Wyomissing Rumbles Past Annville-Cleona, Into District 3-3A Title Game As Spartans Turn Away Dutchmen
For most every high school football player, there is simply nothing that can rival nor replicate the sheer joy and excitement that comes along with wearing the hometown colors and playing in front of your classmates underneath the bright Friday night lights. In fact, the atmosphere in and of itself is arguably just as instrumental, perhaps even more so than the game itself. Well, keyword being “most” high school football players that is.
If you’re a Wyomissing Spartan, you too dream of the day when you’ll be able to run out onto the field wearing the blue and white. The only thing is, you’re doing so while playing under the midday sun. You see, Wyomissing is unique to most other schools within the District 3 footprint in the sense that they are one of the only few who do not have lights, and they certainly don’t plan on installing any fixtures anytime soon, making a Friday night in this beautiful village located on the western banks of the Schuylkill River outside of Reading just another ho-hum night around downtown. But come Saturday afternoon at 1 o’clock, the natives turn off their televisions, emerge out of their homes, and venture a few blocks down the neighborhood to the esteemed “A Field” in order to watch their Spartans routinely fight for Berks Section 2 supremacy on an annual basis.
That said, Wyomissing’s home field advantage had suddenly become bigger and so much important than it had ever been before.
At the onset of the 2019 football season, the District 3 brass made the announcement that not only would a majority of the championship games no longer be held at Hersheypark Stadium for the foreseeable future, but #1 seeds would now host games all the way up until the championship round, a move which went away from the implementation of neutral sites enacted just last year. So, suffice to say, scratching and clawing your way to the pole position in whichever classification you reside in was far more essential than it had ever before in terms of District 3 playoff history.
And in terms of the District 3-3A field, there was one team, Wyomissing, that could prove to be the fly in everyone’s ointment.
For as much as coaches hate to buck long-running routines and abandoning a tried and true structure, anyone who found themselves entering the 3A field ultimately had to come to grips with the very real possibility of being forced to do so. Why? Well, thanks in part to their perfect 10-0 in the regular season, Wyomissing had rightfully earned the top spot for the duration of the playoffs should they continue to advance on round by round. Sure, while their glitzy and glamorous record was good enough to clearly stand alone on its own merit, the deeper resume that Wyo had been able to put together, especially that of late, gave plenty of credence as to why some publications had the Spartans ranked amongst the very best in state at the 3A level.
To say that the Spartans were coming into their semifinal game on Saturday afternoon while operating in high gear might not be enough to truly do it justice. No, not when you’ve only allowed one opponent in your previous six games to reach double digits. And surely not when you are coming off your best performance of the season, a win over your neighboring arch-rival in powerhouse Berks Catholic in emphatic 23-0 fashion, in the last scheduled meeting between the two schools for the immediate future.
Needless to say, the assignment placed in front of Annville-Cleona on Saturday was nothing if not stiff for the Dutchmen to try and pass.
When talking about the Dutchmen’s 2019 season thus far, it’s one that certainly has been filled with plenty of ups and downs. Among them, the high of winning a video game version of football come to life when A-C was able to top Columbia 70-43 back on Homecoming night for a victory which kept the Dutchmen with the lead pack inside the Lancaster-Lebanon Section 3 standings. Unfortunately, the Dutchmen were also forced to deal with the real-life adversity that comes with seeing three of your fellow classmates and teammates injured a car accident, something no one should ever have to go through, much less those who are still trying to decipher deeper meanings of the outside world around them. Yet to their credit, the Dutchmen were able to finish the season with a vengeance as A-C steamrolled into the postseason as winners of three of their final four regular season games. And through it all, everything eventually came to a head last week when Annville-Cleona was able to pick the first postseason win school history, thanks to the through domination of a historically strong Littlestown program, to the tune of a 39-12 final count.
So, with two teams entering the weekend coming off arguably two of their biggest wins posted in recent memory, sparks were sure to fly on a bone-chilling Saturday afternoon amongst the picturesque neighborhood one could only find in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.
If Annville-Cleona were to pull off the upset on this day, the game plan for the Dutchmen really could not have been much simpler. Make the most of your opportunities and squeeze all the air out of the football that you possibly could in the process, essentially playing a miniature game of keep away in order to render Wyo’s high-flying offense harmless while resting on the sidelines. In that regard, A-C’s opening march could not have been scripted any better had head coach Matt Gingrich written the game up with his own pen and paper.
