BEAVER FALLS – With less than 2 minutes remaining, Ethan Susen sprinted toward a 2-score win for Wilmington during Friday night’s PIAA Class 2A western regional championship game.
Instead, Susen slid at the 5-yard line, allowing precious seconds to elapse and ensure Wilmington’s 20-18 win over Beaver Falls.
Wilmington (10-0) will make its 3rd PIAA championship game appearance in 4 years next Saturday afternoon in Hershey when it encounters the winner of today’s Southern Columbia-Bishop McDevitt game.
At Geneva College’s Reeves Field, with Wilmington leading 20-18 Susen snapped off an 11-yard run to Beaver Falls’ 5. But Susen, in stead of sprinting to the pylon for a TD, slid to stay in bounds and kept the clock churning.
“I’ve gotta be honest with you: That play by Ethan Susen, to down himself instead of scoring what was a wide-open touchdown, that was one of the most selfless, unselfish moments I’ve ever seen in my life!” gushed Greyhounds’ Head Coach Brandon Phillian. “It was perfect execution of our boys in the ‘four-minute’ offense.”
WPIAL champion Beaver Falls forged within 20-18 with 4:25 remaining as quarterback Jaren Brickner collaborated with Tyler Cain on a 21-yard TD toss; however, after scoring, Cain spiked the ball in the end zone, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The 15 yarder placed the potential game-tying 2-point PAT at the 18-yard line, instead of the Greyhounds’ 3. Brickner’s pass to Quadir Thomas was completed; however, Wilmington’s Caelan Bender brought down Thomas a yard shy of the end zone.
Subsequently and unselfishly, Bender took a knee twice as Beaver Falls, having used its trio of times-out, helplessly could not quiet the continuing ticking clock.
The equally unselfish Susen settled for an 88-yard rushing performance, but said that is the Wilmington way.
“Our coach talks about being disciplined all the time, and he always says, ‘There’s no I in team,’ and we always play as a ‘We,’” Susen explained. ‘Yeah, stats feel good for a player, but I think the win feels better and more exciting for us.
“When it came to that play, I wanted the team to win, so I do whatever I can to get the team the win, and just did whatever I could,” Susen added.
Beaver Falls (10-1) never led, though the Tigers 3 times responded to Wilmington scores.
With Wilmington leading 13-6 at intermission, Syracuse University recruit Josh Hough hustled to the 2nd half’s initial score. On a toss right he tip-toed down Beaver Falls’ sideline 76 yards for a TD that drew the Tigers within 13-12 following a failed 2-point PAT pass attempt with 5:17 left in the 3rd period.
Hough harvested a game-high 13-carry, 125-yard rushing performance. Unofficially he concluded his scholastic career with 4,375 yards rushing and 54 TDs. He eclipsed 2007 graduate Cody Cook (4,277) in all-time Beaver Falls’ rushing annals.
However Hough appeared to injure his right shoulder as he was pressuring Bender with 19.7 ticks to play in the 3rd period. Bender’s pass in the left flat found Susen, who sprinted 28 yards to the Beaver Falls’ 3.
Two plays later on the 4th frame’s 1st play Bender plunged in from a yard out and Daniel Hartwell’s 2nd PAT provided Wilmington with a 20-12 lead.
Bender, a baseball shortstop, side-armed the pass to avoid the Tigers’ imposing pass rush.
“Yeah, baseball’s probably my best sport,” a beaming Bender said. “But, yeah, I just kind’ve sidearmed it and got it to Ethan.”
The ‘Hounds harvested that 13-6 halftime lead on Darren Miller 27- and 13-yard scoring sprints in the 1st frame and 2nd stanza, respectively. Miller’s scores – at the 9:13 and 9:44 marks – sandwiching Beaver Falls’ lone score.
Miller manufactured a team-high 113 markers, and said he took it upon himself to will Wilmington to the win.
“Yes, sir, and I feel like the other seniors did, too ... the captains ... we knew if we were gonna win this game we had to take charge and lead our team to the biggest win of the season, so that’s what we tried to do,” Miller mused.
