Spartan #TBT -- 1997 "Stu Put it Thru"
Friday October 10th, 1997, Crispin Field, Berwick, Pennsylvania.
The 6-0 Wyoming Valley West Spartans against the 5-1 and 3 time defending 3A State Champion Berwick Bulldogs.
It was supposed to be a matchup of two high powered offenses led by two senior QBs. However, it turned into a defensive slugfest featuring 5 turnovers, 12 punts, and one made field goal by a soccer player turned kicker. As Valley West Head Coach Jim Cantafio told the Times Leader immediately following the game, “Our offense didn’t get it done. But our defense picked a helluva time for its first shutout of the year.”
The game featured a combined 395 yards of total offense. It also featured Berwick missing two field goals in regulation, including one with only 26 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter which pushed the game into overtime. In the overtime period, Berwick would get the ball first and would be denied the end-zone on their three attempts, leading to a 29-yard field goal attempt. The kicker would push the kick wide right, which set up the Spartans to win by scoring the first and only points of the game.
Senior QB Marc Zlotek told coach Cantafio to run the ball three times and “let Matt win it for us.” The Matt he was talking about was Senior Matt “Stu” McCormick, a soccer player turned football kicker. McCormick participated with the team during the preseason, but had to miss the first three games of the season due to an appendix operation. He would also miss his first two field goal opportunities of the season leading into the Berwick game. However, that would never factor into Cantafio’s decision making. Cantafio listened to his Quarterback and the Spartans ran the ball 3 times to set McCormick up to kick a 24 yard field goal to win the game. The snap was good, the hold was good, and the kick was good. 3-0, SPARTANS!
For the first time in 11 years, the Wyoming Valley West Spartans defeated the Berwick Bulldogs. It was also the first time that Berwick had been shutout at home since 1985. After leaving Berwick, the Spartans returned home to a hero’s welcome as what seemed like the entire valley greeted them as they returned. Fire trucks, ambulances, police cruisers, and normal every day cars would form a massive parade to lead the football team, cheerleaders, and band through the towns that create the district to celebrate a win that seemed to be a lifetime in the making.
It was Berwick’s second loss on the year but the most meaningful because it prevented them from winning another WVC title. Their other loss was to St. Ignatius High School out of Cleveland, Ohio. Unfortunately, the loss to the Spartans would be the last loss of the season for Berwick, as they would go on to win their 4th straight PIAA 3A State Championship, even though they weren’t officially named Champions until March because program was under investigation for recruiting violations.
One other note that would come from this game is a tradition that the Spartans carried on. Each trip back to Crispin field, the Spartans would go to the far goal post making sure to touch the uprights, as a gesture to the 24 yard field goal that would be remembered simply as “The Kick.”
Throwback Thursday video of the 1997 Wyoming Valley West Spartans beating the Berwick Bulldogs 3-0 at Crispin Field.