BRISTOL – In a close game, turnovers matter.
In its District 1/12 Class AA Semifinal Saturday night at home against Valley Forge Military Academy (VFMI), Bristol turned the ball over five times and reached the end zone only once in a 7-6 loss to the Trojans (6-4).
It is the second straight season the Warriors have been ousted in a playoff opener. For fourth-seeded Valley Forge, it is its first ever district playoff win. The Trojans advance to face No. 2 seed West Catholic, a 65-8 winner over No. 3 Strawberry Mansion on Friday.
“I’ve been coaching for 37 years and this is the greatest win in those 37 years,” said second-year VFMI head coach Mike Korom. “These kids never quit. We lost our starting quarterback. We lost our Z-back, we lost our cornerback with a neck injury. One of our tackles had a knee hurt.
“The kids just stepped up.”
The playoff battle bore striking similarities to Bristol’s 14-13 loss to Valley Forge Oct. 22 on the Trojans’ home field. The Warriors missed late-game field goal opportunities in both skirmishes with VFMI.
This one – a 34-yard attempt by Kevin Buck – fell far short of the distance needed to clear the goal post, ending Bristol’s bid to return to its first District 1/12 final since 2014.
“It was like Déjà vu – the same exact thing,” stated Bristol senior quarterback Parker Kelley, who scored the lone touchdown for the Warriors.
“I snapped the ball and I looked up and (the ball) was just wobbling. Kevin Buck is a great kicker. In practice, he goes 10-for-10 on field goals.
“But things don’t always go your way.”
Kelley’s touchdown came midway through the first quarter, after a 62-yard punt return by junior Samir Brisbon gave Bristol the ball at the Valley Forge 4 yard line. Kelley plunged into the end zone on the next play.
A botched snap, however, on the extra point would come back to haunt the Warriors.
The Trojans’ turn came late in the first half. After a fumble by Kelley in Valley Forge territory, the visitors assembled a 66-yard scoring drive, capped by an 18-yard touchdown pass from backup senior quarterback Peyton Small to classmate Jayden Smith.
The extra-point kick by junior Karl Goebel proved to be the difference in the contest.
Kelley threw his first pick on Bristol’s very next play from scrimmage with VFMI senior linebacker Mike Rosa coming down with the ball at the home team’s 33 yard line.
The Warriors clamped down, keeping Valley Forge out of the end zone and staying their deficit at one, heading into the intermission. Time and again in this one, the Bristol defense stepped up and got a stop.
“That’s the definition of a Bristol Warrior,” said Kelley. “We keep fighting and we keep fighting. That’s the Bristol mentality – we just have to keep fighting and every game is going to be a war.”
The Warrior defense covered a pair of interceptions tossed by Kelley in the third quarter, both of which were hauled down by Small, the second of which he returned 47 yards to the Bristol 38 yard line.
After the teams traded three-and-out possessions, Kelley came down with an interception of his own near the goal line that he returned to the Warriors’ 23 on the last play of the third quarter.
Bristol’s next drive looked like it might yield a return, especially when junior RB Eric Bell started it off with a 12-yard gainer and Kelley converted a 4th-and-2 run at the Warriors’ 42. But a penalty negated a pass to Brisbon and a 5-yard loss on a run by junior Dante Lombardi pushed Bristol into a passing situation. On the next play, VFMI senior LB Audey Isaacs snared the fourth pick of the game for the visitors.
The Trojans took their next possession all the way to the Warriors’ 27 before the drive stalled on a Valley Forge penalty on 4th-and-4.
The Trojans had an opportunity to pin Bristol with a coffin kick, but Brisbon had other ideas when he returned the ball to the 22 on a bull rush up the left side line.
Brisbon would also serve the Warriors well later in the drive, stepping up to replace Kelley, who came out of the game with 4:15 remaining after taking a helmet to the knee. After a 5-yard spurt, Brisbon raced 38 yards to the 30.
With less than two minutes left in the game, the team that scored last was going to win this one.
“Samir gets no reps at all at quarterback in practice, He comes in there and drives the ball all the way down the field – it was awesome.
“They adjusted so well to my injury and I give all the props to my team.”
Brisbon bull-rushed 14 additional yards up the middle to the 16 but a tackle-for-a-loss and a penalty sent the ball back the other way. Two more rushes yielded little, forcing the Warriors to attempt a possible winning field goal kick with 35 seconds remaining.
It was not to be.
Kelley wasn’t the only quarterback injured in the contest. Valley Forge senior Jermaine Clark went down in the first half with an apparent rib injury.
In addition to his two picks on defense, Small stepped up under center to lead the Trojans on its only scoring drive in the game late in the second quarter.
“He’s a fantastic athlete,” said Korom. “I knew when he went in at quarterback, we wouldn’t lose anything at that position.”
“He’s a great all-around player.”
It was VFMI senior running back Audey Isaacs, whom the Warriors found it hard to bring down. Committed to Temple, Isaacs has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season.
“When we need the hard yards, he’s the one we turn to,” added Korom. “He’s fantastic and he’s the leader of this team. He just plays hard.”
Defensively, Isaacs had several tackles behind the line of scrimmage and a pair of quarterback sacks to along with a fourth-quarter interception.
“I told him he had to pick it up. He’s the one we’re counting on and he did it, both offensively and defensively.”
Bristol has one gridiron game left and that comes Thanksgiving Day in its traditional duel against BAL rival Morrisville. The host team Bulldogs are 2-8, 1-4 in the BAL. They’ve lost their last four including yesterday’s duel in Delaware versus Wilmington Friends.
Morrisville last won the battle against the Warriors in 1999 – by a 19-2 score. Bristol has won the 14 duels that have taken place since including last year’s 38-0 triumph. The game was forfeited by the Warriors in 2012 and by the Bulldogs in 2001 and 2013.
Bristol leads the series 49-34-2.
District 1/12 Class AA Semifinal
Valley Forge Military Academy 7, Bristol 6
(Nov. 5 at Bristol)
BRISTOL 6 0 0 0 – 6
VALLEY FORGE 0 7 0 0 – 7
B — Parker Kelley 4-yd. run (kick failed)
VFMA — Jayden Smith 18-yd. pass from Peyton Small (Karl Goebel kick)