Academy Park makes its point for Del Val title

THORNBURY — As Nelson Warlo trudged off the field, his 22-yard field goal attempt on the first possession of overtime having fallen short, his Academy Park teammates knew they needed to pick him up.

Warlo’s younger brother, Teddy Wright, made sure the junior got another chance.

Wright made the game-saving tackle in the first overtime period, and Warlo redeemed himself to hit the game-winning extra point in the second OT, capping a wild 20-19 win over Glen Mills Friday night that sealed a Del Val League title for the Knights.

That result looked unlikely after the Knights’ first overtime possession. The game tied at 13, AP reached the one-yard line after an eight-yard dash by Allon Ruffin and a dead-ball penalty on first down. But they went backwards on the ensuing two snaps, leading to a 22-yard attempt by Warlo from the left hashmark that fell short of the goalposts.

That’s when Warlo’s support structure kicked in. After missing an extra point that proved to be the difference in the season-opening, 7-6 overtime loss to Bonner-Prendergast, things could’ve unraveled. Ruffin made sure that didn’t happen.

“I put him other my wing and I said, ‘ Nelson, keep your head up. You’re going to get your chance again. Keep your head up,” Ruffin said. “… He’s a good field goal kicker. He can kick field goals. That’s why he’s there.’

Then there was the matter of getting him that second opportunity. Wright did his part on fourth-and-14 on Glen Mills’ first possession. Jose Santiago-Curet hit Jordan James in the flat, and James shook off a tackle and looked to get leverage on Wright near the goal line before the sophomore defensive back slammed him to the turf two yards from paydirt, sending the teams to the second overtime session.

“I was just thinking that we’ve got to stop them,’ Wright said. “If we don’t stop them, it’s over. I just knew it I could do it, and I made it happen.’

The Bulls (4-6, 3-2) finally broke through with the first possession of double-OT, Jaquel Rhodes bulling in from 2 yards out. He was stopped on the two-point conversion, though, setting the margin at 19-13.

Ruffin made Warlo’s wait for redemption short, taking the first-down snap 10 yards on a QB keeper to the end zone. That left it up to Warlo, who arced his extra-point attempt through the uprights to reward the faith of his teammates and coach.

“When I missed the field goal, I knew that the defense had to get a stop,’ Warlo said through tears after the game. “And seeing my little brother come out and make that stop, it meant a lot. … Once they got that stop, I knew I could make the kick with my team believing in me.’

The overtime drama capped a topsy-turvy affair in which Academy Park (8-2, 5-0) found itself often playing from behind. The Knights failed to pick up first downs in either the first or third quarters, the slow starts to halves giving Glen Mills windows to jump ahead. The Battlin’ Bulls did so in the first half via a 10-yard scoring hookup between Jose Santiago-Curet and 6-9 wideout Anthony Johnson.

The Bulls’ achieved plenty of offensive balance, running for 187 yards and throwing for 136. Santiago-Curet, especially, was on the money, finding James four times for 52 yards to go with James’ 30 rushing yards.

“They gave me plenty of time to hit my receivers,’ Santiago-Curet said. “I looked to both sides, and whoever was open, I hit them.’

Where the Glen Mills offense was the more consistent unit, Academy Park seemed to come up with big plays when needed. Jermaine Wesley capped a scoring march late in the first half with a 10-yard score to get the Knights on the board, though a missed 2-point conversion gave Glen Mills a 7-6 edge at half.

Glen Mills, which needed a win and some help from the District One Class AAA field to get a playoff berth, again took the edge late in the third quarter, methodically churning out yards before Rahsaan Horsey dashed in from 17 yards out. The PAT failed, though, allowing Ruffin to tie the game with six minutes left when he found Josh Ingram in the end zone for a three-yard score on fourth-and-goal from the 3.

However they arrived at the result, the Del Val title is yet another step for coach Jason Vosheski’s program. Given the myriad departures from last season’s District One championship squad, a return to a league title is something that even Vosheski said would’ve surprised him at the beginning of the season.

“With the players that we lost and the new crop of kids, the fact that they stepped up and how they performed all season long, let alone tonight, has been incredible,’ he said. “You just kind of hope and wish the younger kids see this and it keeps growing.’

Ruffin’s feelings were a little more succinct.

“We didn’t miss a step,’ he said. “That’s all.’

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