Top-Seeded Wilson Embarks On District 3-6A Playoff Quest In Emphatic Fashion As Bulldogs Bite Chambersburg
As hard it may be to believe, ten weeks of regular season high school football across the state of Pennsylvania have now come and gone, all seemingly within the blink of an eye. Now sure, while the regular season features plenty of thrills and heart-stopping moments to offer in its own right, the simple fact of the matter is that nothing can appease the palate and truly compare quite like all the intrigue and excitement that comes with playoff football. And if storylines and subplots are more your forte, well, boy oh boy, did the 6A bracket in District 3 come packed with plenty of that for fans to chew on.
When looking at the “big boy” division of high school football around the mid-state, even before the season officially got underway, most pundits largely agreed that Manheim Township was without question one of the preseason favorites to wind up taking home the gold medals and accompanying gold trophy come mid-November. To their credit, the Blue Streaks have certainly looked the part and then some season en route to a 10-0 overall mark which included wins over Central Dauphin, Cocalico, Wilson, and Warwick to name just a few. Yet even for all of their unquestioned prowess exhibited this season, should the brackets remain as chalk until the championship round, Township will eventually find themselves preparing for a trip northward into Berks County in two weeks’ time.
Yes, while some would undoubtedly like to cry either fair or foul, the simple fact of the matter is that District 3’s only 6A outfit found themselves residing on the #2 line once the official brackets were unveiled for all to witness at the onset of this week. Who got the top seed you may ask? None other than the Wilson Bulldogs.
Truth be told, seeing Wilson sit atop the top perch in the area’s largest classification system is not a new or novel concept here. In fact, if you really were to get right down to it, the short list of other programs who can lay claim to such a storied and illustrious history such as the one boasted by the Bulldogs is exactly that —short. But make no mistake, Wilson didn’t lay claim to the #1 spot this season off history alone. Well, sort of in a way, considering that the Bulldogs were able to wrap up another successful season which culminated in an 9-1 overall campaign through the first ten weeks of the year. Their only cavity? A 30-16 setback at the hands of the aforementioned Manheim Township Blue Streaks back on homecoming night in late September. And that right there is the sole, underlying reason as to what seemed drew the ire of so many who thought the calculation-based power rating system was fundamentally unjust and needed to be reevaluated. But take a deeper dive below the surface and you’ll soon see that Wilson’s work on the phone lines and in the backrooms of the school’s athletic offices is just part of the reason as to what enabled the Bulldogs to claim homefield advantage throughout this year’s postseason.
Why? Well, if one were to truly to take an honest look at Wilson’s scheduling this year, it’s hardly anything to sneeze at. And while it’s sometimes true when they say that organizing such a rigorous schedule so far in advance can sometimes come at your own detriment, let’s face it, not every program is Wilson either.
In fact, of Wilson’s nine wins this season, came six came against teams who would eventually be able to reach the postseason whether it be in the District 3 5A or 6A field, or even the 6A division of District 1 courtesy of their win over Spring-Ford in the third week of the season. Needless to say, the Bulldogs were certainly “battle-tested” heading into their playoff opener on Friday night.
But this wouldn’t be your typical #1 vs #8 lid-lifter. Oh no. Far, far from it in fact.
Standing opposite of the Bulldogs on Friday night stood the Chambersburg Trojans. And if you were to judge the Trojans’ book solely based on their eighth-seeded cover, that would prove to be a drastic and ill-informed miscalculation.
