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Mills’ mulligan pays off for Penncrest’s comeback win

MIDDLETOWN >> For a half, there was nothing clutch about Penncrest in its Central League showdown against Lower Merion.

The Lions repeatedly hurt themselves with inconsistency on both sides of the ball, turnovers and costly penalties. Needless to say, the outlook was bleak on homecoming night.

It was at that point that Penncrest, led by running Caleb Mahalik and quarterback Chris Mills, decided to up their collective play. And the result was a 21-20 win over the Aces that featured one spectacular play after another in the second half.

With Penncrest trailing 20-7, Mahalik and Mills put the team on their respective shoulders. Mahalik, who was a terror at running back all night, ran with even more purpose, and Mills used both his legs and his arm to maneuver the Lions down the field.

“This is the most excited I’ve been since sophomore year against (Strath) Haven,” said Mahalik, who finished with 197 yards on 28 carries for a touchdown on the ground, while also tallying 38 receiving yards. “We realized it was homecoming and we had to do this for our fans. The line stepped up and we got a good push up front.”

Mills reached the end zone twice on quarterback sneaks, but it was the extra effort on his second score that tied the game for Penncrest (3-6, 3-5 Central).

“I see it in the NFL and college all the time that when the defender goes low you have to go high so that’s what I did,” said Mills, who completed eight of 12 passes for 104 yards. “We’ve been in this situation before, coach made some great calls down the stretch, and we just executed.”

It was not a textbook ending from that point, however. With the score tied 20-20 and only 1:11 remaining in the game, Lions kicker Kevin Mills lost his footing on the point-after attempt and it fell short of the uprights. But … Lower Merion gave the Lions a second chance with an encroachment penalty.

Kevin Mills, a reliable kicker all year for the Lions, would not miss again and gave Penncrest a 21-20 lead.

“Caleb and Chris are two guys that show up every day and work hard and tonight they showed why we want to get the ball in their hands,” Lions coach Andrew Pidgeon said. “(Kevin Mills) has been awesome for us all year. He’s a soccer guy who comes out and kicks for us and does a great job. We had faith in him.”

Lower Merion, to its credit, was not going to concede. The Aces entered Penncrest territory, but quarterback Marek D’Alonzo’s pass attempt was intercepted by Penncrest’s David Cage to seal the win for Penncrest.

“Lower Merion is a really well-coached team,” Pidgeon said. “I knew they would have a good game plan, they played well, and we just a got a big play late there.”

Despite the interception, D’Alonzo was excellent. He masterfully guided the Lower Merion offense by spreading the ball around to receivers Marcus Green and Jaden Helton, while keeping the Lions defense off-balance all night.

The Aces (1-8, 0-7) first reached pay dirt when D’Alonzo threw a pass in the direction of wideout Jon Betts only to see the ball tip off of Betts’ hands into the waiting fingertips of Helton, who snared the ball just inside the pylon.

Later, D’Alonzo hooked up with Green for a four-yard touchdown pass and also added a three-yard touchdown run.

“Every loss is disappointing, as it should be,” D’Alonzo said. “Today I feel like we really showed we can compete and move the ball. The offense played well tonight, but it hasn’t done the defense justice because they have been killing it all year. (The defense) played another great game for us. We’re focused on Harriton now and are really confident going into next week.”

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