SHARON HILL >> When the game was over, Academy Park could joke about Nelson Warlo’s extra-point kick that was heard around Sharon Hill.
“We told him, ‘If you missed this, you might as well not even try walking home,’” offensive lineman Nykeal Jalloh said.
Warlow didn’t miss.
His kick parachuted through the goal posts and gave the Knights the lead over Interboro with 2:17 to play in the fourth quarter.
Warlo has been there, done that before. He made the same kick last year against Glen Mills, under the same circumstances, with the Knights’ Del Val League title hopes on the line.
This year, Warlo’s clutch moment happened after Jawan Collins took a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation 5 yards for an Academy Park touchdown.
“We were talking about it throughout the week,” Warlo said. “We all joked about it during lunch, like, ‘What if I have to kick it again to win the game?’ Tonight I knew I couldn’t let my teammates down.”
In a Del Val League battle for the ages, Academy Park held on for a 7-6 victory to claim the title for the third time in four years. Academy Park is 10-0 for the first time since 1982, when current Illinois head coach Bill Cubit was head coaching the program’s initial season.
Friday night, the Knights snatched the Del Val crown away from the Bucs (8-2, 4-1), who played like champions themselves. A back-and-forth slugfest between two high-powered offensive teams was scoreless until Chase Pattinson hauled in an 18-yard pass from Danny Mea off a play-action fake with 1:02 to go in the third quarter.
The Knights (10-0, 5-0) needed to show a pulse with the ball. They punted away seven times. They needed a big play, so it was Collins who stepped up and made a tremendous catch along the Academy Park sideline on fourth down late in the fourth quarter. Jermaine Wesley, the Knights’ 1,000-yard rusher who was stymied by an Interboro defense that often got plenty of penetration, had his best runs of the night on the final drive of the game. Collins and Wesley, the Knights’ best skill players, revitalized an offense that was dormant all night. The Knights managed just 155 yards of total offense, but moved the ball when it counted most.
Collins had to think on his feet on the touchdown play.
“The ball was to me, but it was snapped to (Wesley). We just had to improvise,” said Collins, who had four catches for 79 yards. “He still ran out his fakes perfectly and the offensive line blocked it right. (Wide receiver) DeAndray (Covert) had a good block, actually, and I was able to run and score.”
The offensive line, powered by Jalloh, Marion Holmes and Chris Thomas, showed its mettle on the game-winning drive.
“The biggest thing I said to them was, this is the first time we’ve ever had to handle this type of adversity, so we just have to go out there and work as hard as we can,” AP’s 6-3, 360-pound tackle. “There’s one drive to win the game, and after that we’ll be celebrating as Del Val champs like we are right now.
“I’m going to be completely honest: Interboro, in my mind, dominated that game. But I think the biggest thing, with them against us at the end, we just wanted it more. There was no time to talk, no more yelling or pointing fingers. It’s either you win it or you’re not Del Val champs. We haven’t lost at home in two years, and I was not going to be the senior class responsible for that at all.”
Interboro began its final possession at its 40-yard line. On third down, Mea aired a pass to the middle of the field, but all that stood were blue jerseys. Teddy Wright hauled in the interception to seal the Knights’ win. Earlier in the game, All-Delco defensive back Clarence Buchanan registered his county-leading ninth pick of the year.
Interboro’s offense had some success running the ball against an AP defense that is stingy in that department. Chris Thomas led the way with 57 yards.
“We came out in the beginning a little too hyped us,” AP linebacker Teddy Wright said. “We had to keep it control or it would be a sloppy game. We knew what they were capable of and what they were going to do. They’re a great football team.”
Mea, Pattinson and Mike Chamberlin excelled defensively for Interboro.
The Knights have been the gold standard in the Del Val League since 2012, when they captured the program’s first outright conference title in 30 years en route to the team’s first District One championship later that year. Coach Jason Vosheski has changed the fortunes of the Knights over his 11 seasons as boss, turning what was once a down-and-out program into the Delco football juggernaut that it is today.
Since 2010, AP has qualified for the District One postseason every year, won three Del Val crowns, and a district title. During that time the Knights 75.7 winning percentage, second in Delco behind only Garnet Valley.
The Knights will enter next week’s District One Class AAA playoffs as the top overall seed. Interboro is the projected No. 6 seed, but final tournament seedings will not be determined until Sunday afternoon.
“This was an evenly matched games between two very good teams,” Vosheski said of Friday night’s game. “This is an equal opponent and we needed to fight through all the struggles. … The sparkplug was Jawan. He made the big catch on fourth down, and we just rolled from there.”
And the Knights will roll into the District One playoffs feeling awfully good about their chances.
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