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FLAG FOOTBALL: Archbishop Wood Finishes Perfect Season With a PA State Title

By John Knebels (photos by Donna Eckert), 06/13/24, 7:15AM EDT


3x Champs: Greer and Topakas reach historic PCL milestone

By: John Knebels

(Photos by Donna Eckert)

PHILADELPHIA – At various points, fans might have actually felt a little badly for their opponents.

That’s what happens when a team makes big play after big play after big play.

On a hot, sunny afternoon June 1 at the NovaCare Complex, Archbishop Wood finished off a perfect season by commandeering the Philadelphia Eagles Pennsylvania flag football state championship.

After dismantling overwhelmed Palumbo, 33-0, the Vikings defeated Gwynedd-Mercy Academy, 34-14. Minutes later, on a makeshift stage and smiling ear to ear, the team accepted the championship trophy from a “very impressed” Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

“The core of the group that plays both ways are just stud athletes,” said Wood coach Jim Savage. “If they get a little pressure, they stay calm and make the next play. If they get beat, they forget about it and make the next play. They’re resilient.”

Most of Wood’s marquee performers have already established themselves as well-known scholastic high school athletes. Like they did in their other sports – particularly basketball and soccer – the Vikings enveloped a can’t-be-beat demeanor and simply outworked their peers.

Senior quarterback and Fairleigh Dickinson University basketball signee Ava Renninger – flag football’s PCL Most Valuable Player who conducted her team to the sport’s first-ever league championship – continued her excellence.

In the semifinal rout over Palumbo, Renninger fired three touchdown passes – a pair to sophomore Sophia Topakas and another to sophomore Brigid Johnston – and added an interception on defense. Interception-return touchdowns by senior Mackensie Ferguson and Topakas closed out the scoring. Senior Alexa Windish contributed an interception and several “tackles” while sophomore Macie Kennedy earned a “sack” and also came up strong on a key defensive play on third-and-goal in the first half.

PA 2024 Flag Football Champions - Archbishop Wood - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert

As predicted, the championship against a strong Gwynedd-Mercy Academy squad promised a greater challenge.

On a touchdown flip from Renninger to senior Lauren Greer, scoring toss to Johnston, and two-point conversion snag by Topakas, Wood seized a quick 14-0 lead. After a GMA touchdown cut the lead in half, Renninger again connected with Greer to make it 21-7. A “sack” by freshman Ava Grace Bradley helped prevent any damage before halftime.

After the Monarchs closed to within 21-14, Renninger and Johnston hooked up to regain a two-touchdown edge. GMA desperately tried to chop its deficit, but an interception by Greer with two minutes left placed the Monarchs in desperation mode.

Any possible doubt to the eventual victor completely dissolved when Renninger and Topakas linked on a beautifully designed bomb to make it 35-14. For good measure, Topakas cradled a staggering one-hand interception in the closing seconds.

Therefore, in the two games combined, Renninger finished with eight touchdown passes. Topakas scored four touchdowns – three on offense – and intercepted two GMA passing attempts. Johnston reached the end zone thrice, and Greer twice. The defense thieved six interceptions – two by Topakas and one each by Renninger, Windish, Greer, and Ferguson.

“This is the cherry on the top,” said Renninger. “It’s been fun and it’s a great way to finish the season.”

In basketball, the quad of Renninger, Greer, Windish, and Topakas all won both a PCL championship and a state title. All four cited basketball familiarity as a key component to their flag football acumen.

“Definitely, basketball has swung over to flag football,” said Renninger. “We were willing to put the work in. The chemistry helped a lot. Throwing them the ball and knowing where they were going to be definitely helped carry over. Our defensive skills in basketball also really helped.”

Because she can’t help but be competitive in anything she endeavors, Greer made sure she kept flag football in perspective.

“I had so much fun with everybody,” said Greer. “We’re really good friends on the field, but we’re also really good friends off the field and off the court. We keep each other in check all the time.”

Windish, who will play basketball at Kutztown University, agreed.