Susen, Miller, Bender and linemen Weston Phanco, Connor Vass-Gal, Jake Chimiak and Morgan Whiting, along with tight end Jordan Hess and wide-out/defensive back Mason Reed will return to Hershey for the 3rd time in 4 years. Other seniors include Braxton Shimrack, Trevor Sturgeon, Aidan Hasson, Ethan Winters, Hartwell, Brody Miller, and Xavier McDonald.
Junior Brayden Penwell anchors the offensive line.
“I’m just thankful and I feel like I’m blessed,” Miller, serving as spokesman for the seniors, said, “It’s unbelievable. A ton of kids never make it that far. So for a third time, it’s unbelievable, and I’m super-grateful to get this opportunity.”
With Wilmington maintaining an early 7-0 margin the Tigers traversed 66 yards in a half-dozen plays and 3 minutes and 41 seconds. Shileak Livingston’s 1-yard plunge capped the series. However, Brickner’s 2-point PAT pass attempt to Mekhi Clark was incomplete.
The Tigers tried a trio of 2-point PATs, but Beaver Falls was blanked.
Wilmington was set up for that initial score as the ‘Hounds Hammer halted Hough on a 4th-and-1 from Beaver Falls’ 36-yard line on the game’s opening series. Hough had 24 yards rushing on 7 first-half carries.
Conversely, the Miller-led Greyhounds’ ground game garnered a 131-56 edge through 24 minutes. Miller mustered 86 markers on only 8 carries. Ultimately, the Greyhounds gained 245 on the ground to Beaver Falls’ 165.
Also, Reed was responsible for the game’s lone turnover as he pilfered Brickner’s 2nd-and-10 pass from Beaver Falls’ 17-yard line. Reed also reeled in a 29-yard Bender 1st-period pass, and his 27-yard kick return set up the ‘Hounds final drive with 4:18 remaining.
Phillian said, “To be in this humble moment, to have the blessings we’re received, to get through COVID and to get to this point – we never knew if this was gonna happen – be the glory to God. I just feel beyond blessed to stand here in the western final, after all the uncertainty. The blessings bestowed on us and our team are more than I could ever ask for.
“To have this opportunity, I’m just beyond grateful just to get to play this football game,” Phillian continued. “And then now, this experience – for a lot of these boys, the experience of a lifetime, to get to go to Hershey and to compete for a state championship, it’s surreal and it’s beyond special. No words can describe it.”
Phillian reflected on his mentor, former Hounds’ head coach Terry Verrelli who concluded his career with more then 300 victories including the 2008 PIAA Class AA crown.
“To be so humbled just to be a part of this program ... it’s a program that was built by Coach Verrelli. So much of what I’ve learned and what I know in coaching I owe to Coach Terry Verrelli, and I’m sure he was following the game (on social media). I had no doubt he was at home (Friday night) and so happy for us.
“So much gratitude – as a coach and as a young man – that I owe to Coach Verrelli,” Phillian concluded.
PIAA CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
WILMINGTON 7 6 0 7 20
BEAVER FALLS 6 0 6 6 18
W –– Miller, 27 run (Hartwell kick)
BF –– Livingston, 1 run (pass failed)
W –– Miller, 13 run (kick failed)
BF –– Hough, 76 run (pass failed)
W — Bender, 1 run (Hartwell kick)
BF — Cain, 21 pass from Brickner (pass failed)
15 First downs 10
245 Rushing yards 165
69 Passing yards 92
4-3-0 Att-comp-int 16-5-1
314 Total yards 257
1-0 Fumbles-lost 0-0
6-33 Penalties-yards lost 5-35
Rushing: WILMINGTON — Miller 13-113, Susen 14-88, Bender 18-44; BEAVER FALLS — Hough 13-125, Livingston 8-23, Brickner 3-9, Singleton 1-5, Clark 1-2, Jones 1-2.
Passing: WILMINGTON — Bender 4-3-0, 69; BEAVER FALLS — Brickner 16-5-1, 92
Receiving: WILMINGTON — Susen 2-40, Reed 1-29; BEAVER FALLS — Cain 2-45, Singleton 1-34, Jones 1-7, Clark 1-6.