TREDYFFRIN — The final was not supposed to happen, even if this game was played 100 times over.
Conestoga had a 17-point lead over rival Haverford with 5:34 remaining in the third quarter on homecoming. The students were ready for a post-game party bigger than the one they had just a few hours earlier.
Then Jai Thornton left the Conestoga faithful in stunned silence.
Thornton picked off Conestoga quarterback Tim Miller's pass at the Haverford 45 and took it 55 yards into the end zone with 1:13 to play to seal the Fords' shocking 28-17 win over the Pioneers at Teamer Field Friday.
The senior's eyes lit up when he had the opportunity to preserve the win.
"(Miller) did a hitch the play before,' Thornton said. "I noticed that on his next throw. I just read it, broke on the ball and made a play.'
The interception dashed the hopes of hundreds of Conestoga students and alumni attending, but that play added insult to injury for the Pioneers.
Before that fateful Conestoga drive, Haverford sophomore quarterback Jack Donaghy found senior Jack McClernon on a slant, which he ran 35 yards to the end zone as the Fords took a 21-17 lead with 2:21 left. The lead was Haverford's first of the game. Before that completion, Donaghy's longest pass was 12 yards.
Thornton set up the touchdown with a 43-yard burst as the Wildcat quarterback two plays earlier. That play gave the Fords hope they could complete the comeback.
"The O-line had some great blocks on the run,' Thornton said. "After that, I just made a play when this team needed it the most.'
Conestoga responded on their final drive with three consecutive Miller completions for 31 yards that took the Pioneers to the Haverford 45. The next play ended their hopes of a comeback that never should have never been needed.
"From the three minute mark of the third on, Haverford outexecuted us,' Conestoga coach John Vogan said. "They made plays and we didn't. Give credit to (Haverford coach) Joe (Gallagher) and his kids. They finished the game and we didn't.'
Haverford played like the team that needed this game down the home stretch. The Fords received major contributions from Thornton and Kevin Leyden, who combined for 142 rushing yards after halftime.
"We have two big-time playmakers in Jai and Kevin and we depend on them,' Gallagher said. "We lean on them to make big plays.'
Thornton finished with six carries for 78 yards on offense and two interceptions on defense. Leyden had 21 carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Miller had one of the best games of his young scholastic career. The sophomore completed 16-of-22 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns for Conestoga. Miller was lights out in the first half, throwing for 180 yards on 7-of-8 passes.
"Tim did a nice job with the offense,' Vogan said. "(Haverford) is a tough team to run on. They are very physical. We were looking for a play action pass in the passing game. We were in good shape there.'
Alex Silverstein caught two passes for a game-high 122 yards, which included an 85-yard touchdown on Miller's first pass of the night. Marty Dorsey was held to three catches for 33 yards.
The win kept Haverford in the hunt for the Central League title coupled with an ecstatic head coach in Gallagher.
"Nobody quit and we calmed ourselves down,' Gallagher said. "We just kept grinding and grinding. The turning point in our season was this game. We had to have this.'
"As a team we know what we're capable of and we have to keep fighting to stay in (the game),' Thornton said. "We're a tough team. I love these guys and the way we play.'