You can't do much better than set a school record in your final high school home game. Wilmington High senior Ethan Susen established a single-game rushing record in the recent 56-29 PIAA Class 2A Elite Eight win over Chestnut Ridge.
At Greyhounds Stadium Susen sprinted for 316 yards and 6 TDs on 28 carries. His classmate and backfield mate in Wilmington’s wing-T offense, Darren Miller, manufactured another 270 markers, including a 28-yard scoring sprint.
The Greyhounds’ great ground game generated 650 yards (680 total). According to Cumulus Network’s Bob Greenburg, it was the 2nd-highest rushing total in a PIAA playoff game (Southern Columbia, 768 vs. St. Pius X in the 2004 quarterfinals).
With his record-setting performance the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Susen surpassed the career 3,000-yard plateau (3,015). In Hounds’ history he trails only Blair Sweet (4,451), Chris Burns (3,991), Cam Marett (3,769), Sutton Whiting (3,710) and Derrick Burns (3,255), according to Herald Sports Writer Rob Malsom’s research.
“For Ethan Susen to set the single-game record here at Wilmington ... we’ve had a lot of great running backs come through this program, a ton of great running backs,” gushed Greyhounds’ Head Coach Brandon Phillan, “but Ethan Susen is a special player, and I’ll tell you what makes him special: Obviously, the performance he had and all the yards that he had (against Chestnut Ridge). ... But I’m gonna tell you something,” Phillian continued, “he’s as willing a blocker as he is a runner.
“That’s, to me, what makes both Darren and Ethan so special. They don’t care whether they’re getting the football, whether they’re blocking or faking. Everything is ‘Each of us needs all of us,’ and they ALWAYS put the team first, and they do everything one-hundred percent to the best of their ability,” Phillian continued, adding,
“But, certainly, I would say one for the ages for Ethan Susen. To set that record in his final home game here at Wilmington is a special night he’ll carry for the rest of his life, and a guy who couldn’t be more deserving.”
Susen cited his offensive linemen.
“Comin’ from last week against Karns City, we knew we had to step it up a little bit on the line – we were blockin’ high. Our line’s still great, but (last) week our coach(es) focused on getting our line down (lower). Tuesday and Wednesday we had great practices on our front line – they were workin’ hard all practice – and it showed (against Chestnut Ridge). I give all credit to them and the coaches for preparing a great game plan.
“But our line ... man, I can’t ask for more from them,” Susen said of center Brayden Penwell, guards Morgan Whiting and Weston Phanco, tackles Jake Chimiak and Connor Vass-Gal, and tight end Jordan Hess. Fullbacks Luke Edwards and Skyler Sholler also provided paths.
Susen said stats were not on his mind; rather, he was “ ... just focused until the game’s over. I mean, I don’t know how many touchdowns ... and I’m sure Darren can say the same thing. We don’t focus on stats during the game. Our main goal is to just win the game.”
Wilmington went to a Wildcat formation at the 2nd half’s outset, and also began employing some counters, reverses and double-hand-offs, leaving Chestnut Ridge’s defense flowing toward phantom ball carriers.
An amused Miller said, “That’s just some formations, plays that we’ve had for a while, and they just worked extra well. We were pressin’ the edge a lot, gettin’ outside, and then we were (cutting) back ... and we were kind’ve hittin’ the spot.”
“I don’t think there’s a specific term for it,” Phillian related. “We just were able to put Ethan and Caelan (Bender) side by side, and we were able to create some mismatches ... and I felt that we were able to do that.”
Echoing Susen, Miller added that he, too was “ ... focused. But I will say,” the 5-11, 180-pounder admitted with a chuckle, “as you run more and more you are aware of the physical beating a little bit, you know? But, stats-wise? No. I think in the moment you’re just thinking about gettin’ it done and trying to win the game.”
Perhaps the player with the best vantage point watching Susen and Miller mulch yardage was Whiting.
“Those guys are obviously great backs. I mean, six-hundred and some yards ... I don’t’ know how many high school teams have done that over the years,” Whiting marveled, adding, “That’s always a good feeling! If you’re blockin’ somebody and you’re the cut that (the running back) makes, gets them into the end zone, that’s always a great feeling – especially on this home field.
“Not many teams get to play on their home field in the state playoffs, let alone any playoff game ... let alone their last home game ever. So it’s really special on that part,” Whiting observed, adding Phillian’s familiar refrain, “‘Each of us needs all of us.’ We love each other, and we’re one, big family. It’s been a real special year, especially with all the (COVID-19) uncertainties. So we’re happy to get this far.”
Susen, assessing the short list of Greyhounds’ ground-gainers said, “It’s a great honor. We’ve had some great running backs. Cam Marett, I know he passed (3,000 career rushing yards) last year. But it’s a great honor, and I’m sure Darren’s right on that path, too, so I’m hopin’ that Darren can do the same thing.”
“I’ll tell you what,” related Phillian. “We’ve been fortunate here at Wilmington to have a number of great running backs come through, and I think Ethan Susen and Darren Miller are certainly two of those guys. What that duo was able to do I think was just sensational! Certainly a night that they will never forget.
“And I’ll tell you,” Phillian added, “what, to me, is incredible about Ethan Susen and Darren Miller is they don’t care if they get the ball. ... And the fact that they are so selfless, I think just speaks volumes to their character.”
Two keys for Phillian: The ‘Hounds Hammer defense coerced two turnovers – Edwards erupted 91 yards with a scoop ‘n score less than 3 minutes into the game – and the ground game enabled the Greyhounds to play keep-away from prolific passer Logan Pfister. Despite throwing for 209 yards and 2 TDs Pfister physically paid a price and finished just 13 for 26. Pfister finished with more than 5,000 career passing yards for 5-time D-5 champion Chestnut Ridge.
“I mean, that’s always the key from the defensive line,” related Whiting, who laid a few hits on Pfister. “Our keys are to contain the quarterback, stop the run, and pressure the passer. And that’s kind’ve been the key all year. We worked a lot all summer, pressurin’ the passer, workin’ on our pass rush, and I really think that paid off. The whole line did well. We had a couple different kids in there who hadn’t been in there a whole lot, tryin to contain Pfister. But ultimately we came together ... and we just worked hard for that.
“That’s gotta be hard on anybody. But he’s a great player,” Whiting said, praising Pfister. “But any hits on him it’s gotta wear him down, get in his head a little bit. But he played through (to the end). He’s a great player ... seemed like a great person, too.”
For Phillian another key was, “Our team was able to stay focused on our vision all night long. Some of the circumstances didn’t go our way (including three 1st-half deficits). But to be able to achieve that as a team, first and foremost, is incredible!
“We’re humbled to be here,” added Phillian, regarding a 5th consecutive statewide Final Four berth. “Really, when you think about this crazy COVID season, the fact that we’re now talkin’ about the western final? In some ways that feels surreal.
“The fact that we had Farrell three times this year (including the District 10 championship game), I really think is going to serve us very well here in the playoffs.”
Susen summarized, “We’re just movin’ week to week. For me to play a great game and for everybody else to play a great game, I mean, it’s just an honor to play our last game (at Greyhounds Stadium). Our seniors, we don’t want this thing to end. We want to keep this thing movin’, so we’re gonna give it all we can, and it showed all around that our team played the best we could.”
ED FARRELL is assistant sports editor for The Herald. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.