Speaking of teams that tested themselves against the likes of an absolutely gnarly regular season slate, one need not look much further than Chambersburg considering the Trojans were forced to trudge through seven grueling weeks of Mid-Penn Commonwealth football, eventually coming out the other side with a 4-3 record to their name. In their three losses, the Trojans came just up a combined 17 points shy against the likes of State College, Harrisburg and Central Dauphin respectively, three outfits who essentially create an abbreviated “who’s who” rolodex of Mid-Penn football. But nip-and-tuck losses aside, the Trojans put together perhaps the finest hour of any District 3-6A squad this season when the Chambersburg traveled to Cumberland Valley, another venerable name in the Mid-Penn family tree, shutting out the Eagles en route to a resounding 30-0 triumph, ironically on the very same night that Wilson slipped up against Manheim Township. And not only that, but the Trojans also battled Manheim Township tooth and nail in last season’s opening round of the District 3 playoffs, eventually succumbing to the Blue Streaks, 20-17. So, needless to say, there was plenty of evidence laid out upon the table to suggest that this one would likely shape up be a true four quarter affair with the outcome likely being left undecided until the very end considering the resumes that both the Bulldogs and Trojans brought with them into Gurski Stadium on a chilly and blustery evening.
In the end however, four quarters would not be needed. Oh no. Far, far from it in fact.
But it certainly did not start out that way mind you. In terms of making a dramatic opening statement, the visiting Trojans likely could not have scripted a much more effective first quarter if they tried.
After taking the opening kickoff, Chambersburg quickly got their offense in gear on the second play from scrimmage when senior quarterback Brady Stumbaugh went up top to find fellow senior, wideout Tyler Luther, for the 13-yard pitch and catch which moved the Trojans’ advance out to their own 39-yard line. Just a few plays later, three to be exact, the Trojans would be able to navigate their way into the endzone when senior running back Keyshawn Jones took off through a gaping hole generated by his offensive line, effectively capping off the impressive Chambersburg march with a 53-yard touchdown jaunt that would have stood in flag football, giving the Trojans the early 6-0 cushion after the PAT sailed wide with just 1:59 having ticked off the first quarter clock.
Needing to score in their own right in order to stop the early bleeding, Wilson wasted little time in doing so considering the Bulldogs suddenly found themselves residing on the Trojans’ 30-yard line after the first play of the ensuing series which came by way of a monstrous Mason Lenart run with a facemask call tacked on just for good measure. Yet even for as promising as Wilson’s opening drive had appeared to be during its infancy, the Bulldogs’ early mojo eventually hit the skids thanks to the Trojans rising up defensively and halting the Wilson attack on downs, giving the ball back to an already fired up Chambersburg offense.
Needless to say, if Chambersburg were to be able to move the ball down the field and cap things off with yet another touchdown in the early going, not only would heads turn around the District 3 landscape, but an added boost of belief would undoubtedly be instilled on the Trojans’ sideline. Sure enough, aided behind a steady diet of Keyshawn Jones runs and an occasional toss up top just to keep the Bulldogs off balance and honest, Chambersburg would indeed start churning out the yards against the stingy Wilson defense. Speaking of those pass plays, perhaps none was more critical on the Trojans’ second drive of the evening than when Brady Stumbaugh was able to hook up with fellow senior classmate, tight end Terrell Williams, for the 22-yard strike over the middle which ushered the white-clad Trojans all the way down to the Bulldogs’ 24-yard line, effectively sending the message that Wilson had better be prepared for a dogfight all night long. From there, Chambersburg would only need to travel six more yards before finding paydirt as an easy 18-yard pitch and catch touchdown from Stumbaugh to junior wide receiver Sam Vessah on a 3rd & 4 play gave the Trojans the 13-0 advantage with just four seconds left to go in the opening stanza as a shocked hush fell across the Wilson side following the 12-play Chambersburg march.
For as bad as the opening 12 minutes had appeared to treat the homestanding Bulldogs, things couldn’t have gotten much worse right? Right? Well, not necessarily considering the Bulldogs would then put the ball on the turf on their ensuing series, seeing Chambersburg’s Terrell Williams pounce on the loose pill, giving the ball back to the Trojans’ offense which was already well into a steady groove. Yet momentum aside, the Trojans would be stymied on their third series of the night following the early takeaway, yielding to the Bulldogs on a three and out authored by the Wilson defense.
