GLENOLDEN >> The lasting image from a thrilling night at the South Avenue Sports Complex will be of Kennedy Poles, a Penn Wood wide receiver and defensive back, flying through the air to snare a ball. On the final play of the Del Val League opener between the Patriots and host Interboro, the Bucs trailed by two, needing to go 30 yards in 4.4 seconds for a comeback win. Quarterback Jared Dellipriscoli, with a heave and a prayer, threw to the right side of the end zone.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Poles leaped, grabbed the pass and landed out of bounds. The Patriots stormed the field, victors over Interboro for the first time since 2010, 16-14.
Penn Wood 16, Interboro 14. The final play: pic.twitter.com/H8ofqTmJ1D
— Dillon Friday (@noclassfriday) September 30, 2017
“The ball in the air, I’m the only one that’s going to get it,” Poles said. “If I don’t catch it then nobody is going to catch it.”
The highlights prove Poles is honest, not cocky. Twice in the first half Desman Johnson, Jr., lofted a deep ball for his receiver; twice Poles out-jumped opponents, including two Bucs defensive backs on the second catch, for touchdowns.
But it’s appropriate that Poles’ final display of athleticism came on the other side of the ball, because it was the defense that kept Penn Wood in the contest.
Having led 16-6 for much of the half, the Patriots surrendered a touchdown to Joe Forte with just 5.8 seconds to play in the third quarter. A well-orchestrated fake kick, with Mike Ventura peeling off the hold to find Andrew Grieb for a conversion, made it 16-14.
And Penn Wood, in hostile territory, faltered. The Patriots had turned it over on downs following a first-and-goal from the three, which led to Forte’s score. Johnson, who was brilliant before the break using his 6-2, 240-pound frame to shake off tacklers, threw an interception and lost a fumble following halftime. On the latter, Anthony Zizza just ripped the ball out of Johnson’s arms on a sack.
But each time Interboro threatened to score — mostly due to Forte (114 rushing yards) — Penn Wood held strong. No play was better than Edmund Dennis’ on fourth-and-goal from the seven. On a slant route, Dan Coll had two hands on the ball in the end zone before Dennis lunged to break it up.
“I was at safety,” Dennis said. “I knew the play was coming outside. I jumped it.”
The Bucs’ next drive ended in Rahiem Bowens’ palms, an interception that was the third Interboro turnover of the night.
“Keep our heads,” said Patriots senior David Rush. “In the first quarter when they scored (an 11-yard Coll rush), we just said, ‘Keep our heads up, keep our heads up.’ We kept fighting.”
With new life, Johnson needed a clock-killing drive, no more solo efforts like the one he delivered in the second quarter, escaping three would-be
tacklers at his own five and finding Anauri Hankey across the middle for a first down. The Patriots scored on that drive. On this one, just moving into Bucs territory would suffice. Johnson, who finished with 134 yards passing, came through: 10 plays, three first downs, 45 yards.
“He’s young,” said Penn Wood coach Ato Troop of his sophomore signal-caller. “He’s a guy that makes plays, but sometimes he’ll make mistakes. So you take the big plays, but you have to take the mistakes and continue to coach him, keep him confident.”
Those 45 yards left the Patriots with just their second punt of the game. Dennis, or so it seemed, produced a beauty, pinning Interboro (2-4, 0-1) at the 14.
“That punt wasn’t me,” said Dennis. “That was God.”
With less than 1:30 to go, Dellipriscoli excelled in desperation, a 29-yard rush, a 12-yard pass to convert a fourth down. But his Hail Mary landed in Poles’ hands as Poles knew it would. The Almighty, if Dennis is to be believed, is a Patriots (4-2, 1-0) fan.
“It feels great,” Rush said. “I got embarrassed by this team for three years. It feels great because we played to the whistle.”
Top photo: Penn Wood defender Edmund Dennis runs Interboro’s (3) Dan Coll out of bounds in the second half against Interboro Friday evening. – PETE BANNAN DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA