NETHER PROVIDENCE -- Haverford High's Jai Thornton called a fake punt that his coach, Joe Gallagher, did not approve.
Gallagher let Thornton know that he wasn't happy with Thornton's on-the-fly decision. At the time, the Fords were trailing Strath Haven — albeit by two points — and Thornton was looking for a way to get his team jump-started.
"Yeah,' Gallagher said, "he made it up to me.'
Thornton certainly gave Gallagher something to look forward to. Moments after the ill-advised and coach-unapproved fake punt run, the senior defensive back picked off Strath Haven quarterback Bryan Mizell for the first of Thornton's two interceptions. On the ensuing play, Thornton rushed 10 yards to the end zone to give Haverford the lead.
In search of its first victory of 2013, Haverford was stellar in all facets. Thornton led the charge on a defensive unit that registered interceptions on the way to a decisive 21-2 victory Friday night at George L. King Field.
Thornton paid back his coach with big plays. In the second quarter, he took his second interception 65 yards to paydirt.
"I was just doing my job,' he said. "The quarterback overthrew the ball a little bit, I caught it and went for six the other way. I owed my coach one because I wasn't supposed to call that fake punt. So, I told him I'd get him back.'
For as long as he's been a Ford, prior to Friday, Thornton had never returned an interception for a touchdown.
"I'm excited about it,' he said.
Gallagher was particularly thrilled with his team's effort on defense. Linemen Chip Rossino and Steve Pierce helped buoy a unit that put the clamps down on the Panthers' run-first approach. The Panthers' Anthony Myers, who was averaging just under seven yards per carry coming into Friday's Central League game, had 83 uneventful yards on 23 carries. Strath Haven (2-2, 1-2) was limited to 127 yards of total offense.
"They basically won us the game,' said All-Delco running back Kevin Leyden of the Haverford (1-2, 1-1) defense. "They did everything tonight, and we don't win without them.'
Leyden's game was a tale of two halves. Though he capped the first half with a 43-yard reception on a Hail Mary throw by Jack Donaghy (he was tackled a yard shy of the end zone), Leyden was held in check (eight yards on five carries), but in his defense, Haverford's offense was a sputtering mess for most of the first half.
That would change after halftime. Leyden netted 122 second-half yards and a score. In the Fords' opening drive of the third quarter, Leyden accounted for all 68 yards on five rushes.
One of the most dangerous all-around players in Delco would make his presence felt. Strath Haven coach Kevin Clancy could sense it on the Panthers sideline, and consequently warned his defenders.
It didn't matter.
"(Strath Haven) came out to