CHELTENHAM >> One by one, Academy Park’s players chimed in. Late in a game that had long been decided, the Knights’ starters on defense started chanting for the backups.
And growing in noise.
The decibel level proved how badly they wanted to preserve Friday’s shutout. It was a moment as polarizing as any that Academy Park’s seven touchdowns produced.
The Knights thumped Cheltenham, 47-0, in a nonleague game that neither team had on the books a month ago. But after Springfield-Montco scrapped its season due to low player turnout, and left Cheltenham with an unexpected open date, the teams made arrangements to plug a hole in their schedules.
Academy Park (5-0) can credit its defense for the lopsided win in this one. The Knights — early on, at least — abided by the bend-but-don’t-break mentality against the host Panthers (1-4), who twice marched across midfield. But the Knights forced five first-half turnovers, and turned the game into a laugher even before halftime.
“We saw how dominant we were, and we started taking them lightly. That’s the only way I can explain why they were able to get yardage and why we were on the field for so long,” said Knights captain Togba Porte, a defensive end.
To Porte’s point, Academy Park’s defense saw the field for all but 2 minutes, 44 seconds of the first half.
“That’s just crazy,” said senior safety Teddy Wright.
Wright got things started for Academy Park, taking a pick-six 64 yards for a score to end Cheltenham’s opening drive. Jermal Martin’s interception on Cheltenham’s next offensive series put the Knights in position to score again.
This time, it was Dazhon Miller who found the end zone for the first of his three scores. Miller ended up with 94 yards on only five carries. In all, Academy Park logged 230 yards rushing on 18 carries. Center Jaion Smith, left guard Dan Kemp, and right guard Chris Thomas — all senior starters — pulled their weight up front.
Cheltenham, already thin at quarterback, resorted to a fourth-string signal caller due to an in-game injury. That only served to help Academy Park’s defense. Amara Kenneth, Mohammad Jomandy, and Wright all had fumble recoveries in the first half.
“This kind of game gives everybody — from the starters right on down to the young guys — that level of confidence that we need,” Wright said. “Everybody tonight had their time to shine, so we have our heads on right going into next week.”
The reigning Del Val League champions were one of three teams in the six-team league that entered the weekend with a perfect record. The Knights will look to keep their unbeaten season going next week, when they open the league slate against visiting Chester.
This is perhaps the most parity the Del Val has experienced since 2008, when Interboro, Chester, and Glen Mills were crowned as tri-champions.
“Right now, every team in the Del Val League thinks they can beat us, and I like that,” Porte said. “It makes every week so competitive. I can’t wait.
“From here on out, it only gets better.”