Offensive line keys Wilmington's PIAA playoff win

Members of the Wilmington High football team's offensive line are, from left, tight end Jordan Hess, right tackle Connor Vass gal, right guard Weston Phanco, center Brayden Penwell, left guard Morgan Whiting and left tackle Jake Chimiak.

A football team’s offensive success begins in one area — the offensive line.

That proved true Friday night for the Wilmington High football team.

The Greyhounds ran the ball 54 times for 648 yards in a 56-29 PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal-round win over visiting Chestnut Ridge. That win propelled Wilmington into the state semifinals for a fifth consecutive season and a matchup with Beaver Falls at 7 p.m. Friday at Geneva College.

Members of the Greyhounds line include junior Brayden Penwell (center), seniors Morgan Whiting (left guard), Weston Phanco (right guard), Jake Chimiak (left tackle), Connor Vass-Gal (right tackle) and Jordan Hess (tight end).

For their efforts, they have been named co-Athletes of the Week, as voted on by the New Castle News sports staff.

“I thought our offensive line had a terrific performance Friday night,” Wilmington coach Brandon Phillian said. “After the Karns City (PIAA playoff) game, we refocused on our technique and fundamentals.

“I thought the boys really bought in. We had a phenomenal week of practice leading up to the game against Chestnut Ridge.”

Ethan Susen led the charge for Wilmington. Susen amassed 320 rushing yards on 27 carries and six touchdowns. Darren Miller was next with 20 attempts for 263 yards and a score. Quarterback Caelan Bender ran the ball seven times for 65 yards.

Susen acknowledged the performance of the offensive line.

“Our line, I give all the credit to them, and our coaches for preparing a great game plan,” Susen said after Friday’s win. “But our line, man, I can’t ask for any more from them.”

Good line play is built not only on the field, but off.

“We’re definitely fortunate to have some big boys on the line,” Phillian said. “We have some guys that are extremely strong.

“They work extremely hard in the weight room. They make a dedication and commitment to their work in the weight room and it shows.”

Penwell and Hess are the lone players on the line that aren’t returning starters. But they have fit right in since the opening day of practice according to Phillian.

“I think those guys do a great job of working hand in hand with each other,” Phillian said. “There’s a lot of communication that goes on out there, pre-snap, or in play.

“The chemistry they have with with each other speaks volumes. Those guys are really able to pick things up and handle it. They have the physical tools to get the job done.”

Veteran Greyhounds offensive line coach Dave Welch plays a big role in the development of the team’s line play.

“As talented as our offensive line is, if you asked each and every one of them, they would all point to the offensive line coach Dave Welch as the reason why they are so successful,” Phillian said of Welch. “He does a great job with those guys. They would run through a wall for him.

“That is a group that is very coachable, too. Offensive line may be the most selfless positions in all of sports. Their job is to protect someone else. All of those guys embody what it takes to be an offensive lineman.”

Penwell and Hess have performed well this year in their first season as starters.

“Brayden is no longer a first-year starter. He’s a seasoned veteran,” Phillian said. “To see Jordan’s improvement to now has been incredible. He’s worked extremely hard, and so has Brayden. Jordan is no longer a first-year starter, either.”

Whiting, Phanco, Chimiak and Vass-Gal all received postseason honors for their strong play last year. They have continued that stellar play this season as well.

“Morgan really has a unique skill set. He’s really long with a great reach,” Phillian said. “Weston would be termed the leader of the line. He along with Morgan are our two captains that represent the line. He’s played every single position on the line during his career.

“Chimiak has been a stalwart on our offensive line. He really excels in his ability to down block and open up the holes. Connor is a mauler. His strength is when he can down block, he excels at that. He excels at drive blocking, too.”

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Sports Writer

Ron Poniewasz Jr. is a sports writer at the New Castle News. Email him at

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