Sunday, November 30, 2014

PIAA Class AAA Eastern Final: Somerset vs. Archbishop Wood

Archbishop Wood is the defending state champion in Class AAA. In fact, in the past three seasons the Vikings have rolled out to an impressive 40-6 record with two state championships, and one second place finish.With a 12-1 record right now, the Vikings are looking to add to their run. Wood is a machine from the prestigious Philadelphia Catholic League, and they are looking for their fourth straight trip to Hershey. They are a living and breathing dynasty.

Somerset, on the other hand, is a completely different story. The Golden Eagles have never won a district championship or a state playoff game until this season. This 2014 team is without question the best team in school history. Somerset hails from District 5, and they have to combine with Districts 6,8,and 9 just to have a playoff.  Talk about different worlds between these two programs.

The 2014 edition of the Archbishop Wood Vikings is as good as ever.  They have size, speed, and loads of talent.  This is a team you could argue is the best team in the state, regardless of classification. They have rolled to a 12-1 record, and hold some very impressive wins under their belt. Wood defeated Maryland power, DeMatha Catholic to start the year, along with some wins over respected Pennsylvania teams like North Penn, West Catholic, and Imhotep Charter. They are for sure battle tested coming from a historically competitive Philadelphia Catholic League.

The Vikings boast two highly rated players heading to Penn State next season. Ryan Bates is a four star offensive linemen and anchors a big and powerful line for Wood.  Jake Cooper could be the next great linebacker for the Nittany Lions, and he leads a defense that is coming off an outstanding performance by holding Great Valley to just 7 points in the state quarterfinal. While the two Penn State recruits get their fair share of the attention, it is the Villanova-bound running back that makes this team go. Jarrett McClenton rushed for two touchdowns, caught a score, and returned a punt to the endzone for a marvelous quarterfinal performance. He has been doing that kind of thing for a few years, and he is the guy Somerset needs to keep their focus on this weekend.

It was mentioned how Somerset and Archbishop Wood come from different worlds, and that is absolutely true. Somerset plays in a very strong class A and AA conference based in the Johnstown and Altoona region called the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference, it is the home to notable small school programs like Forest Hills, Bishop Carroll, Bishop McCort, and this year's class A state semifinalist- Bishop Guilfoyle. Actually, Guilfoyle is the only team to conquer the Golden Eagles this season.

Despite the strength of schedule questions, Somerset has powered ahead with wins over four straight AAA teams in the playoffs, including a 30-0 thrashing of perennial power, Bethlehem Catholic this past week.  It was the defense that shut down BeCaHi, and the Golden Eagles hope they can replicate that performance this week. The defense may not be big, but they are fast. Somerset relies on the talented defensive line that features all-stater Bryce Mostoller, and senior defensive tackle Colton Slayback. The next level is anchored by another 2013 all state selection in Logan Eller at middle linebacker.  As a unit overall, Somerset is very fast and have knocked off bigger and stronger teams in each of the past two weeks.

Somerset's offense features a pair of speedy juniors, Dylan Barnes at QB and Jake Heiple at running back. Heiple rushed for three touchdowns last week, and is just shy of 1,500 yards this season. Raven Beeman is an exciting and versatile weapon and adds to the speed of this dangerous offense.  Bryce Mostoller is a big target at tight end and is one of the better ones in the state.

Overall this is a game with tradition vs. newcomers, city vs. country, and of course, David vs. Goliath.  Somerset is an excellent team, and one of the better AAA teams this area has ever seen, but they are going up against one of the best programs in all of Pennsylvania.  Something will have to give this weekend.


  1. "This 2014 team is without question the best team in school history."

    While Somersets over all performance (particularly in the play offs) has been nothing short of spectacular they did lose spectacularly to B.G.. This is not to take away from their accomplishments to date; but, only to draw attention to this weeks game. IMHO, to make the statement quoted above demeans the three previous undefeated teams Somerset has had in the past in 1957, 1961 and 1965. Back then programs were less organized and integrated. There were no post season games or play offs; so who is to know.

    That said, should Somerset win this week it would be difficult not to come to the same conclusion as quoted above; and, I for one would have to agree that they are the real deal.

  2. I have watched the current edition of the Golden Eagle football team from afar, but I have certainly been tremendously impressed with the performance. I do not, however, immediately agree that this team is the best ever. I don't know much about the teams from 1957 and 1961, but I do know everything about the 1965 team. While it is almost impossible to compare teams nearly 50 years apart, there are some observations that can be made, with some very definite caveats. The game today is very different than it was in 1965. There was no state playoff, the training regimen was different, and the game itself was different. With that in mind, a few random thoughts: the 1965 team was as fast as the current edition, the team starters overall were as big as the players today, and the running backs were bigger. The 1965 team won two games by the score of 7 to 6. While some might say that shows the team wasn't really that good, I prefer to say it shows that that team simply wouldn't be beaten, no matter what. The 1965 team made up its collective mind that it would not lose. That team faced adversity and won, no matter what. Could the 2014 Eagles beat the 1965 Eagles? I don't know, and neither does the author of the article. I suspect he wasn't even born in 1965. I will be cheering like a teenager for the boys on Saturday and I hope they bring the title back to Somerset. But that win won't automatically mean they are the best ever, just one of four.

  3. In fairness guys, I am much younger and did not see those teams play. I still am pretty confident this team could stack up and possibly win, I probably overstated it, but making the state's final four is not to be taken lightly.

    1. No hard feelings. This year's team was certainly outstanding and the loss on Saturday does nothing to diminish its accomplishments. You are absolutely correct, making it to the final four for the State Championship is something very special, especially for a country school like Somerset. We'll hope the returning team does even better next year.