NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Late in a game that would eventually go overtime, the rain and wind left Strath Haven looking for somebody, anybody to make a play and avoid allowing a game to slip through its fingers.
The Panthers had controlled play in the first half Friday night, but allowed a rejuvenated and aggressive Radnor team to claw its way back. That Panther plea was answered by a host of players, who joined to pull out a 22-14 win in overtime over the Red Raiders.
Strath Haven scored on its first play in the OT when quarterback Evan Atsaves hit senior tight end Jalen Thompson for a touchdown.
“It felt amazing to get in and catch my first pass of the game and it was for a touchdown,” said Thompson. “We’ve been working on that play in practice and with me never really being put in those situations on offense, it felt great to actually make that miracle happen.”
Atsaves, who battled the conditions all night, was elated.
“I think they thought we were going to run, so play-action was a good look,” said Atsaves, who finished with four completions on 13 attempts for 42 yards. “It’s a good play for us to run at the end zone. It’s a quick hitter and that’s kind of what we had going there.”
On the ensuing point-after attempt, the Red raiders were flagged for encroachment, which left Panthers coach Kevin Clancy with a tough decision on whether to kick the PAT or go for two.
“I felt like there was an advantage to making them have to score and then make a two-point play,” Clancy said. “We’ve been on the other end of that. That’s what we think we’re built to do. We’re built to get a yard-and-a-half. I asked the kids what they wanted to do and they wanted to go for it.”
Fullback Zach Newlon (24 carries for 88 yards) plowed ahead for the two-point conversion to give the Panthers a 22-14 lead. On Radnor’s next possession, the Raiders were stifled and ultimately lost when gutsy quarterback Pat McDermott fired a ball into the end zone that fell incomplete.
“This was a do-or-die for us, with this really coming down to having a chance at the playoffs or not,” Atsaves said. “It’s a huge win for our momentum. Everybody is pumped up. This is a complete turnaround from where we were at last year.”
While the overtime periods are what most Panthers (4-6, 4-5) will remember about this game, there were several vital defensive plays made by Strath Haven that were impactful.
Brandon King and John Harrar each had sacks for the Panthers and electric defensive back Thomas Foster kicked off the game’s scoring with a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter. It was sophomore linebacker Ethan Belville, however, who may have made a game-saving play in the third quarter that prevented Radnor from taking the game over.
At that point, the Panthers has no answers for the Red Raiders and running back Jack Horvath (108 yards and two touchdowns). Belville managed to cause a fumble by stripping a Radnor receiver and subsequently recovering it on the Strath Haven 20-yard line. With the Panthers reeling, Belville stood tall.
“I saw them throw the screen and tried to go out and play it,” said Belville. “I over-pursued a little bit, so I tried to put my arm out and all I did was hit the ball. I swiped it out. It happened really fast.”
Radnor (3-6, 2-5) has been one of the most snake-bitten teams in the county as it has dealt with injuries to key players for the majority of the season. The missed time of those players, in addition to the rugged Central League schedule, has made this Raiders squad resilient and battle-ready, which proved valuable Friday night.
“It’s kind of been our thing all year. If we can ever put a full game together we’re going to be in good shape,” said Radnor coach Tom Ryan. “In the second half we played great on both sides and special teams, but we just didn’t do enough to win. It’s just part of the game, but it’s a part that’s not so much fun. My kids have played hard all year long and that’s never been a problem.”