YEADON >> All week, Christian Suber believed his Penn Wood team could beat Academy Park. He just had to convince a few people that it was possible — beginning with someone in his own home.
The Penn Wood defensive end has had to deal with a house divided in its high-school allegiances. His mother, Yvette, is a Penn Wood graduate and the Patriots’ cheerleading coach. His father, Cornell, played football at Academy Park.
“I’ve been telling my dad all my life, ‘I’m gonna win,’” said Christian Suber.
— Christopher A. Vito (@ChrisVito) October 21, 2017
The freshman’s seventh tackle of Friday night’s game was his biggest. Suber sacked Academy Park quarterback Skylor Fillis as time expired, leading Penn Wood to a 14-12 win and its first share of the Del Val League title since 2010.
The Patriots (7-2, 4-0) can win the outright league crown with a win next Saturday at Chester.
“This feels good,” said Suber. “No, it feels amazing.”
Suber’s shoestring tackle set off a celebration on the Penn Wood sideline. Airhorns screeched as three players grabbed a water cooler to deliver first-year coach Ato Troop a deserved ice bath.
“I didn’t see that coming,” said Troop.
Neither did Academy Park (5-3, 3-1), which had beaten Penn Wood in six consecutive meetings. The Knights had defeated the Patriots in each of their last four visits to Kerr Field, dating back to 2009.
“They started to figure out what plays we were going to (on offense) that would work, and they started calling plays to change their scheme and stop us,” Fillis said. “Their defense made big stops against us.”
In particular, Penn Wood’s defense curbed an 11-play drive by Academy Park in the third quarter. On that possession, the Knights had five shots at the end zone from inside the 7-yard line — and came up with nothing to show for it.
The Patriots used that defensive stand as their motivation once again, during Academy Park’s final drive. Troop yelled, “One more time,” to his defensive players as they took the field. Academy Park had 4:57 to cover 58 yards. The Knights drove to inside the red zone with just under a minute to play. First, Penn Wood’s Davee Rush took down Fillis and forced Academy Park to use its final timeout. Then, with only 11 seconds remaining, it was Suber who made the game-clinching tackle near the 10-yard line.
“I think we’ve got the best defense in the Del Val,” said Penn Wood quarterback Desman Johnson Jr. “They make stops in the red zone, in the short field; they always get the ball back for us.”
In the fourth quarter, Johnson rewarded his defense for its big plays by turning in one of his own. The quarterback bounced around in the pocket, dodging two Academy Park would-be tacklers, before taking off on a 58-yard run down the right sideline and to the Academy Park 3. He scored on a keeper on the next play.
Only two minutes earlier, Academy Park had taken a 12-8 lead on the second of Fillis’ two touchdown runs. Penn Wood’s response to that score, buoyed by Johnson’s sprint deep into Patriots territory, altered the game entirely.
“I saw the D-line crashing in and I saw a cutback lane,” Johnson said. “Kennedy (Poles) and Elijah (Gleplay) made great blocks, and that kept me going to the 3-yard line.
“I get a little frustrated sometimes, because I’ll get sacked trying to make something happen. Everyone on the sideline helps me keep my head up until I can have a run like that.”
Penn Wood entered the week as the 17th-best team in District 1 6A’s power rankings. Only 16 make the cut for the district tournament. In other words, the Patriots’ win over Academy Park meant more than just Del Val bragging rights.
“We knew we had to get this win. “We considered this a playoff game for us,” Johnson said.
Said Troop: “Before that last drive, I told them, ‘If you want to keep playing after Chester, you have to win this game. If they score, next week is your last week.’ And to their credit, they made the stop.”
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