NEW WILMINGTON – For some scholastic players winning a District 10 championship is a revelation. For Wilmington High football players it's almost a rite of passage.
In the de facto PIAA state semifinals, Wilmington won its 5th consecutive District 10 Class 2A championship, defeating Farrell, 19-14, Saturday night.
It was the 3rd meeting in 7 weeks between the proud programs, and the Greyhounds garnered a sweep, though it was hard earned and emotionally draining.
"Daunting," admitted Hounds' Head Coach Brandon Phillian from midfield at Greyhounds Stadium. "Beating a team twice is a major challenge. ... Beating a team three times? It's just daunting, especially when it's an opponent the quality of a Farrell team."
Farrell is the reigning 2-time PIAA Class 1A champion, but, as such, was bumped up to 2A this season, whereas Wilmington went to back-to-back PIAA 2A championship games before falling a game shy last year.
However the 'Hounds Hammer defense asserted itself with the game on the line.
Trailing 19-14 with approximately 2 1/2 minutes remaining Farrell faced a 2nd-and-7 situation from its own 43-yard line. However Christian Hartley was flushed from the pocket and stripped of the ball by Wilmington's Jake Chimiak, and his teammate Connor Vass-Gal recovered.
Ethan Susen's 19-yard run on the Hounds' ensuing 1st-down play – culminating his game-high 22-carry, 164-yard rushing performance – secured success for Wilmington, which hasn't lost a D-10 tournament game since 2015.
Wilmington was able to stymie the Steelers as Farrell finished with just 173 total yards. Newly-minted career 3,000-yard rusher Anthony Stallworth was shacked to a 12-carry, 32-yard output. Stallworth had scorched Wilmington for 6 touchdowns in the first 2 games.
"I think that the defense played their best game of the season (Saturday) night, there's no doubt about it," Phillian acknowledged. "We had a great plan on the defensive side of the football, and Coach (Robb) Shimrack and Coach (Casey) Hilton, they really spent tons of time dissecting and breaking down (film) on the first two games – defensively, I'm sure you noticed some changes.
"We lined up a little bit differently (Saturday) night from what you're used to seeing, and credit to our coaching staff for developing the game plan and credit to the players for learning the game plan, and the credit – not only to learn it –– but to execute the game plan at a high level. Just so special," Phillian praised.
One of those defensive playmakers was senior Mason Reed.
With Wilmington leading 7-0 in the waning minute of the 1st frame Reed jumped Trian Holden's 3rd-and-14 pass and turned it into a 27-yard Pick-Six, hoisting the Hounds' lead to 13-0 with 52 ticks to play in the opening canto.
"It just happened to be at the right time and I was in the right position," a humble Reed replied. "We got pressure, (Holden) just threw it up there, and I was able to make a play on it.
"Thank God for everything our team has been able to accomplish this season. We all were able to come together, it wasn't just me, it was all the seniors. We were just leaders on the field and to be able to get our team up and ready to play," Reed added.
"That was truly a game-defining play, gave us all the momentum in the world for that first half," Phillian praised. "Mason is very savvy, he studies a lot of film, he's a student of the game, and I think it showed on the play."
Wilmington (7-0) went 75 yards in 10 plays and 6 minutes and 12 seconds on its opening series. Luke Edwards' 1-yard run and Daniel Hartwell's PAT gave the Greyhounds a 7-0 lead with 2:29 left in the opener. Three plays later Reed's return had the Hounds ahead 13-0.
After forcing a Farrell punt on the 2nd play of the 2nd stanza Wilmington went 50 yards in 10 plays, consuming 4:42. Caelen Bender's screen pass in the left flat found Susen, who sprinted 12 yards for a 19-0 advantage with 6:59 remaining to intermission.
"Turnovers, we were down, but we fought back," 2nd-season Steelers' skipper Amp Pegues said. "We made this a ballgame and we still gave ourselves a shot toward the end to win the game. But a turnover there, plays like that happen.
"Christian Hartley played really well (Saturday) night and he gave us a chance to win it," Pegues praised. "I'm proud of my boys 'cause they stuck in there and played with a lot of heart."
Farrell (5-3), facing a 19-0 deficit, responded with a 13-play 80-yard, 5-minute, 9-second drive. On a 1st-and-goal from Wilmington's 16-yard line owing to a personal-foul penalty, Hartley heaved a fade pattern and Omar Stewart Jr. made a one-handed catch in the back corner of the end zone, forging Farrell to within 19-6 by the break.
