After qualifying for the District 11 playoffs for the first time in 16 years in 2010, the Pleasant Valley football program took a step backward last year with a 5-5 regular season.
However, the Bears' program responded this season by coming back and taking two steps forward. And the boys from Brodheadsville didn't necessarily do it with their high octane offense. They did it with their new-and-improved defense.
While the Parkland scoreboard would lead people to believe otherwise, the Pleasant Valley defense came to play yet again in the District 11 AAAA championship game Friday night. The Bears' defense kept the game close in the first quarter, and with the exception of one drive and two big plays, held the Trojans' high-powered offense in check most of the night.
"Our defense was great tonight and it was led by our seniors," said Pleasant Valley head coach Jim Terwilliger. "They really worked their tails off. I wanted to lean on them a little bit to keep us in the game and for the most part they did. Until the last two touchdowns of the first half I thought they played very well."
Parkland opened its first drive at its own 20-yard-line and worked the ball all the way down to the Pleasant Valley nine. That would be as far as the Trojans would get on that possession, as the Bears held firm and made Parkland settle for a field goal.
Pleasant Valley forced Parkland into a three-and-out on its second drive before being put in a tough position on the following drive. Following a PV fumble, the Trojans set up at the 48-yard-line. Again the Bears' D rose to the occasion and forced Parkland into another three-and-out.
The unit, perhaps getting tired, couldn't make a third stand as Parkland punched it in from 17 yards out after picking off a Brandon Leap pass. The wear from being on the field so much then became evident late in the first half. The Trojans strung together an 11-play scoring drive with four minutes to go to make it 17-0. Then, following a punt, they connected for a 55-yard touchdown pass right before the break.
To their credit, the Pleasant Valley defense came out of halftime and stayed strong. The Bears didn't allow a Parkland first down for the entire third quarter, although the Trojans did score on an interception return. A 51-yard touchdown run on their first play of the fourth quarter capped the nightly scoring.
Pleasant Valley held Parkland to 351 yards of offense. That is very good considering 106 of those yards came on two plays and the unit was on the field for easily two-thirds of the game.
It was just the fourth time all year the Bears' defense allowed more than 21 points in a game. The other three teams to score 21-plus on the unit: Nazareth, Wyomissing and Stroudsburg. All four of those teams end the year in the top-nine in their respective districts in scoring.
Terwilliger is hoping his program, thanks in part to new defensive coordinator Dave Pacchioni, will be known for its defense as much as it is for its offense.
"I can't say enough about Dave Pacchioni as our defensive coordinator," said Terwilliger. "He instilled a belief in our defense and our kids did well with the scheme that he put together.
"To be honest with you, he has opened my eyes to the importance of defense. I still want to take shots. I still want to throw the ball. I still want to score as many points as we can, but at the same time when you have guys that play defense and coach defense the way that our guys have – it's something to hang your hat on."
Offensively, Pleasant Valley was as good as it has ever been. Quarterback Brandon Leap set school-records for attempts (240) and yards (2,153) and would have set the completions record had he not gotten hurt late in the fourth quarter. He finished one touchdown shy of tying Walling's record of 23.
Receivers Andrew Romeo (742) and Sekou Jones (698) both topped the previous mark for receiving yards in a season (678). Romeo also holds the records for receiving touchdowns in a season (12) and a career (17).
Lastly, freshman Austyn Borre broke James Mungro's MVC freshman rushing record with 1,252 yards. He did so on his first carry of the game. He also tied Mungro's freshman record with 17 total touchdowns.
"We had a tremendous year offensively numbers-wise," Terwilliger said. "We broke a lot of school records and did some nice things. But records aside, I thought our kids did a nice job of just playing together and doing things the right way. Being here in the district title game is where we wanted to be and the numbers are secondary."
As for the program as a whole, it won eight games for just the third time since 2000.
It also won its first district game since 1994 and played for the D11 title.
The progression is exactly what Terwilliger likes to see as his team's 2012 comes to an end.
"We always look at incremental progress and getting better every year," said Terwilliger. "Certainly for us to be in the district title game is huge for our program.
"The bar has been raised. We made the district playoffs our second year and now we are in the finals in our fourth year. We have to continue to improve and I think our young guys understand that."