By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Archbishop Wood is on the brink of history Friday night. The Vikings could be the first Philadelphia Catholic League team to win three PIAA state football championships.
The Vikings (13-1) will meet District 7 champion Central Valley (15-0) for the Class AAA state title at 7 p.m. Friday at Hersheypark Stadium—and at the center of Wood’s defense will be Penn State-bound linebacker Jake Cooper.
Cooper has a little personal stake in tonight’s state championship game and here’s why: If Wood wins, and the Vikings are heavily favored, not only would the Vikings become the first Catholic League team to take three state championships, but Cooper will be the first player in Catholic League history to become a three-time state champion in football (the Catholic League joined the PIAA in the 2008-09 school year).
Cooper is the only Wood player who started as a freshman.
But it’s something Cooper doesn’t really care too much about. His focus is winning Wood’s second-straight state title, a mission that started around this time last year as the Wood bus was pulling out of the Hersheypark Stadium parking lot and heading back to the team hotel to celebrate the Vikings’ 22-10 state championship over Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg).
“I want to win for the guys I’ve played with, and the new guys that are on this team,” said Cooper, who’s projected to be an outside linebacker at Penn State. “The talk started right away last year was coming back and winning another state championship, and that started as soon as we got on the team bus.
“I’m serious. Last year’s team was made mostly of juniors and on we enjoyed winning last year’s state title, and the bus ride was great being with everyone. In regards to talk about winning it again, it began right then that night. We knew with everyone we had coming back, we talked about getting back this year.”
The Vikings overcame some early upheaval in the beginning of the season, when last year’s starting quarterback, sophomore Tom Garlick, was replaced by 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior Anthony Russo.
“It wasn’t an easy beginning for us, it kind of shocked us all a little,” Cooper admitted. “It was hard for me, because I’m friends with Tom. No one knew it was coming, but we all saw Tom and Anthony competing with each other. And Anthony won the job—he deserves to be where he is, but they’re both great athletes and both are blessed. Anthony won that job—fair and square. It wasn’t an easy position for either of those guys to be placed in, but we’re essentially a machine. We just keep going, and going.”
A part changes, another part replaces it and the Vikings kept going. Wood’s only set back was a loss to La Salle, which stirred the Vikings to even greater this year.
“That game still eats at me,” Cooper admitted. “We gave them that game. Anyone who saw us against La Salle knows who the truly dominant team was that night. We lost to them, 35-31, but it wasn’t anything they did to beat us. We beat ourselves. We lost it.
“But in the long run, it helped us tremendously. It sparked another fire within us and made us work even harder to erase it. We know we can’t go back and do that, but where we are I think because of the La Salle loss. It made us focus harder. And I have no doubt at all about losing Friday night. We go into every game thinking we’re going to win. I can know the four years I’ve been here at Wood as one of the glory years of Wood high school.”
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