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James, Neshaminy leave Haverford stuck in the mud

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MIDDLETOWN TWP. — Enough mud covered the front and back of Chris James’ jersey that, at times, his uniform number was almost indistinguishable. Make no mistake, though: Everyone on Haverford’s defense knew where James was at any given time. That didn’t make a difference. The Fords simply could not bring him down.

James, Neshaminy’s featured running back, carried the eighth-seeded Redskins convincingly past Haverford, 35-7, Friday night in a District 1 Class 6A playoff game at Heartbreak Ridge.

Indeed it was heartbreak for ninth-seeded Haverford (8-3), which has suffered first-round exits in the district playoffs each of the last five seasons, and in six of the last seven. There were only so many words Fords coach Joe Gallagher could say to his players, particularly seniors like quarterback Jake Ruane, who have endured a career’s worth of opening-round losses.

“Coach Gall, he said it’s disappointing. You hate to lose like this, but we did what we could,” Ruane said. “(Neshaminy) played better than we did tonight. They made more plays than we did. There’s not much to say.”

James rushed 18 times for 159 yards and a touchdown, single-handedly keeping alive multiple Neshaminy drives with his shifty moves and ability to hold onto the football. Amid rain-swept conditions, the Redskins committed zero turnovers and were a plus-3 in that category.

James had a towel tucked into his waistband, and routinely switched it out for another one throughout the game. He ditched his gloves at halftime, he said, because they were too soggy.

“Especially in this weather, when you can’t throw the ball that much, you just put it on the ground and trust yourself to get some yardage,” James said. “I had to hold onto it as hard as I could. I wasn’t letting it out, no matter what.”

Neshaminy’s offense wasted little time on its opening drive. The Redskins covered 56 yards on six plays, capped by a 26-yard scoring rush by senior Oleh Manzyk. The same applied to their third possession, too, when the Redskins scored on the first play. Joyce ran a 15-yard out route, hauled in a pass from Brody McAndrew, and went untouched down the sideline for a 56-yard touchdown.

James struck in the second quarter, dodging a handful of arm tackles for a 30-yard touchdown. That gave Neshaminy a cozy, 21-0 lead only 14 minutes into the game. It stayed that way into halftime.

All the while, Haverford struggled to move the ball. The Fords managed only one first-quarter first down. Ruane had only one completion by halftime, and finished 2-for-11 for 63 yards, easily his lowest output of the season.

“It’s really tough, you know? But you don’t really want to blame it on the weather,” he said. “They made a lot of good plays on defense.”

Neshaminy (8-3) went right back to work after halftime. Joyce hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from McAndrew for his second score of the night, matching a career-high. And Ryan O’Connor polished off Neshaminy’s scoring with a seven-yard burst late in the third quarter.

“We knew we weren’t going to be able to throw it all that much,” Joyce said. “So the two that I had come my way, they were go routes where I just adjusted to the ball when it was in the air.”

McAndrew went 5-for-6 for 86 yards and two touchdowns.

Haverford back Chasen Wint’s one-yard plunge, on the second play of the fourth quarter, got the Fords on the board. By then, their deficit had swelled to running-clock territory. Even against a second-string defense, Haverford’s time for a comeback quickly slipped away.

“We’ve still got one left,” Ruane said, referencing Haverford’s Thanksgiving rivalry with Upper Darby. “So at least there’s that.”

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