Springfield savors title a long time coming

SPRINGFIELD — Fans orchestrated those “I believe’ chants in the third quarter. Reserves dusted off their helmets for the first drive of the fourth quarter. And the head coach took an ice-water bath with 2 minutes, 30 seconds to go.

From top to bottom, those around the Springfield football program were unwilling to wait any longer than necessary to accept the title as outright Central League champions.

“Twenty years, man. Twenty,’ said Springfield quarterback Brian Allen, who had four touchdowns Friday night in the Cougars’ 36-7 win over Harriton.

The victory assured Springfield (10-0, 9-0) an undefeated regular season and its first Central League title since 1994. Beating the Rams also locked up the No. 1 seed in the District One Class AAA tournament, which begins next weekend.

No player on Springfield coach Chris Britton’s roster was born the last time the team clinched a league title, a fact that apparently was lost on the Cougars during their raucous postgame celebration.

“I don’t think they’ve figured that out,’ said Britton, the first-year coach.

This has been a special season for Britton, the longtime Springfield assistant who played on the Cougars’ 1994 Central League title team.

“I’m from Springfield,’ Britton said. “I have a lot of friends here. I put a lot of pressure on myself and on the kids. I wanted to deliver. I didn’t want to come up short, even in my first year.’

Falling short hasn’t been an issue for Springfield, which again relied upon its defense to beat up on a weaker opponent.

The Cougars forced three turnovers, including an interception and fumble recovery by senior Mike Fleagle. Fellow senior Brian Layden, the Cougars’ nose tackle, had three quarterback sacks to establish the regular-season program record, with 21. In the third quarter, Springfield forced a safety on Harriton quarterback Patrick Stewart, and lineman Justin Shields pounced on a fourth-quarter fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.

Springfield also held Harriton to four yards rushing on 19 carries.

“We’ve still got more work to do,’ Layden said.

Springfield has some areas to polish up before hosting its district opener. The Cougars played a scoreless first quarter in which they struggled to find a rhythm. And they fumbled four times in a span of five plays in the fourth quarter.

Allen, their quarterback, smoothed over those miscues with stout play in the second and third quarters.

The senior rolled left to deliver a pinpoint 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dan Archibong for a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter. On Springfield’s next possession, Allen found Quideer Wimes down the right sideline for a 26-yard, fourth-down pass that only the receiver could have caught. Then, on their next trip, the Cougars got a 6-yard scoring lunge from Allen.

“Playing the quarterback position, especially for an undefeated team, yeah, there’s pressure,’ said Allen, who went 10-for-12 for 143 yards passing, “but we all do our job and now we’ve won 10 games. We’re undefeated. We’re going to the playoffs.’

Springfield padded its lead to 27-0 on its first drive of the third quarter. Again, Allen found Wimes, this one for a 34-yard scoring hook-up.

“I think we’ll be all right (in the playoffs),’ Allen said. “This is a very unique team. We spark when we need to.’

Brad Murphy (six carries, 60 yards rushing), Ricky Sterling (seven rushes, 42 yards), and Colin Braconnier (seven carries, 31 yards) also helped the Cougars’ cause.

Winning the league title and earning the district’s top seed have been a long time coming for Springfield, home to a program that’s usually been good enough to remain in the Central League title chase, but seldom good enough to get over the hump.

“That’s different now,’ said Fleagle.

“People greet us in the hall in school, say congrats,’ Layden said. “People are pretty passionate about Springfield football.’

And now they can be passionate for at least another home game.

“Hopefully two,’ Britton said.

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