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Chester defense remains strong, even in a tight loss to Roman Catholic

CONSHOHOCKEN — LaDontay Bell had one real plan for a long, complicated and challenging pre-conference portion of his Chester High football schedule: Be ready and confident by the time it was over.

Even after a 14-6 loss Friday to host Roman Catholic, the Clippers’ coach would be confident calling the 4-1 start productive.

“Absolutely,” Bell said. “Now, I am really excited to see what is going to happen with this program.”

A 4-0 start, which began with shutouts over West Philadelphia, Sun Valley and Martin Luther King, gave a hint of the Clippers’ ability to win with defense. The dynamics of the Roman game gave them another opportunity to try.

On a night when they would generate just two first downs, one in each half, and lose a total of 15 yards in the running game, the Clippers used two interceptions by Rafiqe Hilliard to keep it tense late into the fourth quarter.

And while hindered by a night’s worth of unfortunate field position, three lost fumbles and two safeties worth of malfunction in its own end zone, Chester stayed close largely on the strength of a 97-yard pass-and-run from Dymiere Stevenson to Malachi Langley.

But Roman rode Shemar Ellis to 149 rushing yards and a touchdown, Ryan Flaherty’s productive punting to go with a 36-yard field goal and a swarming defense to improve to 2-3.

“Any win is a good win,” Cahillites coach Rick Prete said. “We said, ‘Let’s not beat ourselves. Let’s limit the mistakes.’ We still made a ton of mistakes, but our special teams units were outstanding. They did a great job with field position. And I tip my hat to our defense.

“Chester played well, and I would have expected nothing less from Coach Bell and his staff. That defense can be something special.”

The Clippers’ defense held Roman on downs one yard from the end zone at the end of the first quarter. The fee for that, though, was poor field position. With Chester still pinned at the one five seconds into the second quarter, Cahillite C.J. Mole made a tackle in the end zone, good for a 2-0 lead.

That trend continued: Chester was at its three with 7:21 left in the half, but Stevenson took a short drop and whistled a pass to Langley, who raced 97 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.

“We were having some troubles in the first half, offensive-wise and defensive-wise,” Langley said. “Offensively, we kept turning the ball over. On defense, we were letting them run the ball down our throat. So when we got back on offense, I said in my head, ‘I know they are coming at me, so I have to make a big play for my teammates.’ And I made a big play. But we just couldn’t get the offense we needed.”

Roman regained the lead with 5:10 left in the half, Ellis scoring from one yard out and Flaherty adding the placement. Flaherty’s field goal with 11 seconds left in the half gave Roman a 12-6 halftime lead.

Continuing special teams struggles prevented Chester from doing much in the second half, but the defense, and in particular Hilliard, kept Roman out of the end zone.

“On one of those interceptions I wanted the ball,” Hilliard said. “I said, ‘Throw me the ball.’ He threw it, and I got it. I thought our defense was good, keeping us in the game.”

After Roman inflated its lead to 14-6 with its second safety, Hilliard’s second interception punctured a Roman drive at the Chester 31 with 1:25 left in the third. But Daquan Robinson answered with a Cahillites interception, and Chester was challenged to rally.

“There were some things that we erred on,” Bell said. “We had some fumbles. We put the ball on the carpet a couple of times. We had some missed calls. However, the game was close. I was proud of these guys tonight. We didn’t stop fighting. I am proud of them. First quarter, second, third, fourth, they fought.”

Next, a game at Chichester, and save for one late nonleague visit from Coolidge of Washington, D.C., the charms and challenges of Del Val League play await.

“I look at it like we are not going to lose again,” Langley said. “This is my senior year. So for the rest of the year, I am looking to fight. Even if it’s a dogfight, I’m just never going to give up.”

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