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Norristown rallies late to beat Upper Merion 35-28 on Thanksgiving

WEST NORRITON >> Norristown had to do something.

The Eagles had just watched archrival Upper Merion polish off a powerful 10-play, 68-yard drive in which the final nine plays were all on the ground, to take a seven-point lead with 4:14 left in their Thanksgiving Day soiree, and very few of the throng at Norristown High School was giving them much of a chance at a comeback.

But on this day, the throng was wrong.

Norristown countered with a seven-play, 70-yard march of its own, capped by a 24-yard pass from quarterback Izaiah Webb to Barry White — and a two-point toss from Webb to Koran Butler — to give the Eagles the lead and the eventual 35-28 win over Upper Merion in the two schools’ Turkey Day extravaganza.

The drive capped a day that saw both teams look horrible for the game’s first 24 minutes, then saw the two squads deliver a second half worthy of being lumped in with the Eagles-Vikings clashes from the 1960s and ‘70s.

“We talked about playing this one for the community,” said Eagles head coach Jason Powel, as the Eagles whooped it up in a postgame celebration. “We talked about how hard we’d worked all season and that we didn’t want the work to go for naught.”

Bob Raines--Digital First Media Upper Merion quarterback JP Batten tries to get off a pass as he is sacked by the Norristown defense Nov. 24, 2016.

Upper Merion quarterback JP Batten tries to get off a pass as he is sacked by the Norristown defense during their game on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

After that Vikings drive, however, it appeared as though it just might.

But Norristown had other ideas.

Beginning from their own 30, the Eagles got downfield in a hurry, helped along by a pair of Vikings penalties — especially a personal foul call that followed a 5-yard, Webb-to-Joe Gionnone pass that turned out to be a 20-yard gain with the resultant flag.

The flags were not uncommon in the contest, which produced a combined 24 yellow hankies, many for penalties of the personal foul-type variety.

Once at the Vikings 24, Webb found White behind the defense, and the game was a point away from being tied.

But with just 1:50 showing on the fourth-quarter clock, the Eagles had no intentions of settling for a tie.

“We were going for two all the way,” Powel said. “Who wants to end the season not going for a win?”

Webb delivered a strike to a wide-open Butler, and the Eagles had the lead.

“We had the play we thought they’d run covered,” said Vikings head coach Harold Smith. “But we dropped coverage on (Butler), and that was just good vision by their quarterback.”

The Vikings had a chance to respond, but an incomplete pass and three running plays came up short, and the Eagles had an unlikely Thanksgiving Day win.

For good measure, Koran Butler, named the game’s Most Valuable Player, scored on an interception runback on the game’s final snap.

Bob Raines--Digital First Media Botros Barsoum (Upper Merion) pulls in a pass during the Thanksgiving Day game at Norristown.

Upper Merion’s Botros Barsoum pulls in a pass during the Vikings’ Thanksgiving Day game against Norristown on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

Norristown got off to a great start in the contest, scoring just 4:29 in when the Eagles turned an interception into an 8-yard touchdown pass from Webb to Eleazar Hill.

But the Vikings defense returned the favor when a bad Eagles snap on a play from the Norristown 15 wound up in the end zone and was covered by Upper Merion’s Anthony Shepperd with 3:31 left in the first half.

A long kickoff return, however, set Norristown up at the Vikings 11, and the Eagles cashed, with Kirk Wilson putting the home team on top, 13-7, with 1:26 left in the half.

The Vikings regained the lead on their first possession of the second half when quarterback JP Batten polished off a perfect play-action fake and circled left end for a 13-yard score with 6:24 left in the third quarter.

Then it was Butler’s turn to take over the game.

Late in the quarter, after Zach DeSanto’s 7-yard run gave Upper Merion a 21-13 lead, Butler put on a show.

It began with a pair of catches for 25 yards that moved the Eagles from their own 20 to the Norristown 45.

Nine plays later, with the ball resting on the Vikings 33, the Eagles receiver turned in what could be easily called the catch of the year, hauling in a Webb pass down the left sideline with one hand, and continuing on for a touchdown.

“I just gave it my all, and everything clicked after that,” Butler said. “After they scored, we wanted to keep our momentum up. It was all about teamwork.”

A successful two-point conversion pass from Webb to Boubacar Diawara, tied it, and it was the Vikings turn to dazzle.

Undaunted, Upper Merion went on the aforementioned 68-yard drive, with Chris Sanders doing the bulk of the ground gaining.

But the Eagles had one more answer.

For the coup de gras, Butler intercepted Batten’s final pass of the game, and turned it into a touchdown on the contest’s final play.

Norristown had an unlikely Thanksgiving Day win, and no one was going home unentertained.

“Koran just made a hell of a catch for the touchdown,” Smith said. “That play was the difference in the game.”

“We just made the plays we had to make,” Powel said. “Now let’s go have some turkey.”

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