The key question for Wilmington High’s football team entering Friday night’s PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal-round contest:
After three times having faced Farrell, would Pfister faze the Greyhounds?
In actuality, coach Brandon Phillian and his Greyhounds have complete respect for Chestnut Ridge quarterback Logan Pfister. So Wilmington’s ground game was the game plan — consume the clock and play keep-away from the phenomenal Pfister, one of the PIAA’s most prolific passers during the past four seasons.
Ethan Susen and Darren Miller manufactured almost 600 yards rushing between them, guiding the Greyhounds to a 56-29 win.
By virtue of the victory — its third over Chestnut Ridge in as many seasons — Wilmington (9-0) will play in the state semifinals for the fifth consecutive season. Next weekend at a site and time to be announced Wilmington will meet the winner of Saturday’s Beaver Falls-Sto-Rox WPIAL championship game.
“We think that the best defense is a good offense. Our whole goal is just to run the ball, keep it moving and keep ourselves on offense,” Miller said, who recorded a 20-carry, 270-yard performance that included a 28-yard scoring sprint.
“When (the Lions) have a great player like Pfister — I mean an absolute great player, hard worker, fast, and can throw — we wanted to keep the ball out of his hands, and that’s what we did,” Miller continued. “We changed the offense around a little bit this week. We thought it was going to work better and help us execute a little better with Ethan and me at wing and Luke (Edwards) at fullback. We thought it was going to fit our strengths.”
Pfister found the end zone from 11 yards out with 7:02 remaining to intermission. Following Jack Moyer’s conversion kick, the Lions led, 22-21.
From that juncture Wilmington went on a three-touchdown tear to close the half. Susen scored from 45 and 1 yard out, and after Daniel Hartwell hammered his fifth consecutive PAT, the Greyhounds owned a 35-22 halftime lead.
Employing a Wildcat formation with direct snaps to Susen, Wilmington went on a six-play, 71-yard, second half-opening drive that consumed a second shy of three minutes. Susen’s 4-yard scamper and his subsequent two-point conversion run lifted the Greyhounds to a 43-22 advantage.
In his Greyhounds Stadium swan song, Susen established a single-game rushing record, rolling up 316 yards rushing. Susen scored six TDs, including a 10-yard, first-quarter run, then a 26-yarder just 77 seconds into the second stanza.
Susen surpassed the career 3,000-yard rushing plateau as well.
“It’s a great honor. We’ve had some great running backs who’ve played here. ... It’s a great honor, and I’m sure Darren’s right on that path, too. So I’m hoping that Darren can get that same thing, maybe next week,” Susen said.
“One for the ages for Ethan Susen,” Phillian said. “For him to set that record here, in his final home game at Wilmington, it’s a special night that he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life. A guy that couldn’t be more deserving.”
Susen cited his offensive line — center Brayden Penwell, guards Morgan Whiting and Weston Phanco, tackles Jake Chimiak and Connor Vass-Gal, and tight end Jordan Hess, aided by blocking back Skyler Sholler. That was seconded by Miller.
“Our line, I give all the credit to them, and our coaches for preparing a great game plan,” Susen said, adding, “But our line, man, I can’t ask for any more from them.”
Defensively, Whiting was in Pfister’s face for much of the second half, in particular. But he also drew satisfaction from helping provide paths for Susen and Miller to maneuver.
“You’ve got to take a little bit (of credit), but these guys are great,” Whiting said, gesturing toward Susen and Miller. “We’re all friends, we’re all family. So what one of us does, all of us does. These guys are some great backs. I mean, obviously, six-hundred yards ... I don’t know how many high school teams have done that over the years.”
“Our kids, over the years, have learned to battle. We like to compete, and that’s something we take pride in,” veteran Chestnut Ridge coach Max Shoemaker said. “But, defensively, we’re at a loss, how to stop all their weapons, and their huge line up front just stymied us.”
During the first half, the flawless Pfister flummoxed Wilmington with a variety of play-action fakes. He completed 7 of his first 9 pass attempts for 148 yards, including a 28-yard TD toss to Matt Whysong with 5:05 left in the first frame. On the subsequent PAT kick attempt, Pfister fielded a low center snap, back-tracked, then tossed a 2-point PAT to Whysong who was at the back of the end zone for the first of a trio of first-half Lions leads.
Then with 78 seconds remaining in the first frame, Whysong went 46 yards on a second-and-nine reverse, and Moyer moved Chestnut Ridge to a 15-14 margin with his subsequent PAT.
However, after his strong start, Pfister misfired on seven consecutive pass attempts spanning from late in the first half to early in the second. Ultimately, Pfister finished 13 for 26 for 205 yards, with Whysong securing a half-dozen of those for 85 yards.
Pfister finished with well over 5,000 career passing yards.
“He’s meant an absolute tremendous amount (to the Chestnut Ridge program),” Shoemaker said. “He’s our ‘trigger guy,’ and he showed it again (Friday) night. (The Greyhounds) pretty much shut him down on the ground (28 yards on 10 totes), they were keying on him, but he showed through the air what he’s capable of.
“We’ll miss him tremendously,” a smiling Shoemaker said.
“He’s too talented. He’s a student of the game — you can tell by the way he makes his reads. Just an outstanding football player ... one of the best that I’ve ever coached against,” praised Phillian, referencing Pfister. “You’re never going to totally stop a Logan Pfister; your goal is to limit him. And we were able to do that, particularly in the second half.
“And another big key for our defense (Friday) night was the fact that we were able to generate two turnovers. I think that was a big difference in this game, was winning that turnover battle,” Phillian added.
Pfister’s fumble, attempting to hand off to Nick Presnell on a second-and-goal from Wilmington’s 6-yard line was one of his two turnovers. The Greyhounds’ Luke Edwards ended up with the bobble and his 91-yard scoop-and-score had the Greyhounds ahead less then three full minutes into the contest.
Early in the final frame, Wilmington’s Caelan Bender pilfered Pfister’s second-and-10 pass from the Lions’ 49-yard line.
Wilmington went for approximately 680 total yards and 27 first downs, led by Susen, Miller, and Bender (64 yards rushing, 30 passing).
“As effective as the ground game was, and as exciting as it was to watch us put up the points, I think that the unsung story — perhaps the bigger story — was when we were able to run the football we were able to control the clock,” Phillian observed. “I think the fact we were able to run the football, we were able to possess the football I think was one of the biggest keys in the victory.”
Phillian reflected, “Whenever we realized we could, potentially, have to play Farrell three times, it was very, very daunting. But we told the coaches, we told the players, ‘If we can survive Farrell, if we can get through Farrell and ultimately advance into the state playoffs, the fact that we were able to survive Farrell is going to do nothing but make us better in the state playoffs.’
“Iron sharpens iron. The fact that we played Farrell three times made us battle-tested, it made us better,” Phillian continued. “And going against a guy like Logan Pfister, he’s supremely talented — he’s got all the talent in the world. But going up against (Farrell’s) Anthony Stallworth three times, that certainly prepares you for those situations and those moments. The fact that we had Farrell three times this year, I really think is going to serve us very well here in the playoffs.”
Echoing those sentiments, Susen summarized, “We’re just playing week-to-week. So for me to play a great game, and for everybody else to play a great game, I mean, for me, it’s just an honor to play our last game here. Our seniors, we don’t want this thing to end. We just want to keep moving, so we’re going to give it all we can, and it showed all the way around because our team played the best we could (Friday) night.”