Wyoming Area coach Randy Spencer wasn't running the show during the Warriors' previous two treks into the PIAA state football playoffs. But he was there to see the show get cancelled twice after one episode.
Spencer was an assistant when Wyoming Area was clobbered 47-6 by Mount Carmel in the Class 2A state playoffs in 1998 and 49-0 by Strath Haven in the Class 3A state playoffs in 2003.
This group, though, could change that trend as the District 2 champion Warriors (10-2) play District 11 champion Pen Argyl (10-2) at 1 p.m. today at Northern Lehigh High School in Slatington in the first round of the PIAA Class 2A playoffs.
This is a very confident group and comfortable, Spencer said. There's a big difference from being arrogant and being confident. We pride ourselves on being respectful and respecting everybody we play.
I've been in the situations where the teams that have gone into the state playoffs against Mount Carmel … and that 2003 group that played Strath Haven. Two differences with this group are the kids seem to be fresher and seem to be energized.
Spencer meant no disrespect to Wyoming Area's opponents in the district playoffs – Lake-Lehman and Lakeland. But the Warriors are as healthy as they've been all year and the seniors finally have a championship after losing in the Eastern Conference finals in 2010 and district finals last year.
The 1998 squad entered the game with Mount Carmel off an emotionally draining 21-20 victory over Montrose in the D2-2A championship contest. The Warriors then had to play in Mount Carmel's backyard against a Red Tornadoes team that went on to win its third state title in five seasons.
The 2003 group had even a longer road trip, heading to Coatesville High School to play Strath Haven, a team with two Division I prospects including current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor. Plus, the Warriors had two games with rival Pittston Area sandwiched around a victory over Berwick at Crispin Field.
Those were very challenging situations, Spencer said. This is a challenging situation, but our kids have their energy level high. Their confidence is high in terms of how they've been playing. They've been playing well together. They have a fire and an energy. They really enjoy playing with and for each other at this point.
This is a group that enjoys playing, enjoys playing together and I think they want to play as many games together as they possibly can.
Whether there is a 14th game could come down to one thing – stopping Pen Argyl's run-first offense. Pen Argyl 1,400-yard rusher Mike Racciato is as tough as they come. The two-time PIAA Class 2A state wrestling champion has verbally committed to the University of Pittsburgh to wrestle. Mike Depaolo, his backfield mate, is an intimidating 6-foot-3, 230 pounds.
On paper, the Green Knights don't appear like much of a threat through the air. Two quarterbacks have combined for over 1,000 yards and have thrown nine TD passes while surrendering 13 interceptions. On the field, they can catch an opponent focusing too much on the run and pop a game-changer.
That happened in last Saturday's 26-20 victory over previously unbeaten Catasauqua in the D11 finals. The winning score was a 30-yard touchdown pass from Nick Oyer to Racciato with two minutes remaining. It was Oyer's seventh and final pass attempt.
When you're dealing with a run-oriented team, you can get lulled to sleep on play action, Spencer said. The corners and skill guys get caught looking in the backfield a little bit. That's where you have to focus, staying on you keys and doing your job as far as assignment football.