Wilde Lake three-peats as state champ Casella does it all as 'Cats achieve 1st for area in 23-7 win

November 28, 1992|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Nate Casella spent most of his sophomor season on the sideline, watching arguably the greatest Wilde Lake football team ever assembled win a thrilling state championship.

Yesterday, in his final appearance for the Wildecats, Casella used the Class 1A title game as his personal stage, while the Cambridge Vikings served as his punching bag.

Casella rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown, threw a touchdown pass, and sparked another terrific effort by Wilde Lake's defense with two sacks to lead the Wildecats to a 23-7 victory over Cambridge.

The Wildecats (12-1) became the first Baltimore-area school to win three consecutive state titles. It marks Wilde Lake's fourth state crown overall. Springbrook (Montgomery County) is the only other Maryland school to win three straight titles (1979 to '81).

"Last year I was in the shadow of people like Brent Guyton, and the seniors won the game for us juniors," said Casella. "I wanted to give the juniors that same feeling. It was unbelievable. I don't know if it feels better this year. It feels good, though."

Casella made the Vikings (11-2) feel awful all day. His 11-yard touchdown run -- following a muffed punt by Cambridge -- tied the score at 7 with 1:01 left in the first quarter. His 13-yard touchdown pass to Donald Gibson, which came on a fake field goal in the closing minutes, sealed the victory. But it was his play at defensive end that probably turned the game in Wilde Lake's favor more than anything else.

Casella made seven solo tackles to lead a defense that destroyed Cambridge's vaunted run-and-shoot offense. The Vikings entered the game averaging 38 points. Their quarterback, Dietrich Johnson, passed for more than 1,600 yards and 21 touchdowns in the regular season.

Johnson hurt the Wildecats early. On Cambridge's first play from scrimmage, he hit C. J. Willey in stride down the right sideline for a 77-yard touchdown that gave the Vikings a 7-0 lead after three minutes.

The Wildecats put the clamps on Johnson after that by pressuring him with six-man rushes. Led by linemen Eric Lach and Andy Vanderwagen, Mike Green and Casella, the Wildecats sacked Johnson four times and hurried him constantly. He completed eight of 18 passes for 134 yards, but the Wildecats held him in check after his touchdown pass.

Cambridge's running game was non-existent. Fullback Tori Willis, who rushed for 1,477 yards and 20 touchdowns in the regular season, managed only 10 yards on eight carries. Wilde Lake held Cambridge to minus-39 yards rushing, and the Wildecats allowed the Vikings one first down after halftime -- on a roughing-the-kicker penalty.

"They just dominated us on the line," said Cambridge coach Doug Fleetwood, whose Vikings lost for the fifth time in the finals while trying to win their first state title since 1979. "We didn't have time to throw the ball. If you win on the line, you win the game. They did a great job."

Wilde Lake won with the same script that got it here. Besides playing aggressive defense, the Wildecats won the game of field position with a grinding, ball-control offense. They rushed 43 times for 163 yards. They also took advantage of two Cambridge turnovers and blocked a punt. In three playoff games, Wilde Lake forced 13 turnovers and committed only two.

Senior fullback/linebacker Donald Gibson, who, like Casella, was member of all three state title teams, went out in style. He recovered a fumble and a blocked punt and scored the Wildecats' final touchdown of the season.

"Being a part of it last year was one thing. Leading us to it this year was something else," Gibson said. Gibson made the first big play for the Wildecats. After Wilde Lake punted with four minutes left in the first period, the Vikings muffed the kick at the Cambridge 21, where Gibson fell on the ball. Six plays later, Casella scored from 11 yards out on a draw play. Seth Willingham's kick made it 7-7.

The Wildecats scored on their final possession of the half after driving 41 yards to the Cambridge 8. With 22 seconds left, Willingham kicked a 25-yard field goal to give Wilde Lake a 10-7 lead at the half.

Wilde Lake took control quickly in the second half. Cambridge, helped by a roughing-the-kicker penalty, moved the ball to the Wildecats' 46. The drive stalled there, and Eric Lach broke through to block a punt. Gibson recovered the ball at the Cambridge 33. Casella ran for 16 yards, and four plays later Willingham scored on a 6-yard run, then kicked the extra point to make it 17-7 with 5:48 left in the third period.

Cambridge managed minus-5 yards of offense after that.

Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall stood on the sideline, soaked with the water his players had dumped on him, puffing a cigar, savoring the moment. DuVall thought about his past three teams. The first two were dominated by such Division I signees as Raphael Wall, Ricky Rowe, Brent Guyton and James Easterly. This team had an altogether different flavor.

"Those [first two] teams had just great talent, and they played for their own egos and self-assertion," DuVall said. "This team was a long shot. We told them in the beginning of the year we could win it with poise and speed. They gave us the speed right away, and they showed us poise tonight. These are ordinary kids who are extraordinary workers."

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