Following a scoreless 3rd period the Steelers sliced their deficit to 19-14 on the 2nd play of the final frame. On 3rd-and-goal Hartley burrowed in from a yard out, then tossed a subsequent 2-point PAT to Brice Butler, bringing Farrell within 19-14 with 11:18 remaining.
On its ensuing 12-play series Wilmington went 60 yards; however, on a 4th-and-goal from the 1 Stallworth stoned Susen for no gain and the Steelers assumed possession with 5:58 left.
Highlighted by a pair of Hartley 12-yard runs – the latter on a 4th-and-6 from his own 29-yard line – the Steelers surged to their 40 with 3:05 left. But at that juncture, Chimiak stepped up.
"I really didn't think it was a 'game-changer,' to be honest," Chimiak replied. "Connor recovered the fumble. When a big moment comes up and you make a play it's a great feeling. But I really wasn't that excited – I was just excited that we got the ball and we were able to run the clock out and we were able to win the game.
"It's just then fact we have so many good kids," continued Chimiak, a returning All-State selection. "Kids like Ethan and Darren (Miller) and Caelen, obviously they're great players. But I feel like sometimes lesser-known kids like Luke Edwards and Mason Reed, Morgan Whiting, Brayden Penwell, those kids are sometimes overlooked. The fact you think that you're overlooked and the big play comes up and you make it, it's just what we've been told. ... and it fuels my competitive edge to up my game."
Echoed Whiting, a senior captain who was credited with numerous defensive stops and pressures, "Like everything we do, it's all a team. We just come together as a team and do everything for each other. 'Each of us needs all of us' is one of our main team beliefs, and we just came out and had our 'Hounds Hammer' defense goin' on. I just brought it out and I think I played to my fullest potential."
Facing Farrell 3 times in 7 weeks, Phillian felt, was stressful.
"My nerves and my anxiousness were as high, coming into this game, as they've been in any football game I've ever been a part of as a player or coach," Phillian admitted. "It almost felt no different than in two-thousand-eighteen gettin' ready for Southern Columbia (in the PIAA championship game). It did feel like a state championship, it felt like that magnitude – three times with not just two good football teams, but proud programs.
"When you say the words 'five consecutive District 10 championships,' I think the word that comes to my mind is blessed," Phillian continued. "I feel blessed to be a part of this school and this community, I feel blessed to be now leading this program that was built by Terry Verrelli. To try to capture what it means to win five consecutive District 10 championships, I think the word that comes to mind is blessed and thankful for the blessings of this opportunity."
Farrell seniors include: Hartley, Butler, Amarion Odem, Anthony Phillips, Jeremiah Butler, Tavion Strickland, Gary Satterwhite III, and Cameron Burris.
"We started this game off probably the worst way you'd think you could start a game off, but my kids buckled down, we started to get some momentum there, and started believin' that we could get it done, and we just fell a little short," Pegues summarized. "It's tough to be down that early, we're not used to it,
"But hat's off to my seniors. They put the time and the work in in this program for four years and it's kind've sad. That's just the second loss ever, in a playoff game, for my seniors, so it's a tough one to swallow."
FARRELL 0 6 0 8 14
WILMINGTON 13 6 0 0 19
W - Edwards, 4 run (Hartwell kick)
W - Reed, 27 interception return (kick failed)
W - Susen, 13 pass from Bender (run failed)
F - Stewart, 16 pass from Hartley (pass failed)
F - Hartley, 1 run (Butler catch)
11 First downs 19
101 Rushing yards 279
70 Passing yards 21
12-6-1 Att-comp-int 8-3-1
171 Total yards 300
1-1 Fumbles-lost 0-0
8-75 Penalties-yards lost 7-62
Rushing: FARRELL - Hartley 18-68, Stallworth 12-29, Harrison 4-7, Wilson 1-(-3); WILMINGTON - Susen 22-163, Miller 13-70, Edwards 5-29, Bender 6-17, team 1-0.
Passing: FARRELL - Hartley 11-6-0-70, Holden 1-0-1-0; WILMINGTON - Bender 6-3-1-21, Susen 1-0-0-0, team 1-0-0-0.
Receiving: FARRELL - Butler 2-44, Stewart 3-22, Wilson 1-4. WILMINGTON - Susen 3-21.