Go 3-0 in non-conference play. Check.
Continue undefeated streak in section play. Check.
District Championship. Check.
Seems like an extraordinary season for any team, right?
Well for the Wilson Bulldogs (14-0), the pressure of a sterling tradition makes the aforementioned accomplishments almost ordinary.
Even with their impressive campaign this year however, there were plenty of doubters that Doug Dahms’ squad could reload and make a deep run.
“These kids felt they had something to prove as well as carrying on the tradition,” Dahms said of his team this year.
One of the seniors that felt that way is senior defensive end Austin Rosa, who has been a keystone of a stout Wilson defense.
“At Wilson we love being the underdog and proving ourselves so yes, having doubters just makes us that much more tenacious,” Rosa said.
Rosa returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown against Central Dauphin in the District 3 Championship Game on November 29 and helped the Bulldogs pull out a 21-10 victory.
Rosa was a sophomore the last time Wilson made it to the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals in 2012 before falling to eventual state champion North Allegheny, 45-10.
“As a senior, it's my team to lead and it's much more meaningful since I'm a captain and I've experienced two full years starting at defensive end,” Rosa said.
When asked if there are any differences between his 2012 squad and this year’s team, Dahms could only nitpick one variance.
“We were faster in 2012,” Dahms said. “Other than that, both teams are quite similar.”
The Bulldogs will enter Saturday’s 1pm semifinal at Mansion Park in Altoona a relatively big underdog against District 7’s Pine Richland.
The Rams (14-0)are the reigning Class AAAA WPIAL champion after defeating Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 21-13 at Heinz Field on November 21. The Rams then defeated State College last week in the quarterfinals by a score of 49-29.
The Bulldogs will have their hands full with the Rams offense, which consists of senior quarterback Ben DiNucci (verbally committed to Penn), who has passed for 3713 yards this season with 38 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. DiNucci is just the ninth WPIAL quarterback in history to pass for 6000 career yards.
Helping DiNucci get those stats are senior receivers Mike Merhaut and D’ondre Gastion, who both have over 1000 yards receiving with 13 touchdowns apiece.
As if the Rams’ aerial attack isn’t enough to worry about, their ground game sports senior tailback Connor Slomka, who has rushed for 1436 yards this season with 34 touchdowns.
“This is a game where our offense has to put points on the board,” Dahms said. “Their offense is prolific and we will have to slow down their passing game and hope to handle the power running of their big back.”
Through their five playoff games so far, Pine Richland has outscored their opponents, 224-59.
“The attitude going against a team like this is to hold nothing back and play with tons of confidence as well as trust everyone on my team,” Rosa said.
While this season can’t be seen as anything other than successful, Rosa explained that he and his teammates aren’t going into Saturday’s game just happy to be there.
“Being on a team like this with all our accomplishments and knowing I have helped make it happen is extremely satisfying,” Rosa said. “Although I'm never truly satisfied, which is why this is a must win game in my head.”