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Berwick’s stingy defense leads it to win over Wyoming Valley West

Written by: on Friday, September 30th, 2022. Follow Mitch Rupert on Twitter.


KINGSTON — Rowan Slabinski didn’t really have to do much on his second-quarter interception Friday night. The Berwick defensive linemen in front of him were the ones putting the pressure on Wyoming Valley West quarterback Lucas Zdancewicz.

But from his spot just behind that defensive line, Slabinski found the football floating in his direction after Zdancewicz tried fruitlessly to get rid of it before being driven into the Spartan Stadium turf. Slabinski cradled the football and casually jogged into the end zone untouched for the exclamation point on a brilliant defensive performance.

Berwick’s starting defense allowed just 12 yards of offense Friday in a 41-13 win which got the Bulldogs back to .500 ahead of a brutal four-game stretch to close out the season.

“Coming off a loss the kids were anxious to get back out there and prove themselves,” Berwick first-year coach Mike Bennett said. “They were challenged from top to bottom this week.”

That challenge came after the Bulldogs’ defense allowed more than 400 yards of offense, including 212 on the ground, in last week’s loss to Wilkes-Barre. So Berwick went starters against starters for much of practice this week in order to get everyone prepared for Friday night’s rivalry game.

Berwick’s defense spent so much time in the Valley West backfield, the Spartans could have charged it rent. Berwick’s didn’t just shut down Valley West’s run game, it eliminated it entirely.

Against the Bulldogs’ first-team defense, 14 of Valley West’s rushing attempts went for 1 yard or fewer. Ten of those 14 carries resulted in negative yardage.

“We were angry after last week,” Slabinski said. “All week we stepped it up to play like this. We stuck to our assignments and won the game.”

Whatever those assignments were, they must have involved breaking through the Spartans’ offensive line like a game of Red Rover. But instead of sending one person at a time, it was the entire Berwick defensive front breaking through, like on Slabinski’s interception.

Zdancewicz began his drop-back on that ill-fated second-quarter play and almost immediately had pressure in his face. His only hope to avoid a sack was to flip the ball away in desperation. The only problem with that plan was Slabinski was the only one in the area to catch it.

That’s just what the senior did. And with nobody in front of him to slow him down, Slabinski waltzed into the end zone. The defensive score was the reward for a defense that was relentless through the first 24 minutes of Friday’s game.

“I didn’t really do much,” Slabinski said. “The ball just kind of came to me. It was great to see our defensive linemen get after it like that.”

“I think it’s always our plan to be aggressive and be physical like that,” Bennett said. “I don’t think we got to it as much last week, so we wanted to get back to doing that this week. That’s who we are.”

Slabinski’s score gave Berwick a 35-0 lead at halftime, invoking the mercy rule and a second-half running clock. It was the perfect complement to an explosive Berwick offense which didn’t run many plays Friday but made the ones it did run count.
Berwick ran 17 first-half plays. Four of them produced touchdowns. Five more produced first downs. Drey Wilk scored on the Bulldogs’ third offensive snap when he took a Wildcat snap, raced up the middle, then cut to the right sideline to finish off a 40-yard touchdown run.

Berwick needed just two plays on its next drive to score when Matt Lonczynski hit Wilk in stride for a 34-yard touchdown pass. Wilk has turned into a dynamic offensive threat for the Bulldogs this year. His rushing touchdown was his fourth of the season. His receiving touchdown was his seventh.

Wilk had just one touchdown rushing and receiving a year ago.

“He’s a playmaker and we like to do different things to get him the ball,” Bennett said. “He’s very special and he’s really just hitting his stride right now.”

Ethan Lear added to Berwick’s 13-0 lead when his 37-yard run set up his own 8-yard scoring run. Bo Sheptock ripped of a 65-yard run of his own in the second quarter to set up his 3-yard touchdown run.

By the end of the first half, Berwick was averaging better than 16 yards per carry and nearly 15 yards per snap. At the same time, Valley West had just 2 yards rushing on 17 attempts and 19 total yards in the first half.

“We felt like there were some big plays there for us to make, but we wanted to grind it down and run our offense,” Bennett said. “If they were going to give us certain things, we were going to take it. It’s those regular plays that our playmakers can stretch from a 5-yard play to a 35-yard play, and that’s what makes those guys special.”

Berwick 41, Wyoming Valley West 13
Berwick 21 14 6 0 — 41
Wyoming Valley West 0 0 6 7 — 13
First Quarter
B—Drey Wilk 40 run (Luke Peters kick), 8:53
B—Wilk 34 pass from Matt Lonczynski (kick blocked), 7:04
B—Ethan Lear 8 run (Rowan Slabinski pass from Lonczynski), 2:13
Second Quarter
B—Bo Sheptock 3 run (Peters kick), 11:18
B—Rowan Slabinski 21 interception return (Peters kick), 10:31
Third Quarter
B—Sheptock 43 punt return (kick blocked), 5:23
WVW—Tyler Mattis 86 kick return (kick blocked), 5:08
Fourth Quarter
WVW—Devon Suda 17 run (Lauren Richie kick), 2:21

First Downs 12 6
Rushes-Yards 22-189 28-65
Comp-Att-Int 7-7-0 4-8-1
Passing 96 17
Total Yards 285 82
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 5-50 7-70
Individual statistics

Rushing: Berwick — Bo Sheptock, 6-94, TD; Ethan Lear, 4-54; Drey Wilk, 1-40, TD; Ryan Bankes, 3-18; Tyler Winter, 7-5; Team, 1-(-22). Wyoming Valley West — Tyler Mattis, 10-40; Devon Suda, 2-15, TD; Paul Riggs, 11-14; Carson Brown, 2-0; Lucas Zdancewicz, 3-(-4).

Passing: Berwick — Matt Lonczynski, 4-4-0, 83 yds., TD; Ethan Lear, 3-3-0, 13 yds. Wyoming Valley West — Lucas Zdancewicz, 2-5-1, 15 yds.; Carson Brown, 2-3-0, 2 yds.

Receiving: Berwick — Bo Sheptock, 3-22; Spencer Kishbaugh, 2-41; Drey Wilk, 1-34, TD; Ryan Bankes, 1-(-1). Wyoming Valley West — Paul Riggs, 1-19; Maki Wells, 1-3; Ty Makarewicz, 1-(-1); Devon Suda, 1-(-4).

INTERCEPTIONS — Berwick, Rowan Slabinski.

Records: Wyoming Valley West (0-6); Berwick (3-3).

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