Pop Warner Warriors heading to Orlando for showcase

By Wayne Witkowski

It’s off to Florida again this late fall for players on a New Egypt youth football team.

Members of the New Egypt Pop Warner Pee Wee Warriors leave Dec. 3 for Florida to compete in a two-game Division III showcase at Walt Disney World in Orlando. Coach Larry Peslak hopes that the team — if it makes it for a third time next year — can compete in Division III, which means it would play in a national championship tournament.

The team will play two games Dec. 5 and Dec. 8 against opponents and at times to be determined.

The Warriors qualified as champions this year out of the Jersey Shore League and then won four games in the Eastern Region tournament. New Egypt suffered only one loss in the regular season, 22-14, to Watchung Hills, a Division II team also heading to Florida, where it will participate in national championship playoffs.

Most of the players were on the New Egypt Junior Pee Wee team last fall that won the Burlington County League before moving this season to the Jersey Shore League, and it also won the Eastern Region playoffs to earn a Florida trip. In its opening game, New Egypt beat Hollister of California, 28-0, and fell, 22-0, to the Capital City Steelers of North Carolina.

New Egypt advanced to the Florida showcase with a 22-19 victory over the Southwest Colts from the Rochester, New York, area Nov. 26 in the Eastern Region finals in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. Fullback Joe Laezza scored three touchdowns, and he scored nine times in the four tournament games. The Colts advanced with a 12-8 victory over the Chili Lions, who are another New York state team that beat the Warriors in a game last season.

“That was a big win, but this year was more difficult that last year,” head coach Larry Peslak said.

Peslak is assisted by Bob Kudrick, Ralph Darienzo, Rob Sempervive and Tony Hicks. Tammy Surdo is the team mom.

In that region final, the Warriors took a 22-7 lead at halftime and had to withstand a Colts comeback in the second half, when a long punt return set up a short touchdown run followed by a conversion run that accounts for only one point in Pop Warner (extra-point kicks are worth two points). A blocked New Egypt punt led to another Colts’ short touchdown run with 40 seconds left, and the Colts could not make good on the conversion. New Egypt recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.

Early in the game, New Egypt stopped the Colts on their first series at the Warriors’ 30-yard line and drove the other way for the first score. Peslak credited great teamwork that sprung Laezza for a 25-yard touchdown run behind solid blocks on the line by tackle Ashton Sempervive and guard Jonny Percodani and downfield blocks from running backs Adam Harris and Marcus Hicks and tight end Jake McGhee. Jack Kudrick, who shares the quarterback duties with Luke Peslak, kicked the extra points for an 8-0 lead.

The Colts answered with a long drive and 3-yard touchdown run and ran in the one-point conversion to pull to 8-7. That’s when Laezza ran for two touchdowns on runs of 5 and 4 yards — the latter on a solid second effort. The one-point conversion pass was incomplete after the first touchdown, and Kudrick kicked the extra points after the second one to make it 22-7.

Peslak credited the defense for that game and throughout the regionals to Sempervive and McGhee on the line and linebackers Brett Darienzo, Harris and Laezza, who made many tackles. Nine defensive starters returned from last season.

“This year’s team was better than last year,” Peslak said. “We put up a lot more points. We’re more multiple on offense with the spread and even the Delaware wing-T at times. We’re more diverse.”

Peslak hopes that will help the players when they get to New Egypt High School’s program that shows a lot of motion and quick reaction off the “pistol” style offense.

It showed in the regular-season games, including a 28-0 victory Nov. 6 over West Windsor, which came into the game with a 5-1 record. The Warriors won the Jersey Shore League with a 38-6 championship playoff victory over the Monmouth Falcons, as Laezza scored two touchdowns and George Inge, Hicks and Harris also scored.

Then it was on to Perkasie, Pennsylvania, for the region opener — an 8-6 comeback victory over Northampton Nov. 6. Laezza scored the touchdown on a short run and Kudrick kicked the extra points with three minutes left in the game. Inge started the winning 70-yard drive when he intercepted a Northampton pass on his own 30-yard line.

It was followed by a 35-0 triumph at the Smyrna (Delaware) Eagles Nov. 13. The Warriors were on their guard against the team they had beaten in the region semifinals a year ago and jumped out to a 22-0 lead. Luke Peslak intercepted a pass at his own 20-yard line and ran it back 40 yards to launch an Eagles drive that ended with Laezza’s first of three touchdowns. Laezza scored another touchdown on a 97-yard run after New Egypt stopped Smyrna on four plays at the Warriors’ 3-yard line.

In the semifinals Nov. 19, the Warriors rolled to a 33-7 lead at halftime en route to a 44-13 victory over the Hillsborough Dukes at Watchung Hills. The Dukes broke a long touchdown run on the first play of the game, and the Warriors patiently answered with a six-play march that ended with a 10-yard touchdown run by Hicks and an extra-points kick by Kudrick for the 8-7 lead the Warriors never lost. Laezza scored twice and Harris and Luke Peslak also scored, and the Warriors were on their way to the championship game.

Line play has been important on both sides of the ball for the Warriors. On offense, Tony Henry and Sempervive are the tackles, Percodani and Darienzo are the guards and Jaelan Carroll is the center. McGhee and Nick Surdo balance the running game with their pass receptions as wide receivers.

The defensive line has Sempervive and Percodani at tackles, McGhee and Henry as ends and Darienzo as a standup linebacker. Harris and Laezza are linebackers and Hicks and Inge are safeties. Along with sharing time at quarterback, Peslak and Kudrick play cornerback.