LEVITTOWN — As Bristol’s last-chance 35-yard field goal try started to fall well short of the upright, the Springfield Township sideline went crazy.
Somehow, some way, the Spartans had done it. They were District 1-AA football champions and their season would continue for another week.
Springfield survived a dramatic 15-14 win over top-seeded Bristol at Harry S. Truman on a frigid Friday night, thanks to a steely resolve and a full team effort.
“That’s our plan pretty much every game, whether we succeed at it or not,’ senior captain Louis Haas said. “Tonight, we really prepared well and we had great coaching throughout the week and we were ready to go.’
Dynamic Bristol tailback Donte Simmons just kept coming and coming, running for 306 yards on 34 carries and twice almost broke Springfield’s back. But the Spartans, after a season of lessons, kept picking their heads up and getting back after it.
Springfield’s defense made little effort to hide what it was trying to do. Most plays had the Spartans safties in the box, all eyes on Simmons.
The strategy sort of worked, while the back had 91 yards on 13 first half carries, his longest run was 16 yards. And on the instances where Simmons found space, a defender closed quickly. Of course, the shifty back wasn’t going to stay bottled up all night, but Springfield had expected that to happen.
“We had to keep the contain outside, we had worked all week on pursuit and staying outside in the flat and not letting him outside of us,’ senior Jack Gozzard said. “He broke one, but we regrouped and got back and didn’t let him get anymore.’
Springfield got on the board thanks to a big pass play between Chris Stone and receiver Drew Toutkoushian for 55 yards. That big play led to five straight runs from the Warriors 22 that ended with a 5-yard TD run by Martin Worgan.
Quarterback R.J. Collins spent much of the half clinging to dear life as Springfield’s aggressive front came after him. Captain Louis Haas led the charge, picking up at least half a sack on three consecutive plays in the second quarter.
Collins was dropped five times in the first half and fumbled once, though the Warriors recovered.
“We let them go,’ Springfield coach Chris Shelly said. “We put Lou at nose, he normally plays end, and let him go. We felt like that kind of exposed them. They’re like us, they have weaknesses, we have weaknesses, we tried to get the matchups right because they have some nice-looking kids over there. I watched a lot of film on them, they’re a good team.’
Springfield’s execution wasn’t much better. A couple of costly plays prevented the Spartans from padding their one-score lead before the break.
A fake punt was blown up almost immediately, Stone took a 12-yard sack on a 3rd-and-1 from the Warrior 28 and he later fumbled at the Warrior 22 after a 31-yard run. Shelly was fearful the mishaps would haunt his team later in the game and Stone knew it was an opportunity missed, but he had faith.
“We’ve done that all season,’ Stone said. “We’ve left points off the board that we should have gotten. It seems to always come around but we find a way around it and we find a way to get it done.’
Both Bristol and Springfield saw long drives to open the third come up empty on a lost fumble and missed field goal, respectively. With 2:39 left in the quarter, Bristol took over and started working the ball.
Then, Simmons eluded a tackle at the line of scrimmage, ran through another and simply took off, outrunning everybody for a 60-yard score as time expired in the third period. Springfield stood up Collins trying to run in for two, but the Spartans couldn’t move the ball on the next drive.
Then, Simmons gashed the defense for 54 yards and later finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown. Again, the two-point try failed, but Springfield was behind 12-7 with 8:14 left to play.
It was gut-check time. Worgan ran for 14, Brett Righter picked up four, Stone hit Mike Johnston for four to bring up 3rd-and-2 from the Warriors 41. The handoff went to Worgan, who made a decisive, sharp cut and took off for 30 yards.
Righter finished things off with an 11-yard touchdown run.
“This week, we’ve been practicing in the hurry-up, so we saw a place where we could utilize it,’ senior lineman Adam Hockenberry said. “We used it and we put them on their heels. It had been pretty even for a long time, but when we started getting at it and getting back to the game plan, it started to work for us.’
Shelly then called for a two-point conversion and Stone hit Toutkoushian to put the Spartans up 15-12 with 5:34 left.
“I loved how our kids responded to that,’ Shelly said. “We told them, Donte’s going to break one, he’s that good, you can’t get down. We had a problem early in our season where they’re sad-sack after a big play. The momentum coming back to us was huge.’
Of course, Bristol and Simmons would get the ball back. And they came right down the field as Simmons and fullback Jake Faight ran at the tired Springfield defense, going from the Warrior 34 to the Spartan 15.
There, on 4th-and-15, Collins found a receiver in the flat and Johnston found the receiver just shy of the first down in the eyes of the official spotter.
“Everyone was anticipating a run,’ Johnston said. “I saw him break out to the flat. I ran as fast as I could and just tackled him.’
After the turnover on downs, Stone ran three times for nine yards out to the 21. Then, on fourth down, he started running.
The quarterback ran backwards, back into his own end zone, as precious seconds ran off the clock before he was pushed out for a safety with :08 left on the board.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer,’ Shelly said. “We felt like we had to go for two (after Righter’s TD) because there’s no sense in going for one there.’
Springfield’s first kickoff after the safety went out, so Bristol asked for a re-kick. This time, it went to Kyle Silvka-Fralin at the 45 and he ran it all the way back to the 18 with :02 left. The Warriors hastily tried a field goal to win, but the kick was short and low, sending Springfield into a jubilant celebration as champions.
“It was one of the X-factors,’ Hockenberry said.
“Coach likes to say there are four to five plays in a game that are the true X-factors and if you can win those, you’ll win the game,’ Haas said. “That’s what it came down to and we executed greatly.’