RIDLEY TWP. — In all of sports, there will never be anything as inconvenient as a final bell, a piercing horn, a buzzer, a whistle, a scoreboard showing 0:00 and a taunting, haunting final score. And if the Academy Park High football team didn't realize that before, it found out the stinging way, just over a month ago.
It was Senior Night, of all treasured hours, and the Del-Val League championship was in play, and there were the Knights doing what they do best. They were driving, 16 yards from the goal line against Glen Mills, with momentum, with a chance, with the crowd in an uproar.
"The clock struck zero,' Knights coach Jason Vosheski was saying Friday night. "A lot of it was on us, with clock management and timeouts and things like that. But it just felt that time had run out. So this — this was kind of like the second half of that game.'
Whether experiencing a sense of vindication, or just one of relief, Vosheski was able to find some closure Friday when, this time, his Knights were able to run out the clock the more comfortable way, preserving a 22-14 victory over Glen Mills in the District One Class AAA championship game on neutral Phil Marion Field.
In a game just about as close as the Bulls' 20-13 victory that night at Knight Park, Academy Park needed a late defensive play by senior defensive back Eric Doe to technically square the season series, though this time with one meaningful difference. This time, unlike that last time, it really was all over. So it would be the Bulls who would have to be haunted by the 35-34 scoring differential in two of the best, most competitive games in Delaware County this season.
"Yeah,' Doe said, when asked afterward if that first game had been on the Knights' minds. "We couldn't let them win the Del-Val League and then the district, too. That was our motive going into this game.
"That was the only thing in our heads.'
If the stunning way that last game finished was not on any of the Knights' minds for the first 46 minutes Friday, it had to have come cascading in the final two, with the the Bulls down by one score and driving. But on fourth-and-seven from the Academy Park 10 with 1:39 left, Glen Mills attempted a pass into the end zone that Doe measured, tracked and snuffed.
"I had to knock that one down,' Doe said. "They weren't getting that district title from us.'
The timeout situation for Glen Mills by then dire, the Knights were able to enjoy, not dread, the countdown to zero.
"In a way, I was happy to play them again,' Vosheski said. "Because familiarity can be a positive. But it can also be a negative, especially when you are playing a team as good as Glen Mills, which already beat us once.'
It was fitting, though, that the Knights would gain their salvation not only with the benefit of the expiring clock, but also with Doe's play, one that typified a night of physical defense. For while it was understandable that they had the unfinished-business sensation in the first game, they knew, at some level at least, that it wasn't all just a matter of bad timing.
"No, I think they were just more physical than us that other time,' said Jerry Lanier, the Knights' dominating running back. "They came out playing fast. They were hungry. And we had to come out and play harder.'
Such is the essence of the learning experience that is sports, particularly at the high school level. For while the Knights may have been caught pouting that they just ran out of time in October, they instead made certain that it wouldn't happen in November.
"I wasn't even mad about that game,' Lanier said. "Because I knew we were going to end up here with it. That was all I kept saying. I knew we were going to end up here.'
They had that feeling, anyway. It was a feeling they gained the hardest of all ways.