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Long’s long touchdown catch helps Sprigfield roll in district quarterfinal

Springfield >> Top-seeded Springfield found its first-quarter offense almost as cold as the 19-degree wind chill Friday evening against West Chester Rustin in the second round of the PIAA District 1 Class 5A playoffs.

The Cougars cracked the scoring ice on a 46-yard touchdown hookup between a couple of senior wide receivers, opening the gates for Springfield’s 28-7 win.

Cougars quarterback Jack Psenicska handed off to Frank Durham Jr., who swept to the right, then uncorked an option pass to Kyle Long, who caught the ball in stride and raced into the end zone for a 6-0 lead.

Springfield’s Ja’Den McKenzie looks for opening space in Friday’s District 1 Class 5A quarterfinal game against Rustin. MICHAEL REEVES – FOR DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA

“We worked on that play all week, and our offensive coordinator (Brian Thompson) kept telling us that play was going to work,” said Long, who later grabbed a four-yard touchdown pass to give the hosts a 14-0 halftime lead. “We were moving the ball a little bit, but I think that was the big play that turned the tide.”

“It was hard to throw the ball tonight with the cold, and the wind, but we’ve got a lot of tough kids on this team,” said Long.

With the victory, the Cougars (12-0) advance to the district semifinals Friday night to host No. 5 seed Upper Dublin. UD defeated fourth-seeded Academy Park, 17-12.

No. 9 seed Rustin (7-5) had been moving the ball fairly well on the ground early on, with the three-headed running attack of Ty Pringle, JT Alosio and Nick Benoit. So on fourth-and-1 from the Rustin 49-yard line, the Golden Knights decided to go for the first down. Pringle ran the ball, and Springfield outside linebacker Ja’Den McKenzie nailed the Golden Knights’ back for a three-yard loss that gave the hosts the ball at the Rustin 46. Then came the Springfield touchdown.

The Cougars’ defense dealt Rustin another blow midway through the second quarter, when Springfield junior linebacker Jeff Biancaniello forced a Golden Knights’ fumble at the Cougars’ 32 yard line.

“We had some good blitzes tonight, and I shot the gap, saw the quarterback handing off to the fullback, and got a good hit,” said Biancaniello, who in the second half made another hit that led to a Rustin fumble.

Springfield’s Kyle Long celebrates with Frank Durham Jr after Frank’s 4th quarter TD – MICHAEL REEVES – FOR DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA

Once the Cougars recovered the ball at their own 32, the hosts began a 12-play, 68-yard touchdown drive to go ahead 14-0. On the drive, Springfield twice converted on key third-down plays; the first was a 15-yard pass from Psenicska to Long on 3rd and 13 from the Cougars’ 29, the second was a 19-yard run by McKenzie on 3rd-and-2 at the Rustin 48.

By the time Springfield penetrated to the Rustin 23 yard line, there was less than a minute left before halftime. A holding penalty moved the Cougars back to the 29, but was immediately followed by a 24-yard strike from Psenicska to tight end Chris Finizio. After a one-yard plunge by McKenzie, Springfield called its final time out of the first half with 24.4 seconds left.

Psenicska then hit Long in the right front corner of the end zone from four yards out to make it 14-0. In the first half particularly, Pensicska was hitting his short passes with accuracy, completing eight of 11 for 89 yards.

Midway through the third quarter, Biancaniello forced another Rustin fumble on a running play, and Springfield’s Philip Shovlin recovered it at the Cougars’ 37.

“It was an outside run, and Phil forced the running back to the inside, where I stripped him of the ball,” Biancaniello said,

As happened the first time Rustin lost the ball, the Golden Knights’ second fumble led to another long Springfield touchdown drive, this one 63 yards on 12 plays. McKenzie carried the ball for the first eight plays, gaining a total of 48 yards, then burst in from the two-yard line to make it 21-0 with 11:09 left in the game. McKenzie finished with 97 yards on 20 carries.

Rustin gambled on its next possession, trying a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from its own 33, but came up a yard short. And, just like at the beginning of the second quarter, Rustin’s failed gambit was followed by a Springfield touchdown pass, this time a 34-yard strike from Psenicska to Durham that made the score 28-0 with 9:01 to play (Springfield kicker Jack Coary was a perfect 4-for-4 in his conversion attempts).

In Rustin’s final two possessions, Golden Knights junior quarterback Will Pileggi completed six passes for 90 yards, including a 37-yarder to Benoit, and finally, an 18-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Benoit with 1:23 left in the game.

Said Rustin head coach Mike St. Clair: “We have nothing to hang our heads about. It’s been a great three years coaching (the seniors), and our guys played to the best of their ability tonight.”

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