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Craziness of season makes Media Bowl more memorable for Clancy, Strath Haven

Jaris Adams and Jack Ryder of Strath Haven show off the Hometown Bowl hardware after the Panthers defeated Penncrest, 49-7, Friday night at Louis Scott Field. (DFM Staff)

MIDDLETOWN — Last year around this time, Strath Haven was making another epic run through the Class 5A football playoffs. This year the Panthers been living out of coach Kevin Clancy’s trunk, the locker room basically off limits to comply with strict COVID-19 protocols.

In 39 years of coaching, including 30 at Strath Haven, Clancy has never experienced anything as challenging as guiding a team through coronavirus protocols. And he’s never been more satisfied with the enthusiasm and grit his players have shown along the way.

“It’s a weird season but the kids are still having fun playing football and that’s what it’s all about,” Clancy said Friday after the Panthers defeated Penncrest 49-7. “The kids have worked hard, they’re easy to coach, they’ve got a great attitude and that’s made it fun. We’re a week from getting through this and we have not had an exposure (of COVID-19) on the field transmitted from football. I feel like it’s been a successful season from that standpoint.”

The Panthers (4-1) prevailed over the Lions for the 31st time in the 39-year history of the Hometown Bowl, the label attached to these opponents, their schools sandwiched around Media.

Seniors Jaris Adams and Chase Barlow rushed for two touchdowns each, Adams going over 100 yards in the first half with a 71-yard jaunt with 10 seconds remaining to stake the Panthers to a 21-7 cushion at the intermission. Barlow tallied both of his TDs in a 21-point third quarter that put the Lions on ice.

After a sluggish and scoreless first quarter, junior Matt Shuler rolled 18 yards to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead. The points came off a fumble by the Lions, one of a small handful of turnovers on the night.

The Lions (1-4) bounced back with a 12-play, 65-yard march. Quarterback Nick Chelo went over from three yards to knot the score at 7 with 4:51 remaining in the second quarter.

“We were competing,” Lions coach Ryan Smith said. “It was a football game. But when we do things like open up the doorways for our opponents with mistakes they’re not going to walk through them. They’re going to own the house.”

The Panthers took control shortly thereafter. Adams lifted off for a 37-yard touchdown, twisting inside and outside before turning on the jets. Then he ran away from everyone on the 71-yarder late in the second quarter.

Barlow had another long run in the third quarter nullified by a penalty. All three of Strath Haven’s touchdowns in the frame were two-yard runs, quarterback Jack Ryder adding the other. Junior Greg Belville got the last TD on a six-yard run with 5:11 remaining.

When the game ended, the Panthers hoisted the Media Bowl trophy. They play Class 6A team Haverford next week in the Central League’s Runners-up Bowl.

Postseason or not, this is a year Clancy always will remember. His trunk is full of footballs and other gear the Panthers practice with, one of the sacrifices made to play football. The Panthers’ locker room is full of desks that were taken out of classrooms to satisfy the social distancing protocol for students.

“Far and away I’ve never seen this,” Clancy said with a grin. “For a while the buildings weren’t open. Now the buildings are open but the kids don’t keep their equipment in them. The kids come dressed to practice. It’s very much like CYO. I’m just proud of the kids. They’ve done all the things we’ve asked of them. … And I mean, the on-field part has been about as much fun as I’ve had in years.”

Adams never will forget this season as well. Like his teammates, he kept hope alive that they would be together again on a football field doing the things they felt destined to do.

“We’ve gone through some adversity this season but other than that it’s been great,” Adams said. “I love these guys. I love them like they’re my brothers. I can’t do what I do without them.”

Barlow, who wrestled in the PIAA state tournament last year, recalled how the 2019 football season ended in the District 1 semifinals with a heartbreaking loss in overtime. This season has worth every ache, pain and sacrifice.

“We’re thankful to have these games,” Barlow said. “Some schools aren’t having them. We’re making the best out of it. We’ve had a great season.”

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