WHITEMARSH >> While most of those who packed Plymouth Whitemarsh High’s football field Friday night were double checking to make sure they hadn’t chewed off parts of their fingers while sweating out the result of the Norristown-Plymouth Whitemarsh game. PW head coach Dan Chang was wearing a smile.
And why not?
Chang’s Colonials had just escaped the Eagles talons and snuck into the night with a 20-16 win, his team was 3-0 for the first time in his coaching tenure and PW was a week away from beginning its Suburban One League American Conference schedule.
“That was one of the most fun games I’ve ever been part of,” Chang said after the Colonials took the lead with 10:45 left in the fourth quarter and then salted it away with an eight-minute-plus drive. “We had to grind it out, especially in the fourth quarter, but it was a fun game.”
The fun started early for PW, which took an 8-0 lead on its first series after a fumble and two penalties thwarted the visitors on the contest’s opening drive.
Backed up to their own 14, the Eagles saw the Colonials take over on the Norristown side of the field following a punt. And just three plays later, one of which a 43-yard run by Blaise Gravinese, PW was in the end zone via a 4-yard run by Jake Winterbottom.
A two-point conversion run by Nafeese Nasir made it 8-0.
“(Norristown) did a nice job adjusting to what we were doing,” Chang said. “They were focused on Nafeese, so we were able to go to Blaise and Jake and get some yardage.”
Norristown got as far as the Colonials 24 on the ensuing drive, but two penalties and a pair of sacks killed the drive at the PW 46.
“We wanted to spread them out a little,” said Eagles head coach Jason Powel, “but we began running the football pretty well and stuck with that.”
While forced to punt, the Eagles got a major break when Shane Hammer’s punt hit a Colonials leg and was covered by Norristown at the PW 18.
Once again, a penalty backed up the Eagles. But quarterback Diavante Lloyd found Derik Cross in stride down the right sideline for a 25-yard gain to the PW 5, and while the Colonials defense kept them out of the end zone, the Eagles got on the board when Hammer converted a 22-yard field goal on the second play of the second quarter.
PW wasted little time scoring again, however, as Nasir rushed for 48 yards on a 58-yard drive that the senior speedster wrapped up with a 32-yard touchdown jaunt.
The Eagles had an answer of their own, however, and keyed by a 40-yard completion from Lloyd to Khalif Sinclair, Norristown went 64 yards on four plays, with Lloyd’s 7-yard pass to Sinclair cutting the Eagles deficit to 14-9 with 6:51 left in the half.
PW threatened late in the half, getting as far as the Norristown 2-yard line.
But Nasir was stuffed for a 7-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 4, and the Eagles held.
“It was frustrating not getting in there,” Chang said. “But that’s something we’ll evaluate, and we’ll get in next time.”
After the haymakers of the first half, the contest settled into a defensive struggle in the third quarter.
And when the Eagles blocked a Colonials punt and took over at the PW 36, they got the break they needed.
On fourth down from the PW 35, Lloyd found Sinclair down the seam, and he split two Colonials defenders and scored to put Norristown on top, 16-14, with 3:28 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles side of the field, stuffed with fans and rowdy most of the night, was smelling upset.
But the Colonials had other ideas.
Starting at their own 39, PW went 61 yards on 10 plays to take the lead.
Nasir put the Colonials ahead with an 18-yard touchdown with 10:45 left, but it was what followed that killed Norristown.
After a three-and-out and an Eagles punt, the Colonials held onto the ball for 8:02, driving the ball all the way to the Eagles 1-yard line.
They were stopped on fourth-and-goal from the one with exactly 1:00 left.
But needing to, literally, drive the length of the field in one minute and with one timeout left, the suspense ended immediately when Nasir intercepted a Lloyd pass on the first snap.
PW had the win, but the Eagles got some hope for the immediate future.
“Our guys were resilient,” Powel said. “They showed they’re going to fight through adversity. A play here or there, and the result could have been different.”