CHESTER >> Dajaun Watson had been burned on a halfback screen just minutes earlier. When Haverford High ran a similar play when it faced a 2nd-and-30 late in regulation, Watson wasn’t going to be fooled twice.
He willed himself to make a big stop with history on the line.
“A few plays before, they got me with the screen. They got me good,” said Watson, a Chester High senior lineman. “They did the play again … and I let my football instincts take me there. I was like, ‘OK, they’re going to come out with the screen and I’ll have to make a play.’ That’s what I was thinking.”
Watson tugged on the back of fullback Mike Romanofsky’s jersey and dragged him down for a short loss. The clock kept ticking. Haverford was able to run one more play, but it was too late. Chester had won the game.
Watson’s keen awareness on one snap was not the primary reason why the Clippers claimed a 24-21 victory over Haverford, the reigning Central League champion. The Clippers received contributions from several players, as they ushered in a new era of under first-year head coach LaDontay Bell, who went home with a well-deserved victory in his debut.
You have to go back a long ways to find the last time Chester won a season opener. Bill Clinton was still in office, beepers were cool and boy bands with frosty tips were a thing.
The year was 2000.
“It’s been a long time. Sixteen long years,” said junior running back Devan Freeman, who showcased his immense ability out of the backfield. He looks the part, too, sizing up at 6-1, 190 pounds. Freeman was just a baby the last time the Clippers were victorious in Week 1.
“I was on this team last year, too, and we were upset (with their losing record),” he said. “We just came out for this year, working hard. For me, I had to switch positions from linebacker to running back, I had to help our team grow and get better.”
And there’s no doubt, just by watching Bell manage his players and staff, this is a different Chester Clippers football squad. A much-improved team.
While one week does not a season make, there’s no reason to think Chester’s three-point win over the fourth-ranked team in the Daily Times preseason Super 7 was a fluke. If Saturday’s game is any indication, Chester should have some staying power.
“Coach Bell is just an awesome coach. We owe a lot to him and the hard work he put us through to get us prepared,” said Freeman, who rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. “He always tells us to be relaxed and to stay focused with everything,”
Haverford’s Nick Defeo attempted a 27-yard field goal with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Jalil Seals was left untouched as he got a hand in the air to block the kick. Much like Watson’s tackle moments earlier, Seals’ block was a game saver.
“What mainly played the part in today’s win was, we had training camp from 6 a.m to 6 o’clock at night,” Freeman said. “We’re going through heat circuits, controlling our breathing and stuff. We went through a lot to get this today.”
Freeman wasn’t alone on offense. Quarterback Jamir Green had a big day, converting 12 of 18 pass attempts for 188 yards and two scores. Green displayed his quickness from the pocket and a knack for making something out of nothing. For example, as time expired in the first half, Green recovered a botched snap, danced out of danger, and fired a perfect pass on the run to a wide-open Tahiaj Cooper in the back of the end zone. That touchdown connection was the final scoring of the afternoon. The second half was all about attrition.
Davouge Hopkins led the Chester receiving corps with five catches for 69 yards. Jihad Brown, who had a key interception in the second half, hauled in three passes for 56 yards.
Haverford showed its youth and inexperience on offense. Rookie starter Jake Ruane, tasked with following in the footsteps of 2015 Daily Times Player of the Year Jack Donaghy, showed potential but was just 8 of 23 for 123 yards.
Ruane connected with Chris Trainor for a 21-yard touchdown pass to give Haverford a 21-12 cushion, but Chester started its next possession with tremendous field position. And on the next play, Green hooked up with Brown for a 25-yard score. Brown then went on defense and picked off Ruane to set up what became the winning drive of the game.
Kareem Bernard had 58 yards and a score on 10 carries for the Fords. Romanofsky took a jet sweep 40 yards to paydirt and finished with 50 yards on six carries. Wide receiver Jordan Mosley, a Bonner & Prendergast transfer, made four catches for 65 yards.
“We made too many mistakes, including myself,” Romanofsky said. “We lost the opener the last four years and we’ve come back and had great records. Honestly, this could make us better. We just have to work harder and come prepared for Ridley Friday night.”