Archbishop Wood’s restructured approach able to take down La Salle.
Ground game difference for Vikings
FORT WASHINGTON >> Archbishop Wood and La Salle had a couple things in common when they took the field Friday night.
Both teams had lost to St. Joe’s Prep in PCL play and neither team’s current setup on offense resembled the plans the respective teams had in preseason. An early season injury to both team’s starting quarterbacks caused things to get shuffled so they had to adjust on the fly.
For Wood, that meant leaning even more on the ground game and it showed as the Vikings topped La Salle 31-12 on Friday at Upper Dublin High School.
“I felt like we dominated their defensive line,” Wood center Luke Stengel said. “We were prepared for it. We always say we’re the hardest working team on the field all the time, so when we figured out we were going to run the ball more, we were excited.”
Wood won the coin toss and opted to receive on Friday and went right to work with that run-heavy offense. The Vikings marched down the field on 10 plays, all runs, and capped the drive when quarterback Jake Ross plunged in from a yard out.
Ross started the season at wide receiver, but after starting quarterback Jack Colyar was injured in the season opener, he took over under center. Ross hasn’t been asked to do too much, throwing just 12 passes on Friday, but he’s adapted well to the position and is showing more and more polish with each passing week.
“We had a great first drive, hit a few bumps but Coach (Kyle Adkins) talked to us at halftime, we adjusted a few things and ran smoothly from there,” Ross said. “We’ve put guys in the right places and gotten a lot of reps at practices so it’s been going well. We’re not throwing as much, but when we do, the receivers are making plays.”
La Salle lost its starting quarterback, Jack Machita, in the second week and has turned to senior Sean Daly to fill the void. Daly, a converted tailback, has played hard since taking over and gave the Explorers a jolt with a 54-yard touchdown run after Wood’s opening drive. Daly looked to have another huge run later in the
first half, but it was called back for a holding flag, a call that Explorers coach John Steinmetz felt was a turning point. La Salle was also without its starting center due to a concussion as the game went on, the Explorers just didn’t have much room or time to make plays on offense.
“Wood is a very physical football team and they kind of laid into us a little bit, they have a great running game,” Steinmetz said. “In the early going we looked pretty good, then we had the penalty on that long run and never got the wind back in our sails there.”
La Salle missed the extra point on its first touchdown, then had a two-point try picked off on its second touchdown which allowed Wood to go into the half up 14-12. The Vikings’ second score game on the first of two Ross to Bill Cook touchdown passes, a six-yard flick and catch on first-and-goal.
Three of Ross’ five completions went to Cook, who also reeled in an eight-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a huge target, he’s a big body with good hands,” Ross said. “It’s great seeing him come across the middle and throwing that big body into space.”
The only score in the third quarter was a 21-yard field goal by Wood’s Bobby Hennessey. Hennessey, a senior, had an eventful Friday. A starting midfielder for the Vikings boys’ soccer team, he bagged two goals in Wood’s 3-0 PCL quarterfinal win over Archbishop Carroll in the afternoon, then got to UD in time to go 4-for-4 on extra points and 1-for-2 on field goals.
Wood’s defense was stellar in the second half, containing La Salle’s runners and rushing Daly in the pocket. Linebacker Brett Gross had one of the defining plays of the night, blowing through the line and dropping Daly for a 16-yard sack in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback isn’t the only offensive positions the Vikings have had to shuffle this fall. Tailback Chris Blackstone has been out injured so junior Tom Santiago has stepped up to fill the featured back role.
“We just kept pounding it, that’s what we do, and they couldn’t stop it,” Santiago said. “I have a great line, they stuck to their assignments and executed and I had wide open holes in there.”
Santiago ran for 250 yards two weeks ago in a win over Archbishop Ryan, then carried 21 times in last week’s lopsided loss to St. Joe’s Prep. On Friday, the junior toted the ball 27 times for 193 yards and a 39-yard touchdown that iced the scoring.
“He sees the hole and he hits it like that,” Stengel said. “He just goes for it and if he sees a little crease, he’s going to hit and pick up 15 yards. When we see him get up, he’s smiling, he’s not huffing and puffing and it really gets us going.”
Santiago said he’s been using ice baths to help recover after his recent heavy workloads while continuing to train and keep his fitness up. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound hammer said he wasn’t expecting to have this large a workload but he’s embraced the challenge and the responsibility the coaches have put on him.
“I wasn’t expecting this, but I had to step up and do what I needed to do for my team,” Santiago said. “I just want to help the team. Our main goal is a state championship, so whatever I need to do to get there, I’ll do.”
The Vikings ground game impressed Steinmetz as well.
“We talked about (Santiago) last week, he’s good and a super running back,” Steinmetz said. “The guy that makes the whole thing go is 58 (senior tackle Connor Bishop) that kid is a terrific blocker, he fires off the ball and the rest of their offensive line follows him firing off the ball.”
La Salle finishes with Roman Catholic then heads into the PCL 6A playoffs with a rematch against Father Judge. Wood ends its regular season with Judge, then will prepare for the 5A PCL playoffs.
Archbishop Wood’s Cardel Pigford gains yardage as La Salle defenders pursue Friday night.
Archbishop Wood’s Tom Santiago finds running room against La Salle Friday night.
La Salle’s Sam Brown runs up field after a reception Friday night.
Archbishop Wood’s Leroy Pendleton is tackled near the sideline by La Salle’s Dillon Trainer Friday night.
La Salle quarterback Sean Daly runs with the ball against Archbishop Wood Friday night.
La Salle’s Manny Quiles alludes a tackle against Archbishop Wood Friday night.