farrell’s final drive.
“The bottom line is the game’s four quarters, not three, and in that fourth quarter some costly penalties definitely hurt us. Those are the kind of self-inflicted wounds you’ve gotta clean up as you move forward in anticipation of the playoffs,” Phillian forecasted.
Though Wilmington and Farrell face Sharpsville and Greenville, respectively, this weekend, then possible D-10 tourney semis, it’s difficult not to contemplate a 3rd meeting come Oct. 30.
“This is no secret: Farrell is an extremely talented, well-coached football team. They’ve got a proud program and a proud tradition,” praised Phillian. “ ... When you play a team like Farrell it’s one of those deals: ‘Iron sharpens iron.’”
“We still have our goal, and our goal is to win District 10 and move on to a state championship. We still have our goal, and we’re still workin’ for that goal,” Pegues concluded.
ED FARRELL is assistant sports editor for The Herald. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.