WILKES-BARRE TWP. – Suffering a high-ankle sprain a little more than a week before a big game, many players would sit out of the next game.
With the Mayor’s Cup being one of those games, and the final contest in the career of Zach Whitehead, there was no chance that the King’s College quarterback was going to miss it.
After getting treatment from the training staff for several days, Whitehead didn’t even look like he was ailing on Saturday as he threw for four touchdowns and ran for another, leading the Monarchs to a 40-26 win over city rival Wilkes to claim the Mayor’s Cup for the fourth time in five years — the most dominant stretch for the school in the 22-year history of the series.
“I credit our training staff,” Whitehead said. “With a high-ankle sprain, I should be out 4-6 weeks and not be very mobile. But this week, they did a great job. And I was able to be a little more mobile today. Not where I wanted to be, but enough to get the job done and be effective.”
“To be able to go out and win with everybody is amazing, I’m just so happy for these guys.”
In a wild rivalry game that consisted of five personal fouls, two ejections, six interceptions, four fumbles, two blocked extra points, and a 20-point deficit to overcome, Whitehead picked up his second straight Most Valuable Player award for his team in the Mayor’s Cup and also became the school’s all-time leading career passer while eclipsing assistant coach Tyler Hartranft’s mark. Whitehead ends his storied career with the Monarchs with 6,002 career yards; Hartranft was a senior when Whitehead was a freshman. Whitehead concluded the game with 327 passing yards.
“It’s amazing because coach Hartranft has taught me a lot of things and to beat his record because of the type of player and scholar and athlete he was here is just awesome,” Whitehead added. “I’m just glad we got it. But it’s not just me. It’s the running backs, the receivers, the offensive line. This is everybody. They deserve this as much as I do.”
Establishing those marks didn’t come easy on Saturday because after his rushing score in the third quarter put the Monarchs (5-5 overall, 4-5 MAC) ahead 26-6, the Colonels turned the momentum.
Three straight King’s drives ended on turnovers, with all three of them resulting in a Wilkes touchdown. A Devon Fink interception return for a score pulled the Colonels (0-10, 0-9) within two scores at 26-13. Then Waleek Huffin, the third quarterback of the game for Wilkes, threw his first two career TD passes as the freshman started his career completing his first five passes to tie the game at 26-26 with 3:12 left in a crazy third quarter.
“I thought we were gonna be in a position to win it. We were playing with a ton of emotion and a ton of passion,” Wilkes coach Trey Brown said. “When those (turnovers) start happening, you start to feel like you have an opportunity, and we did. We just didn’t get enough of them.”
But the Monarchs rallied behind a message from starting guard Ron Ippolite, who pulled the unit together.
“He said we gotta figure this thing out and just go out there and relax and play our game,” Whitehead said. “Credit to Ron. He always does a great job of figuring out when to talk to us and I give him so much credit on the O-line. They never get credit. The whole line does a great job. And he deserves it. He’s a guy that we get behind and has been there the last few years.”
After that, the King’s offense got back in rhythm, notching the go-ahead score before the third quarter closed on a 8-yard strike from Whitehead to Trey Campbell. The Monarchs added the insurance score on their next drive when Tyler Marroni hauled in a 19-yard score from Whitehead. Like his buddy Whitehead, Marroni broke a few school records of his own. He set new marks for career receptions (151) and receiving yards in a season (1,089).
“He was a highly-recruited kid and very talented,” King’s coach Jeff Knarr said about his star wideout. “He went from catching 12-to-14 balls as a freshman to being able to line up wherever we needed him and catch a variety of different areas. And he’s able to top off and get open in seams and had a great career.”
While the Monarch seniors became the first class to have consecutive non-losing seasons in 11 years, the Colonels became the first team in school history to finish the season 0-10 — establishing the mark for most losses in a season during an injury-plagued campaign.
Wilkes lost starting quarterback Jose Tabora in Week 2. On Saturday, his backup Nick Geimer left with an injury in the first quarter. Wade Rippeon was later replaced by Huffin.
All four signal-callers will return next season, along with a plethora of other talented underclassmen.
The Colonels will also take positive strides from their last four games into the offseason as they look to bounce back in 2018.
“There’s no moral victories, and we know that. But we played good football the final four weeks of the year, we really did,” Brown noted. “We’ve done it with young quarterbacks and young linemen, and the injuries that everybody has, but nobody quits and they keep competing and we have to get better in the offseason.
“I think there’s an element of that you can carry with you. Our deal is about offseason development. It’s about weight room development, it’s about speed development and it’s about doing a good job academically and to become good you gotta have a lot of seniors and juniors and we wanna keep developing those guys.”
Senior receiver Jeff Steeber took home the Colonels MVP honors by rushing for a game-high 99 yards and a touchdown, while picking up three receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown in his final game.
King’s 40, Wilkes 26
KING’S – Downes 51 run (Tumminello kick) 13:47
WILKES – Steeber 12 run (kick blocked) 9:51
KING’S – Flynn 29 pass from Whitehead (Tumminello kick) 7:52
KING’S – Marroni 9 pass from Whitehead (kick failed) :31
KING’S – Whitehead 8 run (kick failed) 11:55
WILKES – Fink 5 interception return (Evans kick) 9:45
WILKES – Steeber 22 pass from Huffin (kick blocked) 5:55
WILKES – Armstrong 12 pass from Huffin (Evans kick) 3:12
KING’S – Campbell 8 pass from Whitehead (Tumminello kick) 1:02
KING’S – Marroni 19 pass from Whitehead (Tumminello kick) 14:33
Sacks by-yards lost`4-22`1-7
PASSING – WILKES, Rippeon 5-16-1-30, Huffin 6-11-2-80, Geimer 0-2-0-0. KING’S, Whitehead 26-35-3-327.
RUSHING — WILKES, Steeber 8-99, Huffin 4-26, Deemer 4-10, Kadis 3-8, Rippeon 8-7, Williams 3-6, Geimer 4-5, Yanik 1-3, Brook 1-3, Nye 1-(minus-5). KING’S, Downes 13-94, Whitehead 23-56, Nelson 8-23, TEAM 2-(minus-4).
RECEIVING — WILKES, Steeber 3-33, Kadis 2-3, Armstrong 4-60, Deemer 1-17, Coyne 1-(minus-3). KING’S, Campbell 10-92, Flynn 5-84, Marroni 8-92, Miller 3-59.
INTERCEPTIONS – WILKES, Fink 2-17, Allgyer 1-1. KING’S, Hill 1-1, Maxwell 1-36, Foster 1-0
MISSED FG’S – none