Zephs fall to WVW in states
Whitehall’s bid for a state title was thwarted by a brutish offensive line that powered a robust running attack that ate up both yards and the clock as visiting Wyoming Valley West advanced to the next round of the PIAA playoffs.
The visiting Spartans rolled up 298 yards on the ground en route to the 32-21 win over the Zephyrs. The win places Wyoming Valley West in the 5A quarterfinals where they’ll meet Archbishop Wood who defeated Simon Gratz, 36-6 to advance to the quarters.
The Spartans’ version of ground and pound began early as they scored on their opening possession, a fourteen-play drive that consumed nearly five minutes off the clock. That drive, which featured big runs by quarterback Rob Dwyer and running back Sean Mikovitch, was capped by an 18-yard pass play to Dwyer who lined up as a wide receiver.
The Spartans first touchdown came on fourth down as they were facing a fourth-and-eleven at the 18-yard-line. But after their timeout, the gamble paid off when reserve quarterback Jake Shusta found Dwyer in the corner of the end zone for the score.
The Spartans had a capable kicker as evidenced by their next drive that resulted in a 33-yard field goal by Jake Gurtis, but decided to stay aggressive and go for the six. Seizing that early momentum signaled trouble for the Zephyrs.
The Zephyrs also coughed up the ball four times, one of those an interception in the end zone on their opening drive of the second half, which also played a big part in the Spartans win.
“The way that they we’re moving the ball and eating the clock, we certainly couldn’t afford to give them any extra series,” said head coach Brian Gilbert. They did what I was worried about. They were bigger and stronger and physically took it to us.”
With WVW’s success on the ground, the Zephyrs only ran 16 plays the entire first half.
“It’s tough to win that way,” said Gilbert.
The WVW field goal came after they held Whitehall on a critical fourth-and-two at the Spartan 39-yard line. It appeared that Dabriel Ayala had the necessary yards, but the senior back fell inches short. The Spartans went right back to work on the ground, utilizing their big offensive line led by UCLA-recruit Chris Bleich. The drive ended on a tackle for loss by Jacob Hud, forcing their decision to attempt the field goal.
Whitehall got on the board midway through the second quarter when quarterback Ethan Parvel bolted 43 yards to trim the lead to 10-7. The junior signal caller found a gaping hole provided by Whitehall’s stout offensive line and outraced the defense for their first score.
While it looked like that TD may have rolled the momentum back to the home team, the Spartans took the ensuing kickoff and marched 74 yards on another time-consuming drive that ended when Dwyer ran it in from five yards out to make it 17-7.
Dwyer finished the game with 123 rushing yards, including two TDs.
Even with all the different formations used by the Spartans on offense, Brian Gilbert said that his team was ready for their different looks. It came down to their physicality and he said that they had a hard time handling it.
“When we did make stops, the offense wasn’t there to capitalize on it,” said Gilbert, whose team managed just 12 first downs all game.
A series during the third quarter served as snapshot of their physical play. On a couple of running plays the Spartan offensive line just bulldozed the entire Whitehall front as a large, white pile just surged ahead with Mikovitch riding that wave. The Zephyr defense was on the field quite a bit throughout the first half, and that trend continued into the second half which eventually wore them down.
The Zephs also had trouble getting the ball to Dez Boykin in space. The senior finished with six catches for 65 yards, but was kept out of the end zone for the first time this year, ending his consecutive touchdown streak at 18 games, dating back to last year.
“It’s tough when there’s two and three guys on him,” said Gilbert. “I mean, there was a point in the game where they actually had a triangle on him, so it’s a lot of respect to Dez, and you can see why when he gets the ball.”
Boykin nearly extended his TD streak when he hauled in a beautiful reception late in the fourth quarter as he leapt high to snag the 62-yard pass from Parvel. That drive was capped when Parvel connected with Allen Negrete for the 9-yard score. The two-point conversion was successful as Boykin scored his last points as a Zephyr, ending a remarkable career.
Braxton Marrero scored the Zephyrs second touchdown late in the third quarter on a seam pass from Parvel. The senior raced up the hash marks, getting behind the defenders as Parvel hit him for the 62-yard strike.
The Zephs finish the season at 9-4, with a district championship on the résumé. But unlike last year, the Spartans stood in their way of meeting Wood again in the quarters.
“It wasn’t our night,” said Gilbert. “We had costly penalties and costly turnovers, and we couldn’t stop their physical running game.”