Reading Pop Warner Wins National Championship!
ORLANDO, Fla. — For the first time ever, a Reading Pop Warner team has won a national championship. The Reading Pop Warner “A” team defeated the Shaker Fire Raiders from Shaker Heights, Ohio, 39-13, to claim the Unlimited Division national championship.
“It feels great! I’m so proud of the kids,” said Reading head Coach Dave Erwin whose team is made up of seventh- and eighth-graders.
The Rockets got off to a slower start than they would have liked. Nerves contributed to rare penalties and fumbled snaps. However, the Rockets prevailed and got on the board first with an Andrew Bruckner touchdown. After a successful extra point kick, (kicked extra points are worth two points in Pop Warner) the Rockets were up 8-0 and after that they did not look back. On the ensuing drive Bruckner got another touchdown to make the score 16-0. The Rockets kept on scoring. On their next possession it was Jack Geiger’s turn to put points up on the board.
With 59 seconds remaining in the half, Ben Brungardt intercepted a pass to give the ball back to the Rockets with just enough time for one more drive. The Rockets took advantage of the possession and scored once more from a Matt Panacopoulous pass to Geiger. At the end of the first half the Rockets led, 26-0.
Reading wasn’t done scoring in the second half when Justin Stanuil blocked the Raiders’ punt on their first drive and Panacopoulos returned the punt for a touchdown. That extended the Rockets’ lead to 32-0. The Rockets continued to score this time on a Kyle Emery touchdown. The Raiders scored twice late in the second half, but it wasn’t going to be nearly enough as the Rockets cruised into a decisive 39-13 victory.
The Rocket offense was rolling throughout the game, but so was the defense; they held the Raiders scoreless in the first half and only allowed 13 points the whole game. The Raiders primarily tried to run to the outside and Chris Connery and Harrison Fiscus were great off the edge all game preventing the Raiders’ runners from gaining any yardage. When the Raiders tried to go up the middle, Nick Bonazoli, Nick Rizzo, Jared Fox, and Drew Buckley gave them nowhere to go. On the offensive side of the ball, the Rockets’ key to success was running on the inside which was a point of weakness Erwin noticed in the Raiders regional game. “It was perfectly suited for us because that is our strength drawing right off tackle,” said the coach. “If you can have a talented team that has that sense of comradery and not that sense of self, this is what happens. There are a lot of teams out there with a lot of talented players that don’t have the chemistry we have and that’s important because when things get tough that is what you lean on.”
Most families will depart from Disney on Friday and bring back to Reading the first ever Pop Warner national championship.