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Leslie, Holmes produce special touchdowns for Academy Park in win over Chichester

SHARON HILL >> Jason Vosheski’s postgame talk was brief. The time he’s allotting his players to celebrate Friday’s win will seem even shorter.

In less than 90 seconds, the Academy Park coach offered a verbal pat on the back to his players following their 39-12 victory over Chichester in a District 1 Class 5A playoff.

Then he reminded them of Saturday’s practice schedule and sent them on their way.

“People know about us,” Vosheski said. “We’re not sneaking up on anybody.”

That’s why fourth-seeded Academy Park (7-3), the reigning district champion, will be back at Knight Field less than 12 hours after dispatching its Del Val League rival Chichester (4-6) from its first postseason appearance in school history. They aim shifts instantly to preparing for a visit next week from fifth-seeded Upper Dublin.

Academy Park got huge contributions from its special-teams units, with Dwayne Leslie and Nathaniel Holmes returning kickoffs for touchdowns. Leslie and Holmes added one more score each, on a receiving and a rushing play, respectively.

“Our special teams have played well all year,” Vosheski said. “It’s huge for us, from field position to everything else.”

In particular, Leslie’s 86-yard return played a pivotal role. He picked up the ball at the 14-yard line on two hops and, aside from a hand hitting his left shoulder, Leslie sprinted through the middle of the field untouched for the touchdown.

For 13th-seeded Chichester, playing on the road in its first playoff game, momentum had permanently swung out of its favor.

“When they get the advantage like that, it’s huge,” Chichester linebacker Cody Profitt said. “If we learned anything, it’s that we can’t execute like that in the Turkey Bowl (against Sun Valley). That’s our last game.”

“Everybody on our sideline was saying, ‘You’re gonna go. You’re gonna take it,’” Leslie said. “I owe all the credit to my blockers, and (Holmes) owes it all to our offensive line.”

Holmes nearly outgained Chichester’s offense by himself. He accounted for 138 yards on 14 carries, while the Eagles managed only 172 yards of offense.

Leslie’s return touchdown, followed by the first of quarterback Skylor Fillis’ two passing touchdowns, helped Academy Park secure a 13-0 lead. The Eagles answered on a 12-yard connection between Andrew Rodriguez and receiver Damian Thompson.

Holmes brought back the ensuing kickoff 63 yards for a touchdown. If Chichester had any hope of closing the gap and springing an upset, those plans seemed to be dashed after Holmes’ second-quarter score.

“The kid runs hard and he’s squirmy, so you saw it on that kickoff that it’s hard to take him down,” Vosheski said. “And he’s kind of like a good chess player in that he doesn’t look at the first guy coming at him, but at the third or fourth guy to anticipate where he’s going next.”

Holmes said he credits performances like his 2017 playoff debut to two people — former teammate Jaion Smith, who died in a June car crash, and Alvin Smith, his grandfather who also passed this year.

“Those two losses — my Pop-Pop and Jaion— make it like I’m playing for something bigger,” Holmes said. “As a team, we have some more work to do, but we’ll take this win tonight.”

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