Paul Sokoloski: A title chase they just can’t win

November 26th, 2017 4:47 pm

On his way to Virginia Tech, Nasir Peoples ran into a bunch of guys from Wyoming Valley West.

Then he ran around them.

And past them.

And through them.

By the time he slowed down, Peoples had 173 rushing yards and Archbishop Wood had a comfortable 41-14 victory over the Spartans in a PIAA Class 5A high school football quarterfinal game at Northern Lehigh High School.

It wasn’t supposed to be as easy as Wood and Peoples made it look.

Valley West had confidence, built on a five-game winning streak and a whipping of Whitehall the previous week.

The District 2 champion Spartans had resolve, evidenced by five straight wins that followed a 1-5 start that turned an ugly beginning into a state tournament berth.

And the Spartans had the size, with 6-foot-6, 305-pound two-way lineman Chris Bleich verbally committed to UCLA but keeping options open on other major Division 1 colleges, and 285-pound sophomore lineman Sammy Solomon blossoming into a big-time recruit.

What the Spartans didn’t have was speed.

Or at least enough to keep up with Peoples.

Not many teams do.

“We’re usually faster than most teams,” Peoples said.

It put the Spartans at a disadvantage from the start.

They tried to hang around as best they could for as long as they could, but the Spartans appeared to be fighting an uphill battle against a superior program on a downhill roll that has produced perennial state champions.

Archbishop Wood, a Catholic school from the Philadelphia area, attracts some of the best athletes from that city and has built a reputation as a PIAA powerhouse in multiple high school sports.

Just ask the 2014 Holy Redeemer and 2017 Wyoming Valley West girls basketball teams, or George Curry’s last true state title contender from the 2013 football season, how much fun it is to go up against a Wood program stocked with Division 1-bound college athletes steamrolling their way toward state titles.

Peoples and tight end/defensive end Kyle Pitts, who is heading to play for Florida next season, are just the latest stars.

In fact, Peoples didn’t even start for Wood until late in his high school career.

“We’ve had a couple good runners,” Vikings coach Steve Devlin shrugged, bringing up Rutgers freshman Raheem Blackshear, who ran for over 250 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s state championship victory, and Villanova junior Jarrett McClenton, who was a running back before shifting into a college receiver.

“He (Peoples) waited his turn,” Devlin continued. “This year it’s his turn to carry the ball. He’s tough, fast, fluid.”

Is he ever.

On a 16-yard touchdown run that started the scoring, Peoples glided through the Valley West defense with about as much effort as it takes for him to take a jog down the block.

On a 49-yard touchdown burst that opened the scoring in the second half, Peoples overpowered two tacklers and raced away from the rest, never slowing down until he hit the end zone.

“Coaches always talk about never let one man bring you down,” Peoples said.

Truth is, 11 guys on Valley West’s defense seemed to have trouble getting Peoples to the ground without him making a big burst for a big play.

Mainly because the Spartans had trouble catching him.

It was almost a shock to Valley West’s system, since the Spartans don’t face that type of speed and ability in their Wyoming Valley Conference, or even in District 2.

“No, not even close,” Valley West quarterback and safety Rob Dwyer said. “He’s going to Virginia Tech. He’s a top-notch running back.”

Not that the Spartans were intimidated.

They did their best to bottle up lanes on Peoples, but more often than not, he’d seemingly make his own.

“We just didn’t contain him as much as we planned to,” said Solomon, a starter at defensive end. “I mean, a runner with his talent, you don’t see it that often.”

They see it regularly at some tuition-based schools, which have habitually attracted some of the best players from all areas of big cities and long ago turned into the big kids on the block, regardless of classification size, because of it.

For boundary-bound schools like Valley West, it’s become impossible to catch up.

Paul Sokoloski Sokoloski

Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski