Springfield defense never rested right to the end

WHITEMARSH — On a third-down play in the third quarter, fans started chanting. They wanted a stop. The players heard it. How could they not have heard it?

Louder and louder, the raucous student section clamored for it. After a while, though, those cries of “Let’s go defense’ seemed to lose meaning.

“When our defense is on the field, we know we have to do our job,’ said Springfield defensive back Lucas Spence. “I heard the chants. Look, if we have to bail out the offense, that’s our job. We’ve done it before, and we wanted to do it again.’

And they did.

Too often Friday night was Springfield’s defense called upon to make a stop. And more times than not, the Cougars did, in fact, close the door on Great Valley.

Because fans asked them to? Because they had to.

Out of necessity, Springfield’s defense — like it had all season — kept the Cougars within reach of a victory. In this case, it was a District One Class AAA championship. A pair of special-teams touchdowns, on punt returns by Nasir Adderley, gave Great Valley a lead it wouldn’t lose and a first district championship in its program’s history. They also gave Springfield its first loss of the season, 21-0, in the district final at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School.

Delaware County’s best defensive unit surrendered seven points, all coming on a meaningless 1-yard lunge by Great Valley’s River Johnson midway through the fourth quarter. That was it. Seven. The least-scored-upon team in all of District One held its own in its biggest game of the season.

Springfield’s defense, seemingly in bend-don’t-break mode all night, was put to task. And to the Cougars’ credit, they gave first-year coach Chris Britton everything they had. They elicited two turnovers, picking off unflappable Great Valley quarterback Zach Ludwig twice. Interceptions from Ricky Sterling and Alex Masino helped Springfield control the turnover battle. The Cougars got yet another quarterback sack from Brian Layden, the defensive lineman who set a school record this season in that category. They forced five 3-and-outs from Great Valley, an elite offensive team that averaged 41.3 points per game.

It was when Springfield’s defense came off the field that the wheels came off for Springfield.

Adderley, the Patriots’ do-everything senior, literally did everything for them. He had a second-quarter punt return of 54 yards and a third-quarter punt return that went for 47, both of which ended in end zone celebrations. He also logged an interception and a forced fumble, to round out his rather complete day.

With each of Adderley’s lengthy scoring returns, members of the defense — who were watching from the sideline — seemed to grow more and more frustrated. One slammed down his helmet so viciously that he jarred loose the padding in his headgear. Another looked skyward, closed his eyes, and screamed in a primal manner.

“It happens. It’s football,’ Spence said. “Special teams is basically an offensive play. That’s what our coaches tell us. If they score that way, good for them. It’s not fun that it has to go down that way. Can’t do anything about it.’

Those touchdowns left Springfield’s defensive leaders feeling empty. Could they have done any more? Not really.

“I’m really happy how I went out. I wouldn’t change it,’ Layden said. “It just sucks knowing this is it. We played our (tails) off. Nothing we could’ve changed.

“We couldn’t get the ball moving, but never once did we think about giving up. Our offense has always come through for us, but defense kept us strong and steady. We showed it tonight. Things happen.’

After the game, Britton pulled aside his players and, in a huddle, told them “this is the new norm’ for Springfield. The Cougars (12-1) went farther than any other team in program history. They won a Central League title for the first time in 20 seasons.

Tucked under Britton’s arm were two plastic bags filled with silver medals. The parting gift for District One’s runnersup, the medals would be distributed when Springfield returned home, Britton said. A banquet to honor the team remains on the docket.

A win would’ve extended Springfield’s run just one more week.

“It’s five weeks until weight room,’ Britton said.

Springfield’s defense deserved one more week. At least.

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