New Egypt’s Junior Pee Wee Pop Warner Warriors football team, which won the Division III Eastern Region championship last month, is one win away from adding the Multi-Region championship at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
The Warriors are now 14-0. They play the Capitol City Steelers of North Carolina at noon Dec. 10.
“To win this, it will be our toughest game of the year. So we have to play our best defensive game,” head coach Larry Peslak said after the Warriors advanced Dec. 7 with a 28-0 victory over the Hollister Vikings of California. “We have to continue playing a suffocating, stifling defense like we have all season. This is a Division I team (largest draw of players) that dropped down to a Division III, a big team, and we’re small town New Egypt. It’s David vs. Goliath.”
Fullback Joe Laezza, an instrumental figure for the Warriors, who are making the farthest postseason advance ever of any Burlington County team, opened the scoring against the Vikings with a 5-yard touchdown run as he followed a block by lineman Jack Kudrick and bulled over two defenders into the end zone to cap a long, first-quarter drive. It was his 16th touchdown of the season. Kudrick followed with the conversion kick, which is worth two points in Pop Warner football, for an 8-0 lead.
Halfback Adam Harris then took a toss and swept to a 30-yard touchdown run for his 23rd touchdown of the season. Kudrick’s conversion kick made it 16-0. Marcus Hicks scampered 8 yards for a touchdown on a power play up the middle late in the first half, but an errant snap foiled the conversion try and left the score 22-0. Wide receiver Jake McGhee capped the scoring off a 10- yard option pass play from Harris late in the third quarter — only the second touchdown pass by the Warriors all season. McGhee caught the ball just short of the goal line and pivoted into the end zone.
Defensive tackle Ashton Sempervive spent almost as much time in the backfield as Hollister’s skill players did while Laezza backed him up strongly at middle linebacker. Peslak said his team did not allow a first down in the game, reminiscent of the regular season when his team allowed only six points before the postseason.
“This is not a surprise. These kids have been together a long time,” Peslak said. “I know how good they played last year on a younger team against stronger teams when they went 10-2 and were division champs advancing to the region and only lost there, 7-6, to Phillipsburg.”
New Egypt won the Eastern Region, 14-7, over the Chili Lions of Rochester, New York. Chili scored on its first possession and was shut down from there. Laezza scored the deciding touchdown on a 3-yard run, set up by his own 30-yard pass reception.
Laezza’s 3-yard touchdown run in overtime lifted New Egypt to a 12-6 Eastern Region semifinal victory over the Smyrna-Clayton Eagles from Delaware. Harris scored a touchdown in the first half on a short run. Earlier, New Egypt beat the Hillsborough Dukes and Edison Shamrocks by 34-0 scores.
The team (ages 8-10) currently has outscored its opponents a combined 340-19.
Peslak has been coaching in the program since 2009, starting with this same group of players when they were very young and moving up with them each year. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach at the high school level at Howell, Jackson and Manchester Regional and developed his philosophy of running the Delaware Wing-T as the primary formation in his multiple offense from athletic director Pete Meehan while they were at Howell. Meehan had played that style at Middletown High School North under the late Vic Kubu.
The Warriors have two offensive units that often run plays within the same series. The first unit includes guards Jalen Jordan and Tony Henry, tackles John Percodani and Sempervive and center John Chaney. Laezza, Kudrick and Harris run the ball for quarterbacks Luke Peslak and T.J. Johnson, who alternate bringing in the plays. Jack Cole and McGhee are wide receivers.
The second offensive unit consists of guards Mason Kloc and Carter Hughes, tackles James Jakob and Fred Gibbs and center Jaelen Carroll. Percodani plays fullback and Jaden Good and Hicks are running backs, while Kevin Bassita and Kyle Horner are wide receivers for quarterbacks Peslak and Johnson.
The 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Bob Kudrick includes Carter Kuey and Hunter Johnson sharing time at nose tackle, Sempervive and Brett Darienzo at tackles, Laezza and Harris at inside linebacker, McGhee and Jordan at outside linebackers, Peslak and Kudrick at cornerback and Hicks and Johnson at safety.
“Things came together for this team midway through the season,” coach Peslak said. “They jelled and elevated their level of play from there.”
The rest of the coaching staff includes Drew Kloc and Tony Hicks heading special teams and Ralph Darienzo and Rob Sempervive coaching the offensive and defensive lines, with Sempervive also coaching linebackers.