BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — Anthony Wayne advanced to the second round of the state playoffs with a dominating 56-0 victory over Valley Forge last Friday.
“It was such an amazing feeling because it shows that all our hard work and preparation has really paid off,” said senior linebacker Jacob Kirby.
“Everything we have done from way back in June with our workouts, into two-a-days and throughout the season has led up to allowing us to win the way we did tonight and to continue playing on.”
As the score indicates, the Generals were impressive on both sides of the ball, as senior quarterback Max Denman threw for five touchdowns during his nearly seven minutes under center and defensive players such as Kirby, senior tackle Byron Grochowski and classmate and linebacker Ben Allen helped to hold the Patriots to just 80 yards on offense.
“The defense is amazing,” Denman said. “Holding a team to zero (points) and the momentum they create off of their big plays helps every aspect of the game. We feed off each other and the defense is so good at preparing each week and doing their jobs.”
Although the game began with two punts and a pair of turnovers on downs, AW finally fell into an offensive groove on its third possession.
Following a first-down run by junior back Ezra Scott, Denman threw the first of his two touchdown passes to senior receiver Max Bradfield – this one from 33 yards out.
With Scott still not fully recovered from a minor ankle injury he suffered a week before, Denman said he knew the Generals had to get the passing game going in order to get the offense moving.
“We started a little slow, but the line did a great job protecting me and the receivers were making great catches,” Denman said.
Junior kicker Matt Paul added the first of six consecutive extra points to give the Generals a 7-0 lead with 2:59 remaining in the opening quarter.
AW senior safeties Chase Alberts and Nick Prokup, classmate and linebacker Tyler Kristufek and junior end Bryce Boyer then forced an immediate Valley Forge three-and-out that resulted in a quick Patriots punt.
After a 21-yard return by senior Jacob Gordon, senior back Jacob Neumeyer broke free for a 34-yard touchdown run.
Paul’s point-after allowed the Generals to end the first quarter with a 14-0 advantage.
Allen and Neumeyer helped force Valley Forge into another punt to start the second stanza, which gave Anthony Wayne the ball on the Patriots’ 47-yard line to start their fifth possession.
“We came in with a game plan in mind,” Kirby said. “When everyone’s doing their jobs like tonight, our opponent should not be able to run on us.”
Denman completed passes to Bradfield and junior back Mason Alberts on this drive before tossing a 17-yard TD pass to Boyer.
Paul’s extra point pushed the score to 21-0 with 9:02 remaining in the quarter, but the Generals added two more scores before halftime.
Kirby next followed additional tackles by Grochow-ski, Kristufek and senior linebacker Zac Atkinson with a timely sack to force Valley Forge’s fourth punt and Denman responded with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Bradfield.
“It felt great to come in and shut their offense down,” Allen said. “We knew that if we stopped their trap and buck sweep we would dominate the line of scrimmage and that is what we were able to do against Valley Forge.
“Our communication is vital to our system and we thrive when we have 11 guys running to the football. We communicated well and ran to the football well and when we do that we are generally very successful.”
Paul’s point-after came at the 4:14 mark and put Anthony Wayne on top 28-0.
The Patriots managed to answer a first down – their first of the night – on a 9-yard pass from senior quarterback Nick Kugler to sophomore tight end Julius Sebille, but the Valley Forge drive eventually ended on a punt-forcing sack by the AW combination of senior end Nolan Bishop and junior end Dylan Jennings.
This left the Generals with 1:41 before the break – plenty of time for their fifth touchdown.
This one came when Denman followed his own 11-yard run with a 29-yard scoring pass to Chase Alberts.
Paul’s extra point gave Anthony Wayne a 35-0 halftime lead and forced a running clock to start the second half.
Things only got worse for the Patriots as the third quarter got underway.
Seconds in, AW junior safety Jacob Potkanowicz recovered a Valley Forge fumble and returned it for an immediate touchdown.
In fact, Paul’s final point-after came with 11:03 still remaining in the frame.
After another three-and-out initiated by the Generals’ Allen, Atkinson, Grochowski and Prokup, Denman marched Anthony Wayne right back down the field.
This time around, he followed a 15-yard pass to Jennings with a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Tanner Gill-Snow before exiting the game for good.
Denman said afterward that it was the first five-touchdown passing performance of his career.
“It was awesome to do it in an atmosphere like this, especially since it was the last time I got to play with my seniors in Schaller Stadium,” he said. “It’s an emotional feeling, but I couldn’t have seen a better way to go out.”
“It was a night my fellow seniors and I will never forget,” he said. “To go out with a bang like that was really special for this group of guys and coaches.”
Sophomore kicker Zain Hamid promptly added this extra point to push the score to 49-0 with 4:20 still remaining in the third.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, Generals junior cornerback Shane Williams intercepted a pass three plays later – putting the ball back in AW’s hands on the Valley Forge 26.
Senior Jeremy Giesken gained 18 yards on three carries before finishing the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run eight seconds into the fourth.
Hamid’s third point-after proved to be the final point of the contest because sophomore end Trey Jones recovered a Patriots fumble on the following possession, after Valley Forge pushed the ball all the way down to the Generals 10.
The recovery allowed AW to run the clock out on three nice rushes by sophomore back Adam Miller.
“Winning our last home football game like that was amazing because I can still remember coming to watch these games when I was growing up,” Kirby said.
“The community is amazing and for so many people to come out and support us for our last home game is so amazing – I will always be forever thankful to have a fan base and community like this.
“I would not trade this for the world. There is no other school I would rather have played for and represented than Anthony Wayne.”
Denman ended up completing 10-of-18 passes for 183 yards and ran for another 38.
Bradfield caught four of those passes while posting 103 yards, Neumeyer rushed for 42 yards, Scott ran for 32 and Giesken rushed for 26.
Grochowski led the Anthony Wayne defense with six tackles, Allen and Kirby added five more each, Boyer, Prokup, senior safeties Ben Wallace and Ben Wyrick all made four stops and Atkinson, Kristufek, Williams and senior Luke Harrell all finished with three.
“Our defense is made up of a bunch of brothers,” Allen said. “Most of us have played against or with each other since we first started tackle football. Knowing how our brothers are going to react and the chemistry we’ve built over the years both on and off the field really helps this defense.
“We’re all just hungry to stop the other team. We might not be the biggest defense, but that doesn’t matter because our guys play physically, fast and with a lot of heart.”
Junior Mike Pappas led the Patriots offense with 39 yards on 12 carries, senior receiver Dylan Magda ran for 34 more yards and senior back Dionne Dubose rushed for 22 yards on eight carries.
Pappas also paced the Valley Forge defense with eight tackles, junior linebacker Bobby Benak added six more, the quartet of Magda, senior lineman Anthony LaPlaca, classmate and linebacker Michael Miller and junior lineman Isaiah Kammer made five stops apiece, Dubose had four and freshman lineman Werner Scheffler finished with three.
The second-seeded Generals will next travel to Clyde High School to play third-seeded Avon on Friday at 7:00 p.m.
The Eagles advanced by topping the Springfield Blue Devils, 49-14.
“Our mindset right now is ‘win or go home,’” Kirby said. “We have to attack each day like it is our last day because high school football doesn’t last forever, and we are playing bonus football right now. We also need to keep getting better every day and keep taking it one week at a time.”