Scores on the game’s second-to-last play to overcome Cheltenham 19-15 for the PIAA Class 5A crown.
HERSHEY — The decision was downplayed by all involved, but it was a big one.
Trailing by three points in the PIAA Class 5A state title game with 8 seconds to play and the ball on Cheltenham’s 3-yard line, Archbishop Wood second-year coach Kyle Adkins didn’t hesitate.
“We try a pass and if it’s not there we throw it out of the end zone and kick the field goal and go to overtime,” Adkins said. “We knew we could execute the play and it worked out for us.”
And in grand style, too.
Junior quarterback Max Keller found junior running back Cardel Pigford in the middle of the end zone for the winning score to give the Vikings a 19-15 win over neighboring Cheltenham in a wildly exciting state final at Hersheypark Stadium.
“We called the slant to Cardel and I knew he would catch it,” Keller said. “He and I have been playing football together since ninth grade and I knew he would be in the right spot.
“We only sent one guy out — everybody else was blocking — and I saw him come open and he made the catch. It was just an unbelievable way to end the game and win the state championship.”
The state title was the Vikings’ third in the last four seasons and sixth since joining the PIAA in 2008.
“We don’t have the talent that a lot of the past state championship teams had, but we have a lot of heart,” Wood junior running back Kaelin Costello said. “There is no quit in anybody on this team and we knew what we had to do at the end of the game.”
What the Vikings (11-3) had to do was score because the Panthers, winners of 12 straight coming in, had taken their first lead of the game at 15-12 with four minutes left in regulation.
Archbishop Wood, which had two timeouts remaining, started from its own 35 after the ensuing kickoff and did what it had done all night — give the ball to Costello.
And he delivered.
After sharing carries for most of the regular season with Pigford, Costello took over as the main back for this one after putting up 239 rushing yards (on 28 carries) in the Vikings’ 24-21 semifinal win over District Seven champion Gateway.
In the championship, remarkably, he was even better.
This time, Costello posted 280 rushing yards — 106 more than Cheltenham had as a team — and scored Archbishop Wood’s first touchdown in a dominating performance.
“All of the credit goes to the line,” Costello said. “They were opening up the holes every time and I just tried to run through them.
“And then to have Cardel come up with the huge catch at the end was just a great way to end it. This was just a total team effort and it’s been that way all season for us.”
A huge part of that effort was delivered by a Vikings defense that limited Cheltenham (14-2), to its second-lowest point total of the season. The Panthers came in averaging nearly 38 points a game and had scored 99 points combined in its state quarterfinal and semifinal games,
“We knew that we could get it done,” Archbishop Wood junior defensive end Rob Jackson said. “We’ve been doing it all season and just had to go out and do it one more time and that’s what we did.
“There is no better feeling in the world than this. I couldn’t be happier for everybody.”