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Durham thinks on his feet for perfect Springfield

HAVERFORD >> Springfield quarterback Jack Psenicska was under duress when he lofted a pass on third down in the fourth quarter.

Frank Durham Jr. wasn’t supposed to stop running until he reached the end zone. Thirty-one yards away from paydirt, Psenicska was poised to hit his wide receiver in stride.

Haverford’s all-out blitz changed the trajectory of Psenicska’s throw, which he barely got off before he absorbed a shot to the abdomen. As a result, the ball lacked the necessary zip. Durham Jr. was forced to make a U-turn. He stopped and came back for the ball and, between three Haverford defensive backs, made the catch, turned upfield and darted to the end zone untouched.

It was an amazing play on both ends. The touchdown gave Springfield a lead it wouldn’t relinquish on the way to a 31-17 victory.

The Cougars (10-0, 9-0) completed a perfect march through the regular season and clinched the Central League championship outright, their third title in four years.

“At first, I couldn’t see the ball at all,” said Durham Jr., who had his best performance of the season, finishing with a team-high five receptions for 84 yards. “I looked up and I just … I found it. It was kind of crazy.”

And so he ran. Needless to say, it was the biggest play in Durham Jr.’s life.

“Sometimes, in games such as this,” Psenicska said, “crazy stuff happens and it just works out the right way:

With five minutes to go, Springfield’s defense was on deck. The Cougars were on their heels facing the Fords’ high-octane offense. They needed to deliver one of their trademark defensive possessions.

“We harped on all year, it’s our motto — bend, but don’t break,” Shields said. “We were facing some adversity there. They’re an awesome team. They came out fired up. When we went into the locker room at halftime, we were all just picking each other up.

All-Delco defensive tackle Justin Shields was the hero. Shields stuffed Haverford quarterback Jake Ruane three yards behind the line of scrimmage on fourth and inches with three minutes to play.

“We were getting a good read on their passing and when they were going to run the ball,” said Shields, who had 10 tackles. “We were battling all night. I was able to get through and made the big play at a big time. But you’ve got to give credit to (Haverford). They were blocking me all night, but I was able to get through finally.”

On its next possession, Springfield’s offense went three-and-out, but the damage had already been done. Frankie Bullock launched a beauty of a punt that was downed at the 1. Haverford managed to get a little breathing room, but eventually turned the ball over on downs. Moments later, Jack Psenicska sneaked into the end zone from a yard out with 47 seconds left to seal the victory.

Haverford (8-2, 7-2) led at halftime, 10-7, following a 20-yard field goal by John Scheivert in the waning moments of the second quarter. The Cougars went on a six-play, 65-yard drive to begin the third period. The go-ahead touchdown wasn’t without controversy.

The ruling by officials was that Ja’Den McKenzie had caught a deflected pass in the end zone. Visual evidence provided by a cameraman on the Haverford sideline proved otherwise. It was clear that McKenzie had trapped the ball. Fortunately for the Cougars, there is no instant replay in high school football.

The Fords trailed by seven points late in the third quarter. On fourth and 10, Ruane connected with Jordan Mosley in the corner of the end zone to pull even at 17-all.

“We knew that they were going to be a very good team,” lineman Dan Pennestri said. “Everyone’s a leader on that line. I tried to keep everyone focused and doing their jobs. We made adjustments at halftime and did what we had to do.”

McKenzie was ejected from the game after he was whistled for a second unsportsmanlike penalty. Again, the officials seemed to botch the call. McKenzie was called for a personal foul on defense after he tripped over a Haverford wide receiver.

“Our team, as a unit, is good enough to overcome any obstacle and we know we’re going to face adversity in every game,” said junior linebacker Pat Clemens, who made 10 tackles. “That was just another obstacle we had to go over. We were able to do it.”

The Cougars won their final three games on the road against Marple Newtown, Garnet Valley and Haverford, three of the Central League’s strongest programs.

Now they will turn the page and chase after their first District 1 championship. The Cougars locked down the No. 1 seed in the Class 5A tournament. It would appear the Cougars will take on Penncrest (3-7) in the opening round for the second consecutive year. Meanwhile, Haverford will qualify for the 6A tourney.

“It’s a new season,” said Psenicska, who completed 12 of 22 passes for 168 yards. Psenicska’s counterpart, Ruane, went 23-for-39 for 238 yards. “We have Saturday and Sunday to enjoy this game, and then we have to get back to work and focus on our first playoff game.”


Top photo: Springfield’s Jack Spence intercepts a pass intended for Haverford’s Jordan Mosley during second quarter at Haverford High School. (Special to the Times / ERIC HARTLINE)

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