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Geoghegan: Academy Park waits 12 months to avenge district loss to Rustin

SHARON HILL – “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

It’s a proverb that has been around for so long, nobody really knows its true origin. It (may) have been published for the first time in 1846, and has subsequently appeared in movies from ‘The Godfather’ to ‘Star Trek II, The Wrath of Kahn.’

The idea of avenging a previous setback is a universal motivational tool, especially in athletics. It was used to maximum effect by West Chester Rustin in its first two District 1 5A playoff wins, but on Friday host Academy Park was on the other end of the revenge narrative, and went on to edge the Golden Knights, 21-20, in semifinal action.

In light of what happened in the district playoffs a year ago, it’s easy to see how and why third-seeded Academy Park was up for the payback it pulled off on Friday. These two met in the district quarterfinals in 2018 and Rustin cruised to a 36-point victory.    

“We talked a lot about it. That game hurt a lot,” said senior running back Glister Threadgill.

“We weren’t game-ready last year,” added senior quarterback Barry Brown. “This time we were.”

Sometimes, the idea of revenge is overused and overhyped. And sometimes it evolves into a powerful incentive. The latter was true on Friday.

“What happened at the end of last season was mentioned during the week,” acknowledged Academy Park head coach Jason Vosheski. “We thought we were better last year against (Rustin) than we played, and they played very well. We knew they were a good football team, so we had to bring everything we had tonight.”

And bringing everything means you tap into any motivation ploy that can potentially get you over the top.

“It was talked about because we were supposed to play (Rustin) at home last year in districts, we ended up losing 42-6 at their place, and we didn’t want to lose to them again to end our season,” Brown said.

Sometimes, it’s just as simple as that. Academy Park clearly played with more emotion and energy in the first half, and (surprise, surprise) had a 21-14 lead at the break. And somehow, it held up.

“We came out a little slow in the first half,” admitted Rustin head coach Mike St. Clair.

On the receiving end, Rustin had big-time redemption on its mind when they opened the district playoffs with a 23-0 shutout over an Upper Dublin squad that ended Rustin’s 2018 season with a seven-point win in the district final.

And, perhaps even more gratifying, was a 14-7 quarterfinal victory over archrival West Chester East a week ago, which was a rematch of a 20-point regular season setback in mid-October. The earlier loss, by the way, gave the Vikings the outright Ches-Mont American title.

“This was a tough way to go out, but it was a nine-win season, and that’s what we expect at Rustin,” St. Clair said. “They kept the tradition going.”

As for Academy Park, the Knights (11-2 overall) advance to the district final where top-seeded Cheltenham awaits. Academy Park is going for the program’s fourth district crown since 2013.

“We come and go in spurts, but (Friday) night we were ready,” Vosheski said.

“From what happened at the end of (the 2018) season to where we are now, it tells us that we are going into the right direction. It’s not going to get any easier, I can tell you that.”

On the team’s first offensive play from scrimmage, Brown hit wideout Eric Willis on a flea-flicker that covered 69 yards and set up the first score. Rustin was down 14-0 midway through the second quarter when Nick Madonna scored his first of three TDs, but the momentum lasted all of five seconds. That’s because Academy Park senior Malik Johnson ran back the ensuing kickoff 95 yards. The extra point wound up being the game-winning point.

“We had good practices every day this week,” St. Clair said. “Three plays were the difference in the game. They made them and we didn’t.”

Madonna scored two more times, including an 11-yard scamper late in the third, but the point after attempt was wide right to make it 21-20.

Rustin had three more possessions in the final period and went three-and-out on all three. Academy Park got possession with 4:30 to go and never gave it back thanks to a couple first down runs by Brown. He threw for 163 yards in the first half and ran for 97 of his 109 rushing yards in the second half.

“Our defense has carried us all season,” Vosheksi said. “It’s been our backbone, especially in the playoffs.

“Our defense was incredible in the fourth quarter. Once it was 21-20, our defense stiffened and didn’t give up anything.”

And that’s saying something against Rustin’s ground-and-pound offense that’s been rolling up big numbers for years. Madonna wound up with 122 rushing yards, but the rest of the Golden Knights managed just 100 combined.  

“We gave up a bomb for a touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and we missed an extra point, and we lose the game by one point,” St. Clair lamented. “I thought we played better in the second half and we could have won this game.

“Kudos to (Academy Park).”

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