YEADON — Desman Johnson Jr. added another chapter to his illustrious career Friday night. He led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to give No. 6 Penn Wood a 30-13 victory over No. 11 Radnor in the District 1 Class 5A playoffs.
Delaware County’s all-time passing leader has had more prolific performances than this: 11-for-21, 200 yards, two touchdowns, one interception. But Johnson was the difference when it mattered most.
With less than six minutes to play, Johnson rolled right at the Raiders’ 46. As he neared the sideline, he leaned back and flicked the ball downfield to Malik Brooks, who sprinted into the end zone.
“That’s like in his top seven,” Brooks said of where the play ranks in Johnson’s highlight reel before confirming, “Top five. Top five, for sure.”
Patriots coach Ato Troop didn’t bother placing it.
“He does that all the time,” Troop said. “Des has made so many of those plays. It’s amazing, but it’s almost routine for him.”
For what it’s worth, Johnson himself said simply, “I liked that pass.” And both Troop and Brooks provided the correct context.
Johnson has made that play dozens of times, in countless games and who knows how many practices. But the score — 17-13 in the fourth quarter, in a contest when the Patriots turned the ball over four times — and the setting make the throw to Brooks an all-timer for Johnson.
“I just knew I had to make a play,” Johnson said. “We got the ball back, and I knew we had to score.”
Fittingly, Johnson had played a key role in getting the ball back. The Raiders faced a fourth-and-9 at the Patriots’ 30, when Johnson, at defensive end, flew into the backfield and hit Sam DiLella as he threw. The pass fell just incomplete.
On Radnor’s next possession, following Brooks’ touchdown, the Raiders failed on fourth down again. Johnson ended their hopes for good with a deep ball to Brooks, who fumbled at the seven. Luckily, Ameen Stevens scooped and scored.
For most of the game, Radnor contained Johnson. The Raiders intercepted him once and limited his rushing — he gained just 34 yards on the ground. But he found a breakthrough.
“He’s a great player. He’s ginormous,” Radnor linebacker Taylor Margolis said. “It’s just that little thing: Is he going to run it, or is he going to pass it? Fourth quarter, you’re mentally tired. You’re physically tired. It’s just a couple things slip by, and (Johnson) made a play.”
With two of the county’s top passers in the mix, a shootout could have been expected. The opposite took place in the first half.
The Patriots and Raiders slugged it out, with neither team making much progress. Radnor forced turnovers on each of Penn Wood’s first two drives. The second one was an Elijah Gleplay fumble that Mark McKeon returned inside the Patriots’ five. Two snaps later, DiLella found Brendan Surbeck on an out-route to spot the Raiders a 7-0 lead.
Penn Wood answered with Gleplay earning some redemption. He rushed for 47 yards (he finished with 91) and a touchdown to knot the score. Thomas Nagbe’s 23-yard field goal made it 10-7 going into the half.
Johnson announced his presence out of the gate, opening the third quarter with a 46-yard bomb to Jordin Jones to move the Patriots to the nine. He then connected with Brooks on a fade.
But Radnor didn’t go away. The Raiders earned just one first down in the first half, and it came on that short touchdown drive. DiLella, though, moved his offense into Penn Wood territory and delivered a beauty on fourth-and-10. Surbeck, sliding in the back corner of the end zone, snared DiLella’s throw to pull Radnor within four at 17-13.
The Raiders (5-6) were driving to take the lead when Johnson came around the edge. And DiLella’s pass on that fourth down, although wobbly, nearly made it to Gavin McCall, who picked it off the grass.
“The ball just didn’t bounce our way,” DiLella said. “We fought, and I’m proud. I think we gave it everything we got.”
The result sets up a tantalizing rematch for the Patriots (7-3). They’ll head to No. 3 Academy Park next week to try and avenge a 21-6 regular season loss to the Knights.
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