EXETER – When their dream of a lifetime finally became reality, their long-sought championship finally secured, hulking Wyoming Area lineman Carl Zielinski hoisted his much more minute teammate Cody Schmitz high in the air.
From the tallest to the smallest, the Warriors turned Friday into a day to celebrate.
It means everything, Schmitz said.
It means Wyoming Area is second-best no more.
The Warriors used a 20-7 victory over Lakeland to win the District 2 Class 2A championship Friday while washing away the sting of past championship game heartache.
In 2010, Wyoming Area lost the Eastern Conference title game to Pine Grove. Last season, the Warriors were swept away by GAR in the same district championship showdown.
Past two years, we came up short, said Zielinski, who stands 6-foot-3, 290 pounds.
So the Wyoming Area seniors vowed to make good on one last chance to be the best.
It feels good to finally win, Warriors ferocious two-way lineman Joe Erzar said. I'll have these memories forever, until the day I die.
Nobody can take the feeling of winning a district gold medal away now.
Not after double-threat quarterback Nick O'Brien ran for all three touchdowns and 135 yards. But it took a lot more than the team's brightest star to bring home those shiny gold medals.
Senior linemen Erzar, Zielinski and Joe Taylor opened holes on offense and closed them while playing defense, bottling up Lakeland's vaunted rushing attack.
I knew if we played this game hard, and everybody came out ready, hit them hard, we were going to come out on top in this one and get the gold, Erzar said.
Along with O'Brien, a number of other Warriors came up golden.
Jordan Zezza came up with a couple big catches, while Zach Lanunziata ripped off a couple crunching runs out of the backfield and recovered a key fumble.
But in the biggest game of his career, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Schmitz turned into a play-maker all over the field.
He caught a 26-yard bomb to set up the game's first touchdown, then rattled off a first-down run and a first-down catch to sustain the game-clinching touchdown drive late in the third quarter.
On defense, Schmitz made a momentum-turning interception in the end zone to protect Wyoming Area's 12-7 lead in the first half.
And right after the Warriors grabbed a 20-7 lead, Schmitz made sure it stayed that way by chasing down a Lakeland kick return that had a chance to go to the end zone.
I saw the return man all the way, Schmitz said. I feel lucky enough to have the coaches have the faith in me.
Mostly, the Warriors kept faith in themselves. That's why they finally found themselves at the top, after two years of falling just short.
It couldn't have paid off better, Schmitz said. Going out like this is the best thing.
Now able to call themselves the best, the Warriors believe they're going even farther.
We'll have a great run in states, Erzar predicted.
All because of one great night.
It's amazing, Zielinski said.