SPRINGFIELD — Brian Allen walked off the field late in the third quarter of Friday night’s PIAA Class AAA District One semifinal game against Pottsgrove, the Springfield quarterback’s fumble having short-circuited a drive that started on a short field.
His Cougars were trailing. Allen hadn’t completed a pass all night. The offense hadn’t had as much as a first down since the first quarter. The senior’s confidence was shaken.
His season and the season of the team he had led to 11 straight wins was at a crossroads.
“That fumble really hit me in the face,’ Allen said. “It was either live or die right there, swim or drown.
“I’m not ready to drown yet.’
Allen didn’t go under. On his team’s next possession, Allen had three huge runs, the final one an 11-yard scoring jaunt up the middle for the only touchdown of the night as the Cougars advanced to the program’s first district final with a 10-6 win over the Falcons.
The Cougars’ record is perfect, but it is the way they handle and adapt to their imperfections that has kept this magical season headed toward next weekend’s showdown with Great Valley (11-1), which beat Bishop Shanahan 20-0 in the other semifinal game.
The Cougars had much to overcome. There were two turnovers, a few stinging penalties, four Pottsgrove possessions in the red zone, and the loss of starting running back Collin Braconnier to a hip injury late in the first half.
Every time they responded.
Interceptions by Luc Spence, Pat Smyth and a game-clincher by Adam Krauter all came in the fourth quarter and inside Springfield’s 20-yard line. And after Braconnier was carted off, senior running back Brad Murphy, who saw sporadic action throughout the season, had 22 yards on four carries in the second half. One was a 6-yard run up the middle that helped open up the outside for Allen on a huge, 19-yard end run on third-and-1. The next play, Allen hit pay dirt.
“I was waiting all season for that,’ Murphy said of his opportunity. “It’s a shame my best friend Collin went down, but I’ve been waiting for this moment. I wasn’t scared. I was happy to partake in this win for my team.
“I felt important.’
“One kid goes down, and another kid steps up,’ coach Chris Britton said. “We have that luxury this year … We always have someone in the wings, waiting.’
While the offense got on track in the nick of time, the defense again set the tone. Linebackers Krauter and Ricky Sterling combined for two dozen tackles, with Sterling responding early when Pottsgrove tried to work away from his high-profile partner on the inside of the Cougars’ defense.
“It’s like being on another planet when I’m on the field,’ said Sterling, who also ground out key yards at fullback. “It’s awesome. And playing next to No. 32 (Krauter) is the best feeling, because I know if I mess up, he’ll be there to back me up.’
Everyone on defense seemed to have a big moment. When Pottsgrove used a fake punt to get down to the 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter, nose guard Brian Layden came up with a couple of huge tackles in the backfield that set up Smyth’s pick at the goal line.
The defense will have another test against Great Valley, which scored less than 33 points for just the second time this season in its semifinal win.
As for Allen, his fortitude in not allowing self-doubt overwhelm him showed why the Cougars bend, but never break.
“We’ve had some hard-fought games — Upper Darby, Garnet Valley,’ Allen said. “But every time we find a way to pull it out. In these playoff games, it’s survive and advance. That’s our motto — survive and advance.’