HAVERFORD >> Running between the tackles. Breaking tackles. Slipping tackles.
Perkiomen Valley running back Ronnie Arch did all of the above, particularly on a third-down snap deep in his team’s territory. With a stop, Haverford could’ve gotten the ball back. With a first down, the game would be over.
“Just wasn’t meant to be,” said Haverford defensive back Chris Trainor, whose Fords couldn’t make one last stand and fell to Perkiomen Valley, 35-28, Friday night in the opening round of the District One Class AAAA playoffs at A.G. Cornog Field.
Arch not only provided the crucial fourth-quarter first down to keep the ball with the 10th-seeded Vikings (10-1), but he also provided the go-ahead score. His 55-yard catch-and-run on a screen-play connection with Stephen Sturm accounted for his fourth touchdown of the game.
“Luckily,” said Arch, “I broke a few tackles and the rest, I just ran my butt off.”
Seventh-seeded Haverford had its shots. The Fords erased a 14-point, first-half deficit to level the score at 21-all at halftime on two of quarterback Jack Donaghy’s four touchdown passes.
Then, when the Vikings muffed a fair-catch attempt on a fourth-quarter punt, Haverford had new life. Donaghy delivered a crisp 27-yard scoring strike to Karim Bernard on the next play to once again tie things up, this time at 28-28 with 9:39 to play.
Donaghy’s play — 21-for-42 passing, for 378 yards and four touchdowns — gave Haverford (9-2) a flicker of hope that it would be able to rally once again. Ultimately, the Fords’ next drive stalled out. They punted away with 2:39 left, and never got the ball back.
Neither play by Arch, not his game-changing score or his third-down conversion, according to Haverford coach Joe Gallagher, was the difference-maker.
“One tackle shy,” he said. “You can say, ‘One tackle shy,’ but it’s all of those things play into the loss. It’s never just one thing. It’s seven, eight, nine things. (Perkiomen Valley) made the plays and that’s what it comes down to. Hats off to them.”
Haverford took a nine-game winning streak into its first home playoff game in school history. The Fords were looking for a slice more of history, too, attempting to claim their first playoff victory.
Fortune was on their side in the first quarter, when Donaghy spotted Trainor on the right sideline. He zipped it to Trainor 15 yards upfield and the receiver did the rest for a 71-yard touchdown that gave Haverford a 7-0 lead only 20 seconds in.
“We put in a new play this week,” said Trainor, who had seven receptions for 159 yards and two scores. “We switched our verticals. We knew we were going to come out and, first play, run it. It was pretty good for that to happen, to start out on a high note.”
From there, the first half belonged to Perkiomen Valley. More specifically, it belonged to Arch.
The back capped two first-quarter drives with scoring plunges of 1 and 2 yards, to move the Vikings in front. Early in the second, he gave Perkiomen Valley its third touchdown in as many drives, converting a 5-yard pass from Sturm for yet another score.
Not to be outdone, Haverford used a 23-yard touchdown to Bobby McClure and a 10-yard scoring pass to Trainor to force a 21-all deadlock at intermission.
“Our best trait is our mental toughness,” Gallagher said. “I told the guys at halftime, ‘We were tied at Conestoga at half, and we won. We were tied with Garnet Valley at half, and we won. We were tied at Ridley, and we won.’ These kids have great resolve and that’s what I’m most impressed by.”
Perkiomen Valley, paced by a balanced offensive attack, took the lead in third quarter. And it stayed that way until an untimely turnover, on an attempted fair catch on a punt, opened the door for Haverford.
“Any time there’s a play like that in a high school football game, it flips the momentum and flips the field, and we were lucky enough to capitalize on it,” said Donaghy, whose ensuing pass was for his fourth touchdown.
Arch struck again on Perkiomen Valley’s next drive, a score that would cast Haverford from the playoffs.
“On the sidelines, our coaches were saying, ‘It’s still a game. We can’t let off,’” said Arch, who had 15 carries for 85 yards and two rushing scores. “Our defense came up huge for us on the drive where they had to punt. Thankfully we were able to keep it away from them.”
On Haverford’s sideline, there was more contemplation than jubilation.
“On to the next one,” said McClure, who had six catches for 106 yards.
That next one is Thanksgiving Day against Upper Darby, with a shot at their first Central League crown in 20 years at stake.
“By 12 o’clock tonight, it’s over for us. We’ll forget about this,” McClure said. “We’ll be here 9 a.m. to practice. The coaches won’t let us think about it. Our other teammates won’t let us think about it.”
Already looking ahead to the next game, Donaghy added: “I know I’m already thinking about it. It’s going to be one high school football game to remember, that’s for sure.”
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