Anyone else might have been a nervous, twitchy mess. Cardel Pigford wasn’t.
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Archbishop Wood junior had had his problems a month ago holding on to the ball. Now the Vikings were asking him to hold on to their season.
Pigford slid toward the goalpost, and Wood quarterback Max Keller found him through a maze of defenders with :04 left, punctuating an improbable season with the exclamation point of a 19-15 victory over District 1 champion Cheltenham for the PIAA 5A state championship Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium.
The state title is Wood’s sixth (2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019) overall, after the Vikings were knocked out in the state semifinal last year. The defeat ended an historic season for Cheltenham (14-2). The Panthers were making their first appearance in the state finals, and they made it a memorable by being part of a classic.
With :08 left, and the ball sitting at Cheltenham’s 3-yard line, the season for both teams rested on one play.
“The guys had faith in me, they called my name and I had to come through,” said Pigford, who lost to fumbles in the first half of the District 12 championship over Martin Luther King. “We had our doubters this year. I’m happy they believed in me to make this play. I don’t think that I’ll ever forget it.”
The bulk of Wood’s offense came through fellow junior tailback Kaelin Costello. A month ago, Costello was used sporadically. During the state playoff run, that changed. He dashed, and cut and tore through Cheltenham for a career-best 282 yards on 38 carries, averaging 7.4 yards each time he touched the ball.
“I think it’s a matter of believing in your guys, and we did,” said Kyle Adkins, who could be a state record-holder in being the youngest coach at the age of 25 to ever win a PIAA state championship. “It was a process of taking things game-by-game.