Wyoming Valley West goes for inaugural D2-5A title

By John Erzar - jerzar@timesleader.com
Wyoming Valley West defensive backs catch passes during Wednesday's practice at Spartan Stadium in Kingston. (Pete G. Wilcox|Times Leader) -
Blocking drills at Wyoming Valley West football practice on Wednesday at Spartan Stadium in Kingston. (Pete G. Wilcox|Times Leader) -
Aaron Austin catches the ball during Wyoming Valley West's football practice on Wednesday at Spartan Stadium in Kingston. (Pete G. Wilcox|Times Leader) -

While Wyoming Area was sweating out a win in West Pittston last Friday and GAR was doing the same in Wilkes-Barre, Wyoming Valley West was doing nothing.

Just exactly as the Spartans planned way back in August.

Well, break time is over as Valley West (8-2) hosts Abington Heights (7-4) for the inaugural District 2 Class 5A championship at 7 p.m. Friday at Spartan Stadium in Kingston.

While District 2 is in a subregional tournament with District 11, the two districts decided not to mingle until each determined their district winner. The D11 title will also be determined Friday as Southern Lehigh (9-2) plays at Whitehall (7-4).

Next weekend, the District 2 champ will host the District 11 champ. The game will be Friday night if Valley West wins or Saturday afternoon if Abington Heights wins.

Valley West received a bye directly into the championship game in the three-team playoff. Coach Pat Keating gave his team Monday and Friday off last week. Abington had to practice all week and then defeat Wallenpaupack 35-0 in the semifinals.

“We tried to use a fine line between giving the player a little bit of rest and trying to heal up a little bit at this time of year,” Keating said, “but also practicing and staying active and doing some things. We didn’t do a lot of banging. We tried to get back to fundamentals and aspects on both side of the ball. That was really our main focus last week.”

A secondary focus was probably Abington Heights, even though the Comets still had to defeat Wallenpaupack in the semifinals. But considering the Comets defeated Wallenpaupack 38-0 in Week 8, it looked very likely Abington Heights would be showing up at Spartan Stadium on Friday.

The teams played annually from 1998-2011, but parted ways when Abington Heights became a Class 3A team and Valley West remained at 4A under the PIAA’s old four-classification system. They renewed their long-distance rivalry thi s year in Week 7 and Valley West won 23-20 when Jake Gurtis kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired.

Penalties are something that cropped up throughout the first meeting. The Spartans were the most penalized team in the Wyoming Valley Conference and had 12 against Abington Heights. Five of their nine possessions were slowed by penalties, including a holding call at the Comets 5-yard line where they ended up settling for the first of three field goals by Gurtis.

An unsportmanslike conduct penalty also kept an Abington Heights scoring drive alive. The penalty stemmed from frustration after Valley West cornerback Sean Judge appeared to rip the ball from the arms of the ball carrier but the whistle had blown the play dead.

“It’s gotten a lot better down the stretch than how we were in the beginning of the year,” Keating said. “It’s just something you have to preach and talk about and hope that in the course of the game in live action it’s not something that ends up hurting you.”

Valley West’s main concern will be Abington Heights quarterback Colin McCreary. He is a mirror image of Valley West quarterback Aaron Austin in that both can beat opponents with their passing and running. The only difference is McCreary is also an outstanding kicker and has eight field goals, including a 45-yarder. Gurtis, a soccer standout, pretty much neutralized that disparity.

The best skill guy on the field, though, will be Judge. As a running back, he had 139 yards on 25 carries in the first meeting with 86 of them coming in the second half when the Spartans found more success running between the tackles than attacking the perimeters.

Abington Heights didn’t have much success running the ball against Valley West. The Comets finished with 116 yards and 59 of them came in one gulp when McCreary scored on the fourth play of the game. They rushed 24 times for just 65 yards in the semifinal victory over Wallenpaupack.

Wyoming Valley West defensive backs catch passes during Wednesday’s practice at Spartan Stadium in Kingston. (Pete G. Wilcox|Times Leader)
https://www.theabingtonjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/web1_wvwpractice01.jpgWyoming Valley West defensive backs catch passes during Wednesday’s practice at Spartan Stadium in Kingston. (Pete G. Wilcox|Times Leader)

Blocking drills at Wyoming Valley West football practice on Wednesday at Spartan Stadium in Kingston. (Pete G. Wilcox|Times Leader)
https://www.theabingtonjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/web1_wvwpractice02.jpgBlocking drills at Wyoming Valley West football practice on Wednesday at Spartan Stadium in Kingston. (Pete G. Wilcox|Times Leader)

Aaron Austin catches the ball during Wyoming Valley West’s football practice on Wednesday at Spartan Stadium in Kingston. (Pete G. Wilcox|Times Leader)
https://www.theabingtonjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/web1_wvwpractice03.jpgAaron Austin catches the ball during Wyoming Valley West’s football practice on Wednesday at Spartan Stadium in Kingston. (Pete G. Wilcox|Times Leader)

By John Erzar

jerzar@timesleader.com

ABINGTON HEIGHTS (7-4) AT WYO. VALLEY WEST (8-2)

D2-5A Championship

7 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $6 adults; $4 students

What’s At Stake: Winner advances to the PIAA Class 5A state playoffs and will play the District 11 champion, either Southern Lehigh (9-2) or Whitehall (7-4).

Reach John Erzar at 570-991-6394 or on Twitter @TLJohnErzar

Reach John Erzar at 570-991-6394 or on Twitter @TLJohnErzar