SPRINGFIELD >> For seven straight seasons, Springfield has competed for a District 1 championship. For seven straight seasons, the Cougars have failed to go the distance.
They have enjoyed a remarkable run of success, beginning in 2010 when Daily Times Player of the Year Matt Craig rushed for a school-record 1,996 yards and guided the Cougars to the District 1 Class 3A semifinal.
The Cougars got one step closre four years later with a stellar defense led by linebacker Adam Krauter, who was the 2014 Player of the Year. But they never reached the mountaintop.
Now the Cougars get another crack at taking home the district crown. And they’ll get that chance on their field, in front of a packed house.
No pressure, right?
“That was definitely motivation, getting that No. 1 seed and knowing that if we keep winning we would keep getting home games,” senior quarterback Johnny Fanelli said. “Playing this game at home, it’s just extra motivation for us.”
A 12-1 team with a Central League title share on its resume, Springfield doesn’t care where it plays for a district championship, but being at home sure helps. The thought of finally doing what no Springfield team has achieved is always on the minds of the Cougars, notably the senior class, many of whom were on the sidelines two years ago to watch Great Valley earn a 21-0 shutout.
The Cougars are poised not to repeat history, but to make their own.
“I’ve been thinking about this for so long,” said Joe Kennedy, who has 50 receptions for a school-record 777 yards and 11 touchdowns. “It’s motivation to break the barrier, to finally win a district championship, something that’s never been done here before. We’re not satisfied.”
Friday night, No. 1 Springfield will host second-seeded Academy Park (12-1) in the District 1 Class 5A championship game. Kickoff is 7 o’clock.
The Knights are vying for their second straight district title and third in four years. They ended Springfield’s season in the quarterfinals of the District 1 Class 3A playoffs a season ago.
“They have a really good running game, with two effective running backs, and a nice defense,” Kennedy said of the Knights, who disposed of fellow co-Central League champion Marple Newtown with relative ease in last week’s semifinal, a 26-7 pummelling. “They all get to the ball on defense, so it’s important that we find a way to counter that.”
Springfield can count on a menacing defense that has allowed just 10 points in three postseason games. Last week, the Cougars recorded their second shutout of the tournament with a 21-0 rout of West Chester Henderson.
Among the top performers is sophomore linebacker Pat Clemens, who has emerged as a rising star on a defense known for grooming stud linebackers. Clemens and seniors Dwayne Snipes and Anthony DiVario have been a formidable trio in the middle of the defense.
“I think it shows the type of team we have, that I can put my trust in these guys and they can do the same with me,” said Clemens, who has 100 tackles, second on the team to defensive tackle Justin Shields (118). “Our other linebackers, Dwayne Snipes and Anthony Divario, they can pick me up whenever I’m down and they have my back. It’s great to have the opportunity to be able to show what I can do.”
Springfield’s hard-nosed defense will have to contain the dynamic rushing duo of Dazhon Miller (1,501 yards, 17 TDs) and Teddy Wright (1,164 yards, 11 TDs), who have tortured opposing defenses throughout the postseason. Miller and Wright both eclipsed the 100-yard plateau in each of the last two weeks.
“We set an agenda for every game, to try and hold teams to the least amount of points possible,” Clemens said. “We don’t want them running all over us. We have to keep their passing to a minimum, their running to a minimum. We have to limit the big plays.”
This clash of Delco titans should come down to which team can establish control at the line of scrimmage. When Academy Park (12-1) lost to Interboro last month, the Knights were thoroughly outplayed up front. The Cougars’ front line has been especially effective bullying their opponents, disrupting plays in the backfield and generally controlling the tempo in the trenches.
“We just have to play the way we know how,” Clemens said. “We don’t want to really change anything.”
The Knights are never rattled. They play with a supreme level of confidence. All they have to worry about, they say, is themselves.
“That’s the AP strategy,” said All-Delco defensive end Togba Porte, who recorded four sacks of Marple Newtown quarterback Anthony Paoletti last week. “We don’t worry about this guy or that guy. Nah. We worry about what we have to do. Everywhere we go, that’s how we feel. That’s how we play.”
The Knights don’t get to chase after their 23rd straight home victory. They’ll have to hit the road for the first time since the Interboro game.
That’s fine by them.
“We have to go in and take over their home,” Wright said. “We have to go there and do what we do best.”