The offense started the road to Hershey early Friday night. The defense made sure things never veered off course.
Wyoming Area scored on its first two possessions and the defense picked off five passes as the Warriors defeated Tamaqua 21-0 to advance to the PIAA Class 3A state championship game.
District 2 champion Wyoming Area (13-1) will play D7 champion Central Valley (13-1) at noon Saturday, Dec. 7, at Hersheypark Stadium for the championship. Central Valley defeated D6 champion Bald Eagle Area 45-0 in the other semifinal.
Not only will Wyoming Area be playing for its first state football championship, it’s the first time in school history a team in any sport advanced to a state championship game based on available PIAA records.
“It’s just incredible, historic for our program to play for a state championship,” said Wyoming Area coach Randy Spencer, who was also a player and assistant coach for the Warriors. “As great as that is and as big as that is, we’ve been talking all year with this group about just playing one more together.”
The offense overcame a couple penalties in its first possession to finish off an eight-play, 82-yard drive with a 5-yard TD run by quarterback Dominic DeLuca. The score was set up with a 41-yard DeLuca to Brian Williams pass that placed the ball at the Tamaqua 8-yard line.
Running back Darren Rodney, who missed the quarterfinal win vs. Montoursville with an injury, carried five consecutive plays on the Warriors’ next possession. DeLuca ended it by dropping a pass over a defender and to Brian Williams in the left corner of the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown.
Rodney finished with 133 yards on 23 carries.
“Last week, we didn’t want anything bad to happen so I sat out,” said Rodney, who was scratched from the lineup the morning of the Montoursville game. “Going into this week I felt great. I knew I could do it.”
Wyoming Area scored just once more — on a 1-yard run by Rodney midway through the third quarter — but the way the defense was playing it was just added insurance.
D11 champion Tamaqua (12-3) came into the game with the school’s all-time leading rusher, passer and receiver. Running back Nate Boyle was unable to get the running attack going, so the Blue Raiders turned to quarterback Brayden Knoblauch.
Knoblauch was sacked just once but harassed and flushed from the pocket several times by defensive ends Derek Ambrosino and Caleb Graham. He often had to throw on the run or off balance, and the Wyoming Area secondary responded.
Defensive back Jake Williams recorded the first of his three interceptions with a minute left until halftime. His pick in the end zone stopped a Blue Raiders’ drive that moved to the Wyoming Area 12-yard line. Jake Williams grabbed his second interception on Tamaqua’s first possession of the second half after fellow defensive back Leo Haros slapped a pass away from a receiver.
“It helps a ton,” Jake Williams said of the pass rush. “For the quarterback to get forced into rushing a throw or forced into something, it’s great. It helps us down field to make plays. We wouldn’t be here without those guys up front.”
Knoblauch attempted 47 passes — the most he’s ever thrown in a game — but completed just 19 for 199 yards.
The final three Tamaqua drives ended in interceptions. Brian Williams, Jake’s older brother, nabbed Wyoming Area’s third pick of the game, again with pressure forcing a throw. DeLuca made it four interceptions just past the midway point of the fourth quarter.
Jake Williams then completed his interception hat trick as Knoblauch was chased from the pocket and floated a desperation pass to near the goal line.
Dallas also made the Class 4A championship game, marking the first time two Wyoming Valley Conference teams will play for state football titles in the same year. Berwick is 1997 was the last WVC team in a state championship.