YEADON >> When Rahiem Bowens thinks back to where the state of the Penn Wood program was his freshman year, it’s hard for him to imagine how far it has come.
In Bowens’ freshman year the Patriots did not win a game. In his sophomore season they finished 3-7. Despite winning seven games last year, former head coach Nick Lincoln left to take the job at Imhotep Charter and Ato Troop took over a veteran group.
So much happened in a three-year span for Bowens and his fellow seniors but through it all they focused on what they could control and that was their play on the field. Last week, the Patriots’ patience was rewarded with a victory over Academy Park to clinch at least a share of the Del Val League title. They still had work to do against Chester Saturday.
Behind five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown from Bowens, Penn Wood overcame a slow start to trip the Clippers 14-6 and lay claim to the outright league title while ensuring a Class 6A district playoff spot. Bowens hauled in the decisive 21-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Desman Johnson with 9:36 remaining in the game. The senior wideout had a chance to reflect on all of the challenges his team has faced.
“My freshman year we were 0-11 and that was possibly the worst feeling ever,” Bowens said. “Each year we stepped up and got better. This is just a blessing.”
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Penn Wood (8-2, 5-0) may have been looking to start the celebration early against a Chester team that had not won a game in over a month. The Clippers jumped on the Patriots early as Lahneir McBride broke a 75-yard run on a direct snap, then quarterback Tahree Fuller-Bryan found Radee Williams for a 12-yard hookup to give Chester a 6-0 lead.
The Patriots had an abysmal opening half as they turned the ball over on downs on their opening drive after Johnson and the offense drove to the Clippers’ two-yard line. On the ensuing drive, Penn Wood again drove into the red zone but Johnson was picked off by Chester’s Rafique Hilliard in the end zone. The Patriots’ final two drives of the half each ended in punts and Troop knew this contest felt like a trap game.
“We weren’t executing and what we were trying to do wasn’t there,” Troop said. “(Desman) threw a pick in the end zone and just underthrew it. I have to give credit to Chester because they made it a game. I didn’t expect them to just roll over.”
Johnson and the Patriots took the opening drive of the second half down the field, picking up four first downs and capping it off with a two-yard quarterback draw from the sophomore to tie the game.
“I kept telling our guy to keep their heads up and keep fighting,” Johnson said. “We knew we were better than (how we played). That’s the mindset we had coming into the game and we had to get it back at halftime.”
The offense got a nice boost from running back Elijah Gleplay, who tallied 56 yards, including a 19-yard run to set up Bowens’ game-winning score. Chester (2-8, 0-5) got the ball back with 7:36 to play and drove to the Patriots’ 3, but turned the ball over on downs with under a minute left.
Troop said his team had a playoff mindset coming in and needed this victory.
“If we don’t win, we’re not in,” he said. “The talent has been here but it’s been about getting them to play as a team and in a scheme that fits what they do well.”