SPRINGFIELD >> Patrick Finn stood forlorn on the near end zone, fighting back tears.
Mike Fowler, meanwhile, sat silently outside the locker room, his head bowed.
The finality for Finn, Fowler and the rest of their Pottsgrove football teammates had finally begun to set in after they gave top seed and unbeaten Springfield-Delco all it could handle before falling 10-6 in Friday’s District 1-AAA semifinal.
The Falcons also left the Cougars’ chilly confines with a measure of frustration, knowing they let a chance at a season-making victory slip away.
Despite a dominating defensive effort by the Pottsgrove defense, Springfield senior quarterback Brian Allen got loose for a couple of back-breaking runs late, including the go-ahead 11-yard TD run with 8:19 left in the fourth quarter that helped the Cougars (12-0) advance to next Friday’s championship against second seed Great Valley (11-1) — a 20-0 winner over Bishop Shanahan.
The fourth seeded Falcons finished 8-4 after a defeat that had them stinging as much as the near-freezing temperatures.
“We played our hearts out,’ said Finn, their stalwart two-way lineman who is bound for Bucknell. “We tried to leave it all out on the field.’
“Knowing that was our last game, and we had a shot at it … ,’ said Fowler, his voice trailing off.
In a game that points were as hard to come by as Green Bay Packers season tickets, Springfield-Delco drew first blood on Jimmy Reardon’s 25-yard field goal with 1:11 left in the first quarter.
But the Falcons answered with a 30-yard field goal by Garrett Bleakley with 2:00 left in the first half, then Bleakley booted home a 24-yarder with 8:42 remaining in the third quarter to put Pottsgrove up 6-3.
The way the Falcons defense was playing, that looked like it might be enough.
Jared Ludy had 1.5 sacks, Ryan Finn had another and Kysan Harrow had a half sack as Pottsgrove allowed just 46 total yards in the first half with Deyon Doctor contributing a third-quarter interception and Ryan Finn recovering a fumble.
But just when the Cougars appeared to be in dire straits, their dogged defense came to the rescue and Allen made the Falcons pay.
Two plays into the fourth quarter, Springfield’s Lucas Spence picked off a Torin Verdone pass intended for Fowler at the goal line and returned it 30 yards.
Three plays later, with the Cougars facing third-and-5, Allen broke free for a 15-yard gain.
After a three-yard gain by Ricky Sterling moved the chains again on a third-and-1 situation, Springfield faced yet another third-and-1 from the Pottsgrove 29.
This time, Allen escaped pressure and ripped off an 18-yard gain. And on the next play, he raced virtually untouched into the end zone to put the Cougars up to stay.
“Two plays (big runs by Allen) won the game for them,’ said Pottsgrove coach Rick Pennypacker. “We knew what we had to do with them; we just didn’t do it.’
Still, the Falcons kept fighting.
Thanks to a 37-yard fake punt run by Tyrell Barr, they got as far as the Springfield-Delco 10 on the ensuing drive before Verdone was intercepted by Pat Smyth with just over three minutes left.
Pottsgrove’s defense then stopped the Cougars from running out the clock, forced a punt and took over at its own 46 with 1:02 left.
Verdone hooked up with Fowler for a 13-yard gain, then ran for 11 yards to get the Falcons 30 yards from paydirt.
But Verdone’s attempt down the seam on the next play was picked off by Adam Krauter for the fourth red-zone turnover that sealed Pottsgrove’s fate.
“Turnovers crushed us,’ Pennypacker said. “To be in the red zone four times and come away with no points was a killer. It was there for us, but we just didn’t do it.’
Pioneer Athletic Conference rushing leader Devon Fink was limited to 21 yards on 11 carries against the Cougars’ rugged defensive front, finishing the season with 1,155 yards. Fink had a team-high four receptions for 36 yards, with Fowler making three grabs for 29 yards and also rushing twice for 14 yards and Verdone rushing for a team-best 69 yards.
Young ran for a game-high 70 yards, though the Falcons kept him without a completion as Pottsgrove finished with a 236-152 advantage in total yards.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they came up a little short in the number that mattered most — the final score.
“Judging from last week, we knew it would be a low-scoring game,’ first-year Cougars coach Chris Britton said. “It’s the playoffs, and both teams played really good defense. That’s been our thing all year long: defense, defense, defense. We struggled a little in the first half, but we just stuck with it.’
So did the Falcons before a frustrating fourth quarter sabotaged their upset plans.
“But you know what, it was a good experience for my younger kids,’ Pennypacker said. “We know that they are not that much better than us, and I think we represented the PAC-10 well. Anyone who saw that game knows that anyone could have won tonight.’
Thanks to a ball-hawking defense and elusive quarterback, it wound up being Springfield-Delco.
Fowler, Finn, Fink and Verdone headed up a Pottsgrove senior class that went 30-6 over the past three seasons. … Springfield-Delco, ranked ninth in the state by Pennsylvania Football News, entered the game having allowed a District 1-low 9.1 points per game. The Cougars have allowed more than 12 points just once and more than seven points twice this year. … Pottsgrove’s four losses were to teams that are currently a combined 37-5.
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