Once again though, Wilson would find the sledding to be extremely difficult against the Trojans’ defense which left the Bulldogs searching for any possible solutions considering the Bulldogs opted to go into the deepest pages of the playbook on their following drive by employing a fake punt which would ultimately come up short, giving the ball back once again to the Trojan offense with the opportunity to possibly take a three-touchdown advantage.
From that point on however, the game that everyone had been watching up until that time would quickly become a distant memory.
With the Trojans facing a 3rd & 6 at their own 46-yard line on the Chambersburg series which followed the stand coming on the heels of the fake punt, the Wilson defense was able to rush free, collapsing the pocket and forcing a strip sack which would culminate in Bulldog junior linebacker Ethan Capitano picking up the football, giving Wilson that spark that the Bulldogs were so desperately searching for up until that point.
That spark would soon turn into an all-out blaze on the first play from scrimmage following the Wilson takeaway when junior quarterback Kaleb Brown was able to connect with senior wideout Brady Gibble for the 24-yard touchdown toss, a critical play that would not only trim he Trojans’ lead down to size at 13-7 with 3:37 left to go in the opening half, but it would also give the Bulldogs that tangible, precious jolt of energy in order to get themselves in gear.
And with the Trojans going three and out on their ensuing offensive series following the Brown-Gibble touchdown, the Wilson snowball was quickly racing downhill at a speed for which Chambersburg could not seem to counter.
Even though Wilson would start off their next series deep in their own territory considering the Bulldogs set up shop at their own 26-yard line with time winding down in the opening half, clearly no one had bothered to relay that message to Wilson triggerman Kaleb Brown. To say that Brown shouldered most of the burden on Wilson’s late half series would be a dramatic understatement. In fact, speaking of shoulders, the Bulldogs’ 6’0 175lb dynamo would lower his on an RPO option on said drive, popping off the helmet of a would-be Trojan tackler in the process, marching the Bulldogs past the midfield stripe and into Chambersburg territory down to the Trojans’ 45-yard line. So, with Brown doing a majority of the legwork in the early stages, it seemed apropos to also work in a steady mix of Avanti Lockhart runs on the drive as well just for an added touch of zest, the last of which moved the Wilson attack down to the Chambersburg 8-yard line. From there, the drive would finish in the most fitting way possible with an 8-yard Kaleb Brown touchdown run, sending the two teams into the intermission deadlocked at 13-13 after the PAT sailed wide once the final 19 seconds evaporated off the second quarter clock.
Despite the score, it was clear to everyone in attendance that Wilson had stolen the momentum away from their guests in the waning stages of the second quarter and simply refused to give it back. And with that in mind, it likely came as a surprise to no one that Wilson quickly picked up right where they had left off once the third quarter got underway.
They wouldn’t have to wait very long either. Not when Wilson junior running back Mason Lenart ran the second half opening kickoff all the way down to the Chambersburg 46-yard line that is, a play which clearly delivered the message to the Trojans that they would be in for an extra-long bus ride home should they not be able to stem the tide immediately. But sure enough, the waves just came rolling in, crashing against the Trojans’ shore after the Chambersburg defense was fed a steady diet of Avanti Lockhart runs, including a 30-yard gallop by the Bulldogs’ 6’2 210lb senior bully of a running back which propelled the Wilson advance down to the Trojans’ 10-yard line. From there, Lockhart was able to finish the deed in style with a 10-yard touchdown burst up the middle, giving the Bulldogs their first lead of the night at 20-13 following the Jack Wagner PAT with just 56 seconds having elapsed off the third quarter clock.
But it quickly went from bad to worse for Chambersburg.
After being stuffed for nary a yard on 3rd & 2 on their ensuing offensive series, the Trojans decided to roll the dice by going for it on 4th & 2. Yet with two hammers such as Anthony Koper and Adam Vanino helping patrol the Bulldogs’ defense, it almost seemed expected to witness the senior duo have an impromptu meeting in the Chambersburg backfield on said play, stuffing the Trojans’ bid for a swipe at stealing the momentum, giving the ball back to the Wilson offense at their own 45-yard line.
Given the preceding events that had just taken place, one might have expected to see the Bulldogs once again reach the endzone on their offensive series following yet another successful defensive stand. Sure enough, that would indeed take place, thanks in large part to a magnificent diving reception by Wilson senior wide receiver Matt Fry on 3rd & 14, a play which moved the Bulldogs down to the fringes of the Chambersburg redzone following the 24-yard reception. And with Kaleb Brown once again calling his own number, including a 12-yard burst which moved the Bulldogs down the Trojans’ 6-yard line, an Avanti Lockhart 2-yard touchdown plunge up the middle gave the Bulldogs now 27 unanswered points with the Bulldogs’ lead now comfortably standing at 27-13 with 3:54 left to play in the third quarter.
But their third quarter work was far from over.
Following another successful stand thanks to their handiwork on the defensive side of the ball, the Wilson offense was soon able to create even more breathing room up on the scoreboard on their ensuing offensive series. And with the Bulldogs now setting up shop 60 yards away from the red-painted endzone, seeing Mason Lenart take off on a 28-yard dead sprint was just another back-breaking play for which the Trojans were forced to work through with the Bulldogs seemingly being able to do absolutely no wrong at this point in the proceedings. From there, the Trojans’ open wound would turn into all-out gash following a 14-yard touchdown pass from Kaleb Brown out in the flat to a waiting Avanti Lockhart with Lockhart being able to barrel his way into the endzone the rest of the way, giving the Wilson the 34-13 lead with 1:32 now left to go in the third stanza.
To say that the sharks were seen circling around the Trojans’ boat at this point on Friday night would have been a fair and accurate statement to make. So, with that mind, Wilson senior defensive lineman Anthony Koper took his turn resembling the ocean’s most ferocious beast by pouncing on a Chambersburg fumble on the Trojans’ first play of their ensuing offensive series, giving the Bulldogs yet another short field from which to navigate past. And with Kaleb Brown being able to hook up with Brady Gibble for a 14-yard strike on the first offensive play of the drive, the abbreviated Wilson scoring drive was capped off once and for all with a 3-yard Mason Lenart touchdown run, upping the Wilson cushion to 41-13 with just 21 seconds left to play in the third frame, a quarter of play that had arguably been Wilson’s finest throughout the entirety of the season thus far.
While Mason Lenart routinely receives much of his publicity thanks to his work done while residing in the Bulldogs’ offensive backfield, the junior’s ability to crash a party on the defensive side of the ball is also just as formidable. And almost as if to be right on cue, Lenart was able to snag an errant Chambersburg pass on the Trojans’ ensuing offensive series once the fourth quarter got underway, running the ball all the way back to Trojans’ 30-yard line following the 25-yard interception return.
Yet even despite another short field, the damage and sheer chaos inflicted by the Bulldogs throughout the first three quarters proved to be more than enough as Wilson eventually saw themselves advance onto the semifinal round of the District 3-6A playoffs following a resounding 41-13 victory over a wildly under-seeded Chambersburg outfit on Friday night.
NEXT UP: With their opening round win over Chambersburg now behind them, the Bulldogs can kick their feet up on Saturday and await to see who their opponent will be come next Friday night back at the friendly confines of Gurski Stadium when Wilson will host either Central York or Harrisburg in a game to be decided on Saturday afternoon in the state’s capital city.
For Chambersburg, their memorable season unfortunately met an untimely end late Friday night in an unfamiliar location, two hours away from home in Berks County. But Friday’s night’s setback aside, the Trojans’ now departing senior class should continue to raise their collective heads high knowing that they helped turn and shape the long-term narrative of Chambersburg football for years to come. After all, it was only two short years ago when the Trojans were dealing with the long and arduous process of experiencing a winless 0-10 season. And while football offers no moral victories, following up an 0-10 campaign with back-to-back playoff appearances is certainly a solid mix of concrete for which Chambersburg can certainly build upon thanks to the foundation laid by this year’s quintessential laundry list of senior Trojans.
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