Besides methodically churning out the yards amidst the stout Wyo defense, something the A-C offense was able to do quite well in probing the middle of the line of scrimmage early on, the Dutchmen also reached deep into some of the last few pages of the playbook and found plenty of successful trick plays waiting for them to be implemented as well. Case in point, a 4th & 5 near the midfield stripe when Annville-Cleona junior punter Mac Plummer took the snap and rifled a pass along the A-C sideline to a waiting Quamir Parker, as the 6’3 physically-imposing wide receiver hauled in the grab for the 30-yard pitch and catch which moved the Dutchmen attack down to the Wyomissing 30-yard line. From there however, the Wyomissing defense ultimately stiffened, turning away the Dutchmen on downs with the Spartans taking over at their own 20-yard line.
As mentioned, although Annville-Cleona’s opening drive was not a success in terms of ultimately bearing fruit up on the scoreboard for the Dutchmen, it was nonetheless valuable in the sense that visitors from Lebanon County had sucked up nearly half of the first quarter clock in the process. The only problem with that rationale was it had clearly made the Wyomissing offense even more determined to get a crack at imposing their will against the Dutchmen D. And impose their will they most certainly did.
Much like their counterparts on Saturday afternoon, Wyomissing spent the early part of the game poking and prodding the interior line of scrimmage in hopes of eventually asserting dominance as the game moved along. Needless to say, it certainly doesn’t hurt with you have weapons the caliber of Max Hurleman and Evan Niedrowski you can call upon in order to assist in that effort. And with the Spartans’ version of thunder and lightning steadily churning out the yards bit by mighty bit, the A-C defense would eventually fall victim to the Wyomissing ground game as Hurleman took off on a 43-yard touchdown scamper, highlighted with a gorgeous cut-back against the grain, as the Wyomissing senior captain and running back opened the scoring with the hometown Spartans racing out to a 7-0 lead with 4:08 left to play in the first quarter.
And after a three and out posted by the Wyomissing defense on the Dutchmen’s second drive of the afternoon, the Spartans would get the ball back with an already lathered-up offense undoubtedly licking their chops at getting another opportunity to make the early hill even more steeper for Annville-Cleona to try and climb. Sure enough, the Spartans would do exactly that as a peppering of Even Niedrowski runs against the A-C defense was wisely topped off with a sprinkling of Jason Gartner just for good measure with the Wyomissing junior fullback racing his way into the end zone for the 34-yard touchdown run, making it a 14-0 lead in favor of the Spartans with 1:29 still left to go in the opening stanza.
Needing a score, any score really, Annville-Cleona went back to those old, dusty sheets of paper found in the very back of their run-oriented playbook as a means to squash the blatant momentum that Wyomissing was now clearly riding on. Fortunately for them, the card that they pulled out from under their sleeve proved to be an ace as an 84-yard touchdown bomb on the second play of the ensuing A-C possession, lobbed from A-C senior quarterback Junior Bours to Quamir Parker, allowed the Dutchmen to cut their deficit in half once the final 41 seconds ticked off the first quarter clock as Wyomissing carried a 14-7 lead with them into the second frame.
The funny this was, the Bours to Parker touchdown was a classic case of good news/bad news for the Dutchmen. The good news was clearly the fact that A-C had finally been able to drum something offensively and trim the early Wyomissing lead back down to size. The bad news however was the fact the Spartans’ offense was set to return to the field. And not even an early punch thrown back in their direction from the Dutchmen would do much in terms of slowing the Wyo offense down. At least not on this day however.
If Saturday’s game were to be boiled down to a small handful of plays that largely helped decide the eventual outcome, it wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest that the ensuing Wyomissing series came stuffed to the gills in terms of game-changing momentum swings. Yet for each time opportunity that came knocking for either side, it would prove to be the Spartans who answer the door after the first few chimes of the doorbell ring. Well, certainly Max Hurleman for sure.
With the Spartans staring down the barrel of a 3rd & 13 at the A-C 45-yard line, an option pass thrown from Wyomissing junior quarterback Jordan Auman into the waiting hands of a streaking Hurleman not only moved the Wyo attack down deeper into Dutchmen territory, it also gave them a fresh set of downs after the 14-yard pitch and catch. Once again, the Spartans found themselves in a pinch shortly thereafter with Wyo being tasked with overcoming a 3rd & 6 at the A-C 28-yard line. But when you have Hurleman at the ready, such situations are nothing more than mere obstacles. For proof, just look to Hurleman’s 19-yard pickup on said play, leaving a trail of would-be Dutchmen tacklers behind in his wake, allowing the ball to sniff the end zone once again with the Spartans now being just five short yards away. From there, Wyomissing allowed Evan Niedrowski to finish off what Hurleman had started as Niedrowski’s 5-yard touchdown plunge upped the Spartans’ lead to 21-7 with 8:32 left to play in the opening half.
