UPPER CHICHESTER — Playing for pride and determined not to go winless in the Del Val League, Chichester and Penn Wood engaged in a 100-yard turf war Friday night.
While the precision was spotty, the hitting was fierce and the pain was real.
In the end, a missed extra point and Chichester’s ability to milk the final 4 minutes, 40 seconds off the clock enabled the Eagles to send their Senior Night crowd home celebrating a 7-6 victory.
Both sides did enough good things to win, but the self-inflicted wounds had the respective coaches wondering what could have been.
Chichester coach Ryan Smith knew that the Patriots “were going to throw everything at us, and they did play a good defensive game, but we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot.’
Smith bemoaned his squad’s 11 penalties for 105 yards and five fumbles, although the Eagles (3-6, 1-4 Del Val) were able to recover four.
But even after that lone turnover gave Penn Wood the ball at its 45 with 8 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Chichester defense rose up and took over on downs. Eagles senior Greg Mills, showing the poise he has developed in his first season at quarterback, responded with a key 12-yard keeper for a first down and orchestrated the clutch drive that clinched the win.
“We had our backs against the wall, we knew we had to dig down and make plays,’ Mills said. “It was very difficult because they have a tough defense and they played their hearts out.’
Senior linebacker Dan Sullivan spearheaded Chichester’s opportune defense, intercepting a pass on the second snap of the game and racing 17 yards to the end zone. Austin Wilson tacked on the vital extra-point kick.
“We wanted to set the tone early because we knew they were going to come out fighting,’ Sullivan said. “There were a lot of big plays, but we knew we could do it (on defense) and we did it.’
Penn Wood (0-10, 0-5) also put forth a spirited effort, with Tayvon Ruley shouldering the load with 92 yards on 21 carries and fellow senior Breon Cottman coming up big on defense, but coach Nick Lincoln’s crew too often proved to be its own worst enemy. A big return on the opening kickoff was wiped out by a block in the back, making the Patriots start at their own 10-yard line and setting the stage for Sullivan’s pick.
After forcing Chichester to punt from deep in its end in the second quarter, the Pats failed to field Derek Klinger’s kick and saw the ball bounce and roll a total of 57 yards.
“This one hurts … the kids are really hurting,’ Lincoln said. “I think we gave away too many plays, we just didn’t finish drives. We were down at the 1-yard line and stopped ourselves. That was a microcosm of our whole season.’
Aided by a pair of 15-yard Chichester penalties on one play, Penn Wood marched down to the field and had a fourth-and-goal with the ball sitting at the 1. But a motion penalty pushed the Patriots back five yards and quarterback Javon Terrell’s heave just eluded receiver Raheim Bowens in the right corner of the end zone.
The failure to cash in came back to haunt Penn Wood, which finally got on the board when Kwabriem Jenkins took a pass over the middle from Terrell and raced 63 yards for a score with 1:58 to go in the first half. The ensuing extra-point kick sailed into a wall of blockers, and the scoring was done for the night.
Smith was asked if the early interception return gave his team a false sense of security.
“You’re not going to get an easy game in the Del Val, regardless of what their record was,’ Smith said. “We just need to instill in our kids the need to finish and to play with discipline.’
Lincoln was at the other end of the emotional scale following his post-game address.
“My seniors have only won two games in four years, but they’re still fighting for me,’ Lincoln said. “I think that’s a great thing.’