Throwback Thursday: One Great Game Day
In 2001 one of our football group and I motored from Bucks County out to Coatesville on Friday night November 30th for the Class 3A Eastern Final between Strath Haven D1 and Manheim Central D3. We were surprised on arrival to see no activity, no busses, no early crowd, and no lit field. It had rained heavily that morning and apparently officials had postponed the game until Saturday December 1 at 7:00 pm. This was confirmed by asking a security officer that we found on site.
We had already planned to drive to Hershey on that Saturday for the Class 4A Eastern Final between Neshaminy D1 and Cumberland Valley D3, a 1:00 game. Being the high school football nuts that we were, we decided we could have a real travel day and take in both games. We also called a third group member that couldn’t make the Friday night game and he agreed to make it a threesome for Saturday December 1 and both games.
The two games were between four 13-0 teams coming in; none of the four had a loss; so something had to give.
We were District One fans and were following Neshaminy in the first game. I had seen the Skins 6 times so far, including two home playoff games; against Downingtown in their last year as a single school, and Conestoga. The Skins were 13-0, but it hadn’t been by a landslide. They had beaten Father Judge in the opener 28-27. After a forfeit win over Bensalem due to a strike there, the Skins won over Pennridge 28-22. I saw their next three games; narrow wins over North Penn 23-14, CB West 21-19, and C B East 15-14. Their next three were a little easier before a last regular season game win over archrival Pennsbury 26-21. At the point entering the Cumberland Valley game in Hershey the Skins were averaging 28.3 points per game on offense while allowing 15.8 on defense.
One of the two buddies and I had been to Hershey the week before to see the Cumberland Valley-Bethlehem Catholic playoff game, another fine contest won by CV 41-31, a shootout. Our third man had seen CV on TV and all three of us were leery of Neshaminy winning this one. Cumberland Valley was averaging 36.9 points per game and allowing 10.8; both averages a little stronger than the Skins.
The game evolved into a game of two different halves. Neshaminy kicked off, stopped the first Eagle drive, and moved down inside the Eagle 15-yard line. But an interception stopped that drive cold. The rest of the first half was two sustained Cumberland Valley drives for two scores with missed PAT’s. It was 12-0 Eagles at the half.
We all agreed that the old cliché applied in the second half. Neshaminy received the kickoff and we said they had to score and then shut the Eagles down. This they did and it was 12-7. Later in the third quarter, ace Redskin running back Jamar Brittingham got a short TD off of a Neshaminy drive and the PAT after was missed, making it 13-12 Skins. Then Neshaminy blocked a punt attempt and returned it for a TD, and the fourth of five PATs so far was missed again, and it was 19-12 Neshaminy. I remember it was breezy that day; possibly negating all of those PAT attempts.
Now Cumberland Valley roared back with a short drive capped by a 41-yard scamper on an inside reverse. This time the PAT was good and it was 19-19 with a little over 6 minutes left in the game. The ensuing kickoff was returned by Neshaminy’s Keith Ennis to the Cumberland Valley 20-yard line. This set up a short drive and Brittingham run TD to make it 25-19. The Skins went for a 2-pt conversion but the pass was incomplete. Now there was 2 minutes left in the game.
The Eagles put on a nice 2-minute-drill drive; but then a completion to the tight end was stripped and recovered by a Neshaminy defender. The Skins then ran out the clock.
We three took our time leaving as we had time; strolled to the car, and then headed down US Route 344 which went straight from Hershey to the Downingtown-Coatesville intersection of business US Route 30. From there it was a short hop to Coatesville’s fine facility.
This was the first time any of the three of us had ever seen Strath Haven play. We all had previously seen Manheim Central at least once. The Strath Haven Panthers came in averaging 34.7 points per game and allowing just 6.8 points per game. Featuring a strong defense, the Panthers had posted 5 previous shutouts and 5 previous 1-score games to opponents. They came in with a win over Berwick 30-21.
The Barons of Manheim Central came in with a most impressive record, with the offense averaging 40.7 points per game while allowing only 3.8 points per game. They had shutout 7 opponents and allowed 1 score to 4 others. Two opponents got 13 points against them and that was the highs. They came in to this one off of a 36-0 win over Selinsgrove.
This was also a game of two different halves. As might be expected by the records, both teams featured hard-hitting defenses, and it was just 7-0 near the half in favor of Strath Haven. But then a muffed punt by the Barons gave the Panthers life and a quick long strike to a McGarrity and PAT made it 14-0 Strath Haven at the half.
The Manheim Central offense came to life in the second half, and their solid defense kept shutting down the Panthers, but turnovers and penalties kept them from much scoring and late in the game it was still 14-7 Panthers.
With inside a minute left in the game, the Barons scored and it stood at 14-13 with the PAT decision coming up. Time out Manheim Central. They would go for two and the win. Time out Strath Haven. You could cut the tension in the stadium with a knife. This was the game in a nutshell; one play to decide it. They set up and threw a pass to the left side of the west end zone. It was incomplete.
There was of course an onsides kick; but Strath Haven covered it and the game was soon over – 14-13 Strath Haven.
Three tired men now had to trek home to Montgomery and Bucks Counties, but we had ourselves a great day of high school football, seeing both the 4A and 3A Eastern Finals.
I planned to go to the state finals in Hershey the next Saturday for the 2A and 4A finals to follow Neshaminy but the weather turned extremely rainy and windy and I missed my first opportunity to see a state final. But I had seen the eventual state 4A champion, Neshaminy (21-7 over Woodland Hills D7) play 7 times that year, and I also saw the state 3A runner-up Strath Haven, who lost in the 3A final to West Allegheny D7 28-13.
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