Sensing blood starting to ooze out of the Dutchmen at this point, the Wyomissing sharks began to swarm and have an impromptu feast thanks to their offensive line helping set the table for such an occasion.
All game long, the Spartans leaned heavily on their troops stationed in the trenches as Wyo kept pounding and pounding the A-C defense by way of their punishing run attack, hoping that a burst in the dam would eventually take place. Sure enough, the water started to pour out of the A-C defense as another Wyomissing touchdown, this one courtesy of a 3-yard jaunt from Max Hurleman, gave the Spartans their biggest lead of the day up until that point with Wyo owning the 28-7 lead with 2:41 left in the half.
With the game already starting to teeter on the verge of quickly getting out of control in a hurry, it was essential that Annville-Cleona go into the intermission without surrendering any more points to their hosts before the second quarter came to an end. But after yielding to the Spartans’ defense with a three and out on their ensuing offensive series, the chances of halting Wyomissing from tacking on another score before recess appeared to lessen significantly.
Ironically, for a team that loves to pound the rock as much as the Spartans clearly do, the two-minute drill may not necessarily be something that would immediately jump to the forefront of everyone’s collective mind when thinking about the way in which Wyomissing goes about conducting their business. Ok, to be fair, it wasn’t officially the two-minute drill. It was 1:36 in all actuality.
With Wyomissing taking over at the midfield stripe with time running out in the game’s first half, the Spartans continued to depend heavily on their potent ground game. And with the football gods continuing to shine brightly upon them, an 18-yard bruising effort put forth by Evan Niedrowski moved the Spartans’ attack down to the fringes of the Annville-Cleona red zone. From there, a gigantic 22-yard pitch and catch from Jordan Auman to Jevin Tranquillo moved the Spartans all the way down to the A-C 2-yard line. At this point, it should have come as a surprise to no one that Wyo allowed Even Niedrowski to bully his way into the end zone from there, something that the junior fullback was able to do with 27 seconds left to go in the half, as the Spartans were able to tally one last back-breaking score just before the horn with Wyomissing sprinting off the field and into the dressing room with ownership of the commanding 35-7 advantage.
To say that Wyomissing’s offense was operating like a finely-tuned machine in the first half on Saturday afternoon would have been quite the understatement. After all, the Spartans were able to eventually reach the end zone each and every time they had possessed the ball in the opening half. And if ever the pendulum needed to swing back in Annville-Cleona’s favor in order for the Dutchmen to greatly increase the odds of having their season extend out to yet another week, it was most certainly coming out of the break with Wyomissing set to receive the second half kick. Unfortunately for the A-C audience, the minor break in the action did not appear to slow down the Wyomissing offense whatsoever.
In fact, it took the Spartans all of 2:07 in the third quarter to get back into the comfortable and cozy surroundings of the end zone once again as a 34-yard touchdown rumble, this one from Evan Niedrowski yet again, made it a 41-7 affair in favor of the homestanding Spartans after the PAT sailed wide left.
And while it likely would have been hard for anyone to truly believe it at the time given the way the first half had tilted heavily in favor of Wyomissing, the second half was about to turn into a full-fledged fireworks display.
Immediately following the Wyo touchdown which got the second half proceedings underway, the Dutchmen went back into their bag of tricks and came out with another jewel, this one an 82-yard double-pass touchdown from the arm of Tyler Long to the hands of Quamir Parker, as the Dutchmen were able to quickly erase the early second half volley tossed by the Spartans with things now standing at 41-14 in favor of Wyomissing with 8:11 left to go in the third.
Speaking of volleys however, Wyomissing was then able to lob yet another one into the Dutchmen camp on the Spartans’ ensuing drive when Jordan Auman was able to connect with Darren Brunner for the nifty 25-yard touchdown strike as the Spartans’ junior duo allowed Wyo to flirt with the opportunity of eclipsing the 50-point on the afternoon as Wyo had roared out in front, 48-14 with 5:57 still showing on the third quarter clock.
