WALKERSVILLE – Even when the game was over, when the Walkersville football team adjoined midfield and hummed to the tune of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, as the packed house filed to the parking lot, the even-keeled Jacob Wetzel remained uneasy. For much of the first half, Oakdale tormented the ever efficient Lions on the playing surface and with words.
Wetzel grinned. Not in my house, he practically said. In a 20-second span with three minutes left until halftime, Wetzel lifted the staggering Lions out of a three-point deficit and into a 10-point lead. A five-yard plunge capped a tedious 92-yard drive and put the Lions on the board. But what ensued was the emphatic message Wetzel sought.
Oakdale 6-foot-3 receiver Bryce De Maille corralled a reception on the right sideline and turned up field, when Wetzel bulldozed all 230 pounds of him to the turf as the ball popped free. Teammate Christian Policelli scooped and scored, turning the boisterous energy from one sideline to the other.
Walkersville didn’t make much happen after that, but nonetheless, that two-play sequence was enough to power the No. 4 Lions past the visiting No. 16 Bears on senior night, 19-13.
“It fires me up,” said Wetzel, who peered to the Oakdale sideline as it cleaned up its gear, letting the thought churn in his mind. “Honestly, that’s what I look for in games. It fires me up. I love it.”
Walkersville chugs 92 yards on 15 plays, & Jacob Wetzel plunges forward for a 5 yard TD to give the Lions a 7-3 lead. Drive lasted 5:39. pic.twitter.com/eFExyQKPxC
— Kyle McFadden (@k_fadd) October 27, 2017
Wetzel, a three-year varsity starter committed to play baseball at Old Dominion and with strong odds to get taken in next summer’s MLB Draft, delivered resoundingly on the biggest and brightest of stages yet again. He finished with 101 yards on 18 carries, wearing down an Oakdale front that remained steady, and produced many ringing blows to a high-powered Bears offense that averaged 44.6 points.
“He’s a primetime player,” Walkersville coach Joe Polce said.
The Battle of the Unbeatens featured two contrasting style of offenses, with Walkersville unwavering from its smashmouth, run-you-over mantra and Oakdale deploying a slick spread offense. For the game, Walkersville ran the ball 87 percent of the time (61 of 70) while Oakdale passed it 47 percent (22 of 47). Walkersville, powered by Pollicelli’s 109, gained 371 yards on the ground. Oakdale, behind Collin Schlee (15 of 22 passing), plotted for 221 through the air.
Oakdale matched Walkersville’s physicality on the opening drive, and stood the Lions up on a 3rd-and-6 at the Bears 35-yard-line. Schlee, who picked apart a stout Walkersville defense for most of the night, ensued with a 76-yard scoring drive that ended with a 21-yard field goal by Justin Ritter. Oakdale clung to its 3-0 lead well into the second quarter, and on Walkersville’s second drive, George Stultz made his way into the backfield to strip-sack Lions quarterback Billy Gant on 4th-and-7.
But not long after, Walkersville retained possession and chugged 92 yards on 15 plays, a scoring drive that nearly spanned six minutes. On the first play from scrimmage, after the Lions went up 7-3, Wetzel delivered the punishing blow on De Maille. That made it 13-3 at the 3:01 mark in the second quarter.
“Momentum changers,” said Polce, who won his 100th game as a coach.
While Oakdale and Schlee picked apart a stout Walkersville defense for most of the night, they suffered their share of lapses. The Bears, who had marched down to the Lions 25-yard-line the drive after, gave it right back when Schlee lost control of the football on a scramble up the gut. Walkersville went 65 yards in two minutes and upped its lead to 16-3 at the break on a Noah Sadler 22-yarder. Through 24 minutes, 10 of Walkersville’s 16 points yielded off Oakdale turnovers.
“There’s the difference,” Oakdale coach Kurt Stein said. “That’s 10 points. We lost by six. There it is.”
That’s not even accounting for what the Bears could’ve done on the drive five yards out of the red zone, or when Schlee overthrew a wide-open Blake Baxter in the end zone deep in the third quarter. This isn’t Stein’s first rodeo. He’s seen opportunities slip away in big games, but unlike the others, Friday’s result practically ensures a rematch in the first round of the playoffs.
“Hopefully,” Stein said. “Have to get by Tuscarora first, and hopefully, then, we’ll have shot at redemption.”
As for Walkersville, they face arch-rival Middletown next Friday in a game that’ll have playoff implications. The Knights are on the outside looking in while the Lions, gunning for back-to-back Class 2A titles, vie for a home playoff game and a chance at the top seed.
“The road is pretty tough,” Polce said. “But I’m proud of our guys. Whatever happens, [shoot], the last three years have been a dream. I have no complaints, I have nothing. Just a happy guy and it’s been unbelievable. When I came here, I never dreamed this would happen.”
Oakdale did pull to 16-10 when Schlee evaded heavy pressure to somehow find De Maille (119 yards on eight receptions) in the back of the end zone midway through the third quarter.
We got a game! Colin Schlee evades the rush, and somehow finds Bryce De Maille in the back of the EZ for 6. Walkersville still leads, 16-10. pic.twitter.com/1JztFJKg4C
— Kyle McFadden (@k_fadd) October 28, 2017
But like it had so many times before, Walkersville conquered the moment. On 2nd-and-short at its own 40, still up by six, Policelli slipped to outside and ripped off a 46-yard dagger. That plated another Sadler field goal, which put the game out of reach at 19-10 with four minutes to go. Soon after, John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, buzzed through the cool stadium air in the heartbeat of small-town, football-adoring Walkersville.
“Just trying to enjoy it while I can, take advantage of every moment I get playing this game for this community,” Policelli, the Navy baseball commit, said with an ice bag wrapped around his arm. “because in a couple weeks, it’ll be gone forever.”
— Kyle McFadden (@k_fadd) October 28, 2017