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Perez’s perfectly timed fall seals Chichester victory over Lower Merion

LOWER MERION >> With his starting quarterback sporting a sling and the offense’s top playmaker fighting a losing battle against leg cramps, Jovani Perez knew he and his defensive mates needed to make a play.

So when a botched Lower Merion shotgun snap hit the ground in the fourth quarter and Perez’s Chichester team holding a tenuous one-score lead, the 5-foot-4, 140-pound nose tackle sprung to action.

“When I saw the ball on the ground, it reminded me just of practice,” Perez said. “See the ball on the ground, just fall on it, don’t be stupid, don’t try to make a big play. Fall on it, turnover, get our team ready.”

Three plays later, backup Nate Decenzi’s QB sneak sealed a 30-19 nonleague win for Chichester.

By that time, Chichester starting signal-caller Andrew Rodriquez was confined to the bench. Running back Rashaad Shaw was limited to six second-half carries as the Eagles tried to milk the clock. Shaw did gut it out for the next series, intercepting a Marek D’Alonzo pass to ice the game.

“It was pretty rough, trying to come back in for my team in a crazy game,” Shaw said. “My team needed me in the fourth quarter, and I just needed to step up.”

With the offense sputtering — Decenzi attempted just one pass, and the Eagles accounted for more second-half yards in penalties (80) than total offense (71) — the defense forced its fourth turnover to secure the victory. But then the defense made plays all day, limiting the Aces to minus-7 yards of rushing despite D’Alonzo throwing for 317 yards.

Perez hopped on a fumble on the Aces’ first series, a shaky start befitting an opener with 28 combined penalties and 11 punts. The next recovery, by linebacker Quinten Haynes, set up the first of two nine-yard touchdown runs by Shaw in the first. Haynes added the two-pointers on each off of swinging-gate conversion plays to stake Chi to a 16-6 edge.

But D’Alonzo and his suite of weapons in the passing game kept Lower Merion counterpunching. After three empty series, D’Alonzo hit Deion Davis for wheel routes of 43 and 30 yards, the latter a touchdown.

D’Alonzo found Elijah Smith for a 55-yard screen pass score, then connected with Jalen Goodman on a pinpoint sideline route for an 80-yard TD. He found eight receivers, led by Davis’ four catches for 102 yards.

“It’s as easy as it gets,” D’Alonzo said. “…They’re just amazing athletes to have great hands.”

Chichester, though, did just enough. Shaw was explosive in the wildcat formation, rushing 12 times for 99 yards and catching three balls for 56. Nate Resine did the heavy lifting in the second half, with 24 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown. His score answered the Goodman touchdown, nullifying Lower Merion’s only lead within 20 seconds thanks to a 71-yard kick return by Calvin Church to the two.

And while the mentality, through a scoreless and rugged third quarter, wasn’t to win with the 24 points accrued by halftime, it worked out that way, thanks to the Eagles’ defensive tenacity.

“We just try to rip at the ball every time we get in the backfield,” Shaw said.

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