HERMITAGE — The stadium lights glistening off another District 10 championship trophy put to rest the theory Wilmington High’s football team may have been rusty.
Ethan Susen scored a trio of touchdowns and Darren Miller added another pair in a 45-7 win over Greenville for the 2A crown at Hickory High’s Hornet Stadium.
With the win, Wilmington (10-0) will meet Chestnut Ridge — a 41-20 winner over Berlin Brothersvalley — in next week’s PIAA playoff opener ... or what Hounds’ head coach Brandon Phillian refers to as “one-week Super Bowls.”
Wilmington's almost three-week hiatus from its regular-season finale to Friday night’s title tilt appeared to have little-to-no effect as the team won its fourth consecutive crown and 14th since joining D-10 in 1994.
“Coming into this year and having to replace eight starters on offense and eight starters on defense and not really knowing what to expect: Would the new guys come in, step up and fill the roles? But to see these guys come together the way they have and to see them win a District 10 championship ... in my 13 years of coaching, one of the neatest things I’ve seen is the way this team has come together as one,” Phillian summarized, admitting, “It’s really something special.”
Phillian reflected on his time spent with the program’s architect, Terry Verrelli, and related, “What a great mentor I was so fortunate to have in Terry Verrelli. He’s such a great guy, and I know he’s very happy for what the program’s continuing to do ...
“First and foremost, I give the credit to our players ... but second, the truth of the matter is, without a great coaching staff that I get to come to work with each and every day, this program wouldn’t be what it is, and (Friday) night wouldn’t be possible,” Phillian emphasized.
Despite sustaining a midseason knee injury that cost him three games and part of a fourth, Susen showed no ill-effects against Greenville. Susen scored on a 6-yard run, 61-yard punt return, and 36-yard pass from Caelan Bender.
“Our coaches just said, we’ve gotta work hard. We know we’re going to be rusty coming off (two bye weeks), but the harder we work, the less rusty we’re going to be,” Susen explained. “We came into (Friday) and gave it a good fight.
“Our line (center Jon Takash, guards Morgan Whiting and Weston Phanco, tackles Jake Chimiak and Connor Vass-Gal, tight end Shane Cox and H-back Junior McConahy) and the rest of our team just played a heck of a game.”
Susen seemed poised following his performance, but reflecting on the injury admitted, “A lot of distress came. I was worried that it’d take a while or disrupt my playing. But I got into therapy, they took care of it, and a couple weeks later I was starting to feel good. That two-week bye, the extra couple weeks for it to rest up, I felt great playing (Fri)day.”
“I’ll tell you what, you’ve gotta give Ethan a ton of credit,” Phillian said. “Against Conneaut he suffers a partial tear of the MCL (knee ligament), and we knew he was going to be out for some time.
“One of the things that won’t show up on the field that speaks volumes as to the kind of person that Ethan Susen is, he could’ve, maybe, felt bad for himself, not contributed as much to the team,” Phillian continued. “But that kid came out every, single day to practice, even when he couldn’t play, and acted as if he was another coach, helping mentor and teach the young running backs who were filling in his spot. But to watch his attitude, knowing he couldn’t play, but to still contribute and be such a huge part of the team, that speaks volumes. And he re-habbed. He was very, very relentless in his rehab, and I think that showed up (Friday) night as he came back with a vengeance.”
Wilmington has not permitted a first-period point this season, and that trend continued against the Trojans. McConahy sacked Greenville QB Jon King in the end zone just 62 seconds into the game. Chimiak and Cox collected sacks, also, while Ty Milliron pilfered a late pass.
At intermission, Greenville’s 21 plays from scrimmage resulted in minus-16 yards as the ‘Hounds harvested a 23-0 margin.
“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say they’re the best team in District 10,” admitted 13th-year Trojans’ taskmaster Brian Herrick, who ruefully acknowledged, “We’re just not as good as they are. I thought we fought, I thought we fought hard. The first half we gave ‘em short fields ... the punt return really killed us ... taking a safety right out of the gate. But they make those things happen; it’s not like we’re doing that to ourselves.
“I just feel bad for the kids, because they’ve worked hard to get here,” Herrick continued, “and I’m sorry I can’t do more to get them over the hump. We’ve been here (D-10 championship games) and we just can’t seem to break the door down, and for that I feel bad, especially for our seniors.”
Greenville (6-6) won a quartet of District 10 titles during the decade of the 1990’s — the last in ‘99 — but none since.
Levi Swartz sprinted 50 yards for the Trojans’ TD in the 3rd quarter, and Michael Chrastina ran 9 yards for the ‘Hounds in the 4th frame. Daniel Hartwell hammered a handful of PATs for Wilmington, also.
Phillian reflected, “We always talk about, there’s four championships we’re working toward. A part of our vision for our team is to compete for football championships. We take pride in our strength and conditioning — we want to win the weight-lifting competition championship; we want to win the (regular-season) region championship; of course, we want to compete for and win the District 10 championship, and ultimately compete for a state championship.
“We keep that in mind as our vision when we go out to practice every, single day,” Phillian added, before concluding,
“’One-week Super Bowls,’ survive and advance. Every one of them becomes a little bit bigger than the (previous), but you can’t look ahead,” Phillian emphasized, “because, one thing about the regular season, you can have a slip-up and correct those mistakes and you get to play again the following week. Here (postseason), it’s do-or-die, win-or-go-home. The margin for error shrinks, it becomes smaller and smaller each and every week.”