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The 46th Hero Bowl finishes in a satisfying 14-14 East-West tie

Written by: on Friday, May 31st, 2024. Follow Joseph Santoliquito on Twitter.


Photo courtesy of Rick Martin

SPRINGFIELD, PA — The 46th annual Hero Bowl did not have the result everyone was pleased with on Thursday night at Cardinal O’Hara. Nor was it played at a particularly high level for the first three quarters. It did, however, showcase players and programs that had an awakening this past season.

The West squad, comprised of the Central League, scored twice in the last 4 minutes, 33 seconds to pull off a 14-14 tie against the East, made up of players from the Del-Val League, Cardinal O’Hara and Bonner-Prendie. Both respective coaching staffs agreed to end the game in a tie instead of risking an injury by playing overtime.

Chichester’s Bajzhiir Reese was named offensive MVP for the East, and his Eagles’ teammate Siddiq Oglesby was the defensive MVP, while Lower Merion quarterback and Lehigh-bound Mekhai Smith was the West offensive MVP, throwing for one TD and running for another, while his Aces’ teammate Andrew Cook was the West defensive MVP.

Chichester finished 6-6 overall last year, after going 1-10 the previous season. The Eagles’ program has made great strides under former Chichester great and current Eagles’ head coach Chris Craig, making the District 1 playoffs for the second time in three years. This past season, the Eagles reached the District 1 Class 5A playoffs on the talents of players like Reese, an undersized speed demon going to Del-Val University, and Oglesby, a slim cornerback who is heading to Coppin State.

“I may be small, but my heart is the same size as Shaquille O’Neal,” said Reese, a transfer from Imhotep Charter. “This game really touched home for me because it is my last high school game. I missed football since November. I was glad to be here tonight. It is sinking in that this was my last game. I didn’t really believe people when they said my high school experience would be the fastest four years of my life, but these past four years flew by. I wanted to play overtime. I wanted to play until someone won.”

It was Reese’s electric 84-yard kickoff return to answer the West’s first score that seemingly gave the East squad the game with 4:15 to play.

“I feel like I am going to score every time I touch the ball,” Reese said. “You need a big play, I am not the type of player to shy away from that.”

Reese’s Chi teammate, Oglesby, made the first big play of the game, diving for an interception at the West 13-yard line with 6:28 left in the third quarter. That opened the scoring of a game that up until then was sloppy, and undisciplined. There were eight unsportsmanlike penalties called combined for both teams and a handful of personal foul calls on late hits. The East took advantage of the Oglesby pick and converted it into a Dan Kelly-to-Derrick Robertson, another Chichester pair, into a 21-yard touchdown connection on a third-and-18 play.

“My last game I had to make something happen,” Oglesby said. “I played out of position the whole game, at outside linebacker. I’m 150 pounds, I’m a cornerback. This got really serious. I’ll play safety at Coppin State. But I wanted to continue playing. There needed to be a winner in this game. With how intense this game was played, with everyone putting it out there, someone had to win.”

Smith, almost singlehandedly, brought West back. It should not be that surprising. Smith led Lower Merion to a 6-5 overall record, significant because the perennial Central League football doormat had posted its first winning record since 1992, a credit to Smith and coach Joe Augustine and his staff.

Lehigh got a find in Smith, a thick 6-foot-2, 205 pounds who is projected to play safety. He showed great scrambling skills and often made something out of nothing. His 60-yard pass to Ridley’s Khameen Powell (Ridley) put the West on the board with 4:33 to play, and after the Reece kickoff return, Smith led the West back downfield again.

On a third-and-10 at the East 30, he hit his Lower Merion teammate Zion Gray with a 14-yard pass to keep the drive alive. On third-and-12 at the East 18, Smith found Powell again for 14 yards to the four. One player later, Smith rolled right, found a crease in the East defense, and glided into the end zone with 1:56 to play. He then hit Gray with a two-point conversion tying the score at 14-14.

That is how it ended. The East was stopped at the West 47 with 28 seconds to play, and two long West passes fell incomplete closing the game.

“I’m glad, even though we did not finish the game the way we wanted,” said Smith, who graduates Lower Merion on June 5 and has to report to Lehigh on June 10th. “I got to ball out with my brothers. That was probably the last pass I will throw. I got to go out with a bang, and I did it going to my teammate, Zion Gray. I have been playing football for a long time since I was six. When the game gets tense like that, it is part of the game. I get no breaks. I guess it will finally sink in this was last high school football game when I first stepped foot at Lehigh.”

Scoring Summary

East (Del-Val League) 0 0 7 7-14

West (Central League) 0 0 0 14-14

3rd Quarter

East – Derrick Robertson (Chichester) 21 pass from Dan Kelly (Chichester) (Jack McKinney (Cardinal O’Hara) kick), 4:15

4th Quarter

West – Khameen Powell (Ridley) 60 pass from Mekhai Smith (Lower Merion) Derrick Robertson 21 pass from Dan Kelly (Jack McKinney kick), 4:33

East – Bajzhiir Reese (Chichester) 84 kickoff return (McKinney kick), 4:15

West – Smith 4 run (Zion Gray (Lower Merion) pass from Smith), 1:56

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been covering high school football since 1992 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter @JSantoliquito.

Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball

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