UPPER CHICHESTER >> Before Friday, Academy Park hadn’t played one of its trademark defensive games this season.
The Knights were seeking the kind of performance that reminds the Del Val League, and all other foes, about their tremendous talent. So much of the Knights’ success this decade can be attributed to an athletic defensive unit that swarms to the ball and creates turnovers.
On a whole, those characteristics had been missing. The Knights stumbled out of the gates, losing two in a row to quality opponents, Pennsbury and Unionville.
They entered their Del Val League opener at Chichester winners of two straight. AP’s offense was coming alive, but the defense was still trying to find its footing, allowing an average of 312.5 yards per game.
It’s worth noting that AP’s defense forced six turnovers and a pair of touchdowns in the team’s most recent game, a rout of Boyertown Sept. 15.
But the Knights needed to make a louder statement …
“We were trying to send a message to the Del Val,” linebacker Azeez Badmus said. “That’s what we wanted to do.”
Facing a resurgent Chichester team, the Knights put everything together, limiting Chichester to less than 100 yards of total offense. Nate Holmes rushed for 114 yards on only seven carries with three touchdowns as Academy Park earned a convincing, 28-7 victory.
“Those first two games (of the season) … it was bad,” said Badmus, an outside linebacker who shifted to the middle in order to fill a vacancy. He had several tackles and a pair of sacks.
“We were trying to figure out the plan. We had to stick together as a team (after the 0-2 start). We just glide to the ball, keep going to the ball and attack fast. We go hard every single play and that’s what we wanted to do in this game.”
Consider the Academy Park defense successful. In addition to Badmus, who was all over the field, the Knights received solid contributions from lineman Tyler Estes and linebacker Issa Fox, too.
“In the last two weeks, we’ve kind of moved some people around. Our starting inside linebacker (Elijah Berryman) wasn’t here tonight, so we kind of moved Azeez inside and moved another guy here and another guy there,” AP coach Jason Vosheski said. “When he was playing inside … he added a spark that we haven’t had all season.”
And then there was the secondary, which entered the night with only two interceptions. That, if nothing else, is very unlike Academy Park.
All-Delco cornerback Jermal Martin shut down Chi’s top offensive weapon, senior athlete Rashaad Shaw, who was first on the team in touchdowns (seven), second in rushing yardage (150) and first in both receptions (14) and receiving yardage (257). Shaw was limited to four catches for 20 yards. Out of the wildcat formation, he scored Chi’s lone touchdown on a seven-yard run less than a minute into the third quarter.
By and large, though, AP’s defense was nasty. Quarterback Andrew Rodriguez was an efficient 8-for-12, but threw for only 54 yards and was picked off by Devon Covert. He was also tackled five times behind the line of scrimmage. The Eagles’ ground attack didn’t fare any better — 39 yards on 27 carries.
“Maybe it’s the fact we’re playing new guys all over the place, I don’t know what the one answer is” for the defense’s previous struggles, Vosheski said.
“Tonight was more of an Academy Park defense.”
Holmes enjoyed a breakout performance at running back, splitting carries with Kareem Burton, who began the game as one of the leading rushers in the county.
“We were very motivated,” Holmes said. “We came out very energized and we ended the game energized.”
Holmes busted a 66-yard touchdown in the third quarter, moments after Chi got on the scoreboard to trim AP’s lead to 12-7.
“Nate, right now, offers us something that’s different. Kareem is more of a power guy,” Vosheski said. “Kareem obviously has quickness and he can
run, but Nate is more of a quick-twitch guy. He hits the hole hard, he breaks a lot of tackles. He’s not super-husky, but he breaks a lot of tackles and he keeps his legs moving. He offers us a spark every time he touches the ball.”
Holmes’ nine-yard scoring scamper broke a stalemate in the first quarter.
Later, the Knights struck with a little trickery. Burton took a sweep, stopped five yards behind the line of scrimmage and aired a perfect strike to Dwayne Leslie streaking down the Academy Park sideline. The 66-yard touchdown connection gave the Knights a 12-0 lead in the second quarter.
After Holmes’ second TD run put the Knights ahead, 20-7, AP recovered the ensuing kickoff. Three plays later, Holmes was in the end zone for his third score of the night.
“Any time you play in the league and you play a team who has been running the same kind of stuff, year in and year out, nothing is ever easy,” Vosheski said. “We didn’t play up to par, offensively, for most of the game. Defensively, I thought we played pretty well.”