“We really push each other,” said Windish. “We’re here for each other and we want the best for each other. And you can clearly see that our competitiveness from basketball has carried over to flag football.”

Archbishop Wood wins Semifinal Game vs. Palumbo (video highlights/ John Knebels for PSD)

Earlier History in the Making

That Archbishop Wood’s jaunt to flag football success included amazing contributions in the two most important games of the season – the PCL final and the Eagles-sponsored state final – from both Greer and Topakas fittingly crystalized a 10-month narrative. 

Back on May 16, after the flag football team won a scintillating PCL title over Conwell-Egan on a last-second, leap-and-grab touchdown miracle from Renninger to Greer, history winked at a pair of Vikings.  

Copious research later determined that Greer and Topakas had become the first athletes to win three PCL championships in the same academic year – soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and flag football in the spring.

True to form, both standouts expressed appreciation for everything associated with their individual accomplishments. 

“For each of the PCL‘s, it was a different atmosphere,” said Topakas. “Basketball was the largest due to playing in a stadium (the Palestra) with thousands of people watching, but that doesn’t mean the other ones weren’t full of pressure. For all three of them, I was definitely nervous.

Archbishop wood in Flag football Championship game vs. Gwynedd Mercy (Highlights by John Knebels for PSD)

“Because I knew what it had felt like to win a soccer PCL, I had a good feeling about the championship game against Nazareth because we were yearning to go for a three-peat. During the game when we went up 2-0, the feeling of pressure started to ease, though we did not stop playing tough.

“For basketball, I cannot say the same. We were down most of the game, but that never stopped our mentality or fight. Because we had been there the year prior and lost from a devastating shot, I think it fueled and motivated us to win and have in our minds that we were not going home as the second team again because we had already felt that. For the basketball PCL championship, the pressure was on until the final buzzer of the final (second) overtime went off.

Archbishop Wood seniors (L-R) Lauren Greer, Alexa Windish, and Ava Renninger leave their school with yet another championship. (video/ John Knebels)

Archbishop Wood coach Jim Savage was amazed by his team’s athleticism and outstanding season performance culminating in this Championship Victory. (video/ John Knebels)

“Then flag football was coming down to the wire just as it was in basketball, so this feeling surely wasn’t something I hadn’t experienced before. In all, every time of winning and holding up the plaque really was truly amazing. Although each three were different, they all had the same outcome.”

Despite shining in all three sports – particularly in clutch time, as evidenced by her All-Catholic performances as a goalie during the past two of three consecutive soccer titles, or leading in rebounding in both the PCL basketball final (12 rebounds, 8 points) and state final (8 boards, 10 points), not to mention her ridiculous last-second buzzer beater that defeated Maryland’s nationally-ranked McDonogh High School in December’s Viking Classic – Greer has decided to forego her athletic career and will instead focus on Physician Assistant Studies at St. Joseph’s University.

Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts presents Archbishop Wood their championship trophy - PSD Video by Donna Eckert

“They were all a lot of fun and super exciting to be a part of,” said Greer. “For soccer, I had played in the championship the year before (2022) which was another great experience, but I was really confident in my team going into the game this year and had a good feeling. Winning that one was super exciting, because there were a lot of seniors on that team who have all stuck together, practiced super hard, and were ready to win it.

“For basketball, I think we can all say that game kept everyone on the edge of their seats, including myself, even though I was playing. The PCL in basketball is one of the toughest leagues and getting to play in the championship game at the Palestra was one of the best experiences in my high school career. As a team, we worked all year round to win that championship, and I think it showed in how we played. Archbishop Carroll has so much talent and amazing coaching, so we knew it was going to be our toughest matchup. But with that being said, it made the game intense, it made it enjoyable, and it made it memorable.

“Winning three championships is definitely something I would have never expected, but at the same time, something that I’m so happy to have experienced. Getting to win a championship with all of those teams is something I will always remember as well as those I played with. I’ve worked so hard, and it’s very rewarding to see that it has paid off.”

(Contact John Knebels at or on ‘X’ – formerly Twitter – @johnknebels.)