CLARION — Wilmington’s potent ground attack proved to be too much for Clarion to handle Saturday, as the Bobcats saw their stellar 2017 season come to an end in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals with a 33-6 loss to the Greyhounds.
Clarion may have benefitted some from playing in the comfy confines of Memorial Stadium, but the Bobcat defense looked anything but comfortable for most of the day. That was due to the fact Wilmington ripped off one long run after another — most coming on trap plays up the middle.
The District 10 champs broke off 21 plays of 10 yards or more — including nine that went for 20 yards or more — with all but one of those big plays coming on the ground. By game’s end, the Greyhounds had churned out 55 carries for 471 yards on their way to 511-119 advantage in total yards over the Bobcats.
Jack Patton and Bryson Verrelli led the Wilmington ground attack. Patton had 14 carries for 217 yards, while Verelli had 15 totes for 144 yards — including an 85-yard touchdown run.
Despite the huge difference in total yards, Clarion trailed just 7-6 after one quarter — which was the score after just two minutes of action — and 14-6 midway through the second quarter.
Wilmington (13-0) pushed its lead to 23-6 at the half before using its ground game to totally take over the game in the second half. The Bobcats ran just 16 of their 42 plays after the break as the Greyhounds put together a handful of long drives.
The loss was the first of the season for the Bobcats (12-1), who were trying to join the 2013 squad as the lone teams in program history to reach the state semifinals.
The game also was the first-ever meeting between the schools’ two legendary coaches — Clarion’s Larry Wiser and Wilmington’s Terry Verrelli.
Wiser, his 38th year (29th as head coach) on the Clarion sideline, now sports a career record of 217-93-1. Verrelli, a 1965 graduation of Curwensville, is now in his 40th year as head coach (48th season overall) with the Greyhounds. He has amassed a career mark of 313-129-3.
“I’m going to give their (Wilmington’s) line credit,” said Wiser. “Their center was handling our backside (linebacker) and nose guard. We tried to make some adjustments here and there, but I think the difference was we couldn’t get the line of scrimmage. That is where they won it. Plus, they are obviously a great football team.
“We missed some opportunities. We missed a block here and so forth like that. That happens against teams of this quality. You have to play everything to the best to win games like this.
“We just couldn’t maintain some consistency. We would get some positive yardage here and there and then we could get a negative play. We just couldn’t get anything going offensively. I’m the offensive coordinator, so everything is on my back.”
Clarion got the ball to open the game, but the Wilmington defense forced a quick three-and-out. Disaster struck the Bobcats as punter Spencer Miller was forced to track down a bad snap near the goal line. Miller tried to get off a punt but couldn’t as the Greyhounds got the ball at the Bobcat 1-yard line.
Wilmington quarterback Robert Pontius scored from there on the ensuing play, with Jacob Winters extra point making it 7-0 just 1:27 into the game.
The score did little to phase Clarion, as the Bobcats answered right back on their ensuing play from their own 14-yard line after the kickoff. Miller went deep, and senior Thomas Wurster outjumped Marett for the long pass down the middle of the field before racing 84 yards for the score. Archer Mill’s extra point was no good, as Clarion trailed, 7-6, with just 1:45 gone in the game.
The defenses took over from there for most of the first quarter, as Clarion was forced to punt once (a 52-yarder by Miller) and Wilmington twice despite picking up three first downs.
Clarion had the ball entering the second quarter but was forced to punt it away again. However, Logan Minich picked off Pontius at the Clarion 35 on Wilmington’s first play.
Minich, the team’s second-leading rusher, was limited to just playing defense Saturday after suffering a hand injury late in last week’s win over Chestnut Ridge. The junior still had a strong game on defense despite playing with a cast.
The Bobcats couldn’t capitalize on the turnover, though, and were forced to punt again.
Wilmington got the ball at its own 17. The Bobcats dropped Marett for a two-yard loss on first down, but Verrelli ripped off an 85-yard touchdown run on the next play — running over a couple Clarion defenders along the way. Winters’ PAT made it 14-6 with 8:59 left in the first half.
The Greyhounds were not done scoring in the half though, as they put points on the boards following two more Bobcat punts.
Wilmington drove 74 yards on just five plays following the first of those punts. Patton broke free on a 40-yard jaunt, setting up a 7-yard touchdown pass from Marett to Colton Marett with 6:06 left in the half. Minich blocked the extra point.
The Greyhounds scored their final points of the half with 22 seconds left on a 42-yard field goal by Winters. Patton had a 22-yard run as part of the 7-play, 38-yard drive that helped send the Greyhounds into the lockerroom with a 23-6 lead.
Wilmington carried that momentum into the second half and scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter to put the game away with a commanding 33-6 lead.
The Greyhounds took the second-half kickoff and marched from their own 33 down to the Clarion 11. Patton had a 26-yard run along the way, as Wilmington also overcame a holding penalty — something that hindered the Greyhounds as day as they were flagged 15 times for 114 yards.
Clarion’s defense eventually forced a field goal, as Sam Minich and Camden Boggess teamed up to drop Pontius for a 5-yard loss on third down. However, Winters was true on a 33-yard attempt to push the Wilmington lead to 26-6.
The Bobcats notched two first downs on their suing drive, thanks to a pass interfernce call and an 8-yard run by Sam Minich. But, Clarion was once again forced to punt the football away.
Wilmington took over at its own 13 before a false start pushed the Greyhounds back to their own 8. All Wilmington did from there was march 92 yards on 11 plays.
The Bobcat defense twice dropped Verrelli for 10-yard losses, but it mattered little as Patton ripped off runs of 15 and 25 yards before Pontius hit Verrelli on a 30-yard pass play.
Pontius then added runs of 18 and 11 yards before the QB powered in from the Clarion 1 for his second rushing TD of the day with 39 seconds left in the third quarter. Winters extra point set the eventual final at 33-6, as neither team scored in the fourth quarter.
Despite the loss, Wiser praised the season his squad put together.
“I have had a lot of good football teams who haven’t done this,” said Wiser. “And, I have had some average teams do really well. It depends on wanting to come out here and play with each other, support each other.
“I think these kids did that. Week-to-week they were their best coaches because if someone wasn’t stepping up, they would make sure and become the enforcers and do that.
“I also want to make sure I give the coaches credit. Scott (Miller) and Lee (Weber) have done a great job this year, as has Nate (McClaine). He (McClain) is one of the better line coaches in the area. He is consistently so even-keeled with these guys and does such a good job with these guys too.
“To get to this level, you have to be able to block and tackle well. Any team that does that is going to keep moving.”
Wilmington will now play either defending state champ Steel Valley or Washington — who played Saturday night for the WPIAL title — this coming weekend with a berth in the state championship game on the line.