But that opportunity would have to wait however, at least for a little while longer, considering Annville-Cleona was on the move once again. Ultimately, this Dutchmen march would have its destination eventually result in a trip to the end zone as well with A-C quarterback Junior Bours calling his own number and surging past the Wyomissing defensive line for the 2-yard touchdown plunge, making it a 48-21 ballgame with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
As far as Wyomissing was concerned, patience was a virtue. What for? Well, on the Spartans’ ensuing offensive drive, the time had finally come for Wyo to pop the 50-point bubble. As far as the official proclamation was to be concerned, the celebratory occasion would be marked with a 32-yard sprint across the chalk by way of Wyomissing’s Amory Thompson, with the sophomore speed back propelling the Spartan troops out to a 55-21 lead with 7:33 left to go.
However, it would be another trick play authored by the Dutchmen, this one from Tyler Long to Caden Horning down the seam for 64-yard scoring strike, that would prove to be A-C’s final score of the season just 44 seconds following the previous Thompson touchdown stroll as the Dutchmen closed the gap down to 55-28 in the process.
Yet even with the outcome of the game already having been decided, the remaining six minutes and change provided more than enough of an opportunity for the Spartans to try and tack on yet another scoring play. Sure enough, the Spartans would indeed have the final word on Saturday afternoon as a 4-yard touchdown dive from Wyomissing sophomore fullback Jackson Miller ushered the top-seeded Spartans into next weekend’s District 3-3A title fight after sequestering a gutty bunch of Dutchmen, 62-28.
“We did everything we could,” a still upbeat and glowingly proud Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich said just moments after addressing his troops for the final time in 2019. “Those kids (his players) have nothing to be ashamed of. Again, we did everything we could. Hats off to (Wyomissing). They are a great team,” Gingrich said describing his team’s opponent on Saturday afternoon. “I hope they win the state championship so that we can say that we’re number two in the state.”
And as far as those trick plays were concerned? Well, certainly no sense in taking those into the offseason with you.
“I threw every trick play I had,” Gingrich added in a light-hearted moment. “There were nine trick plays and I think we completed all of them. All the ones I’ve been running for decades, all of them.”
But trick plays and jovial moments aside, the offense that Annville-Cleona runs on an annual basis is one that depends as much on precision and timing as it does on its pieces to be extremely unselfish in aiding the cause. Fortunately for the Dutchmen, this year’s team was comprised of nothing but the sort.
“Coach Wolfrum (Wyomissing’s head coach) has been coaching longer than these kids have been alive and me too,” said Gingrich. “(Wolfrum) said, ‘If I were to ever run an offense, I’d run triple option.’ Caden Horning could have probably had 70 catches on a spread team. Josh Speraw could have had the same thing and Quamir Parker probably would have been a 1,000-yard receiver, but they wouldn’t have scored 40 points a game and won seven games. We don’t have those types of kids. As a small school, you better run triple option or wing-t to try and grind it out…I’m happy they finally got what they deserve,” said Gingrich in regard to the sensational efforts put on display by several key members of the Annville-Cleona senior class in their final swan song. “They did great. I’m proud of them.”
NEXT UP: After dispatching Annville-Cleona on Saturday afternoon, Wyomissing will return back home to the friendly confines when they welcome three-time defending District 3-3A champion Middletown to Berks County for the right to write the latest chapter in the quasi rivalry between these two heavyweight juggernauts as the both the Spartans and Blue Raiders will spend this upcoming week prepping for what promises to be an all-out war next weekend with a trip to the state tournament riding on the line.
For Annville-Cleona, while the Dutchmen’s season may have come to a sudden and abrupt end on Saturday afternoon, the long-lasting memories that this year’s group was able lay upon not only the school itself, but the greater community of Annville at large is something far greater than any final score could ever indicate. Count A-C head coach Matt Gingrich amongst those that share in those same sentiments as well.
“Adversity,” Gingrich said almost immediately when asked what characteristic he will remember most about this year’s group. “And in the end, living up to expectations because there was a lot of adversity. The car accident, four starters out…. It started rough. We weren’t meshing well,” the A-C head man said harkening back to the beginning of the season. “But you know, they banded together, and they were resilient. This is where we hoped that they could have been. They were couple of players and a couple of plays away from going to a district final. I think if we would have gone, I think that we would have won.”
“Historic,” Gingrich added after considering one final adjective. “(Historic) because they were the first team to win a playoff game.”
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