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WPIAL

Central Valley Conquers Wyomissing again, 7-0, to Win PIAA Class-3A Title

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HERSHEY, Pa. — The old saying is that it’s tough to beat the same opponent twice in the same season. Well, Central Valley and Wyomissing weren’t exactly meeting in the same season, but the new saying should be it’s tough to beat the same team twice in back-to-back state championships.

Two undefeated powerhouses, both riding season-long win streaks that included handing PIAA champions their only losses of the season, clashed at Hersheypark Stadium Saturday afternoon, and only one could emerge victoriously.

In a hard-fought, ground-and-pound defensive battle that didn’t allow any points until the fourth quarter, behind the effort of efforts of yet another Landon Alexander 200 yard game and a stifling defensive performance and a very gutsy fourth quarter call,  Central Valley emerged victorious with a 7-0 win in the PIAA Class-3A championship.

Central Valley clinched a repeat state title, once again over Wyomissing, and extended their win streak to 27 games.

Central Valley opened the game in a predictable fashion, utilizing the two-headed monster of Antwon Johnson and Matt Merritt at quarterback for quick draws and leaning heavily on powerful runs from Landon Alexander.

However, after a steady drive that moved inside the Wyomissing 5-yard line, the progress stalled. A short field goal attempt from Serafino DeSantis was blocked by the Spartans, but Wyomissing was unable to capitalize on a fourth-and-one conversion deep within their own territory.

The second possession for Central Valley continued in the same way as the first, working down inside Wyomissing territory with steady gains — including a 21-yard jet sweep gain from Deniro Simpson. But the drive stalled out inside the Wyomissing 30, a Jayvin Thompson catch coming up short of the line to gain on fourth down.

The second quarter devolved into a series of punts, with two strong defensive lines just blowing up any momentum attempting to be gained on the ground. Wyomissing’s Wing T offense couldn’t gain any rhythm on the ground, and Alexander’s own strong start (50 yards on the first possession) gave way to a string of little to no gains.

Wyomissing received the ball after a short Central Valley punt just behind midfield, and the Spartan’s best field position of the half paved the way for a promising possession. Wyomissing worked the ball down across Central Valley’s 40. With a fourth-and-eight from the 35-yard line, the Spartans tried a pitch to Thomas Grabowski that was blown up in the backfield.

However, neither Central Valley nor wasn’t able to field the end zone before the end of the first half. With just 212 total yards of offense in the first half between both teams, it was a true slugfest.

Wyomissing and Central Valley traded a punt and another turnover on downs to open the second half, followed by another Spartans’ punt, before the Warriors’ best chance of the quarter. With excellent field position after a short Spartans’ punt, Alexander moved the ball with authority.

Central Valley once again moved into the red zone, helped by the first conversion through the air on a connection between Johnson and Thompson, but with a second-and-seven from the 11, a Merritt jump pass was picked off by Grabowski’s one-handed grasp.

But the Central Valley defense, like it had all game, forced a quick three and out and the sixth punt of the contest from the Spartans. And Alexander, perhaps tired of near-misses and turnovers on downs, rumbled 34 yards down into Wyomissing territory, and he capped the drive with a 28-yard touchdown run in which he waited to the last second to burst through a hole in the line and convert a third-and-11 — and much more.

Wyomissing’s Drew Eisenhower immediately brought the Spartans back into the fight, returning the ensuing kickoff 63 yards down inside the Central Valley 30. Benjamin Zechman’s first completion of the game came at the perfect time, converting a third-and-11 with a 13-yard toss to move into the red zone.

And on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Central Valley’s Sean FitzSimmons surged through the line and forced the ball out of Zechman’s hands to blow up the biggest play of the game and give the Warriors the ball back midway through the fourth quarter.

On the ensuing drive, with a fourth-and-one from their 18 with under four minutes remaining in the game, Central Valley head coach Mark Lyons decided to go for it. And a Merritt quarterback sneak converted one of the gutsiest calls in PIAA football this season.

Facing a third-and-six from the 41, Merritt took the snap in the backfield, squeezed through a hole in the line and pushed off a few defenders to roll across the line to gain and burn more time off the clock. But with 20 seconds left, Wymossing needed to drive 75 yards to extend or win the game.

Zechman was hit hard on the first down play, the ball popping free of his hand, but Wyomissing lineman Jven Williams caught the ball and rumbled for a solid gain. However, with four seconds left, the Spartans couldn’t reach the end zone.

While Central Valley has now won three consecutive state championships, the real work starts now. The Warriors will make the jump to WPIAL Class-4A football season, and the Warriors have gotten too used to winning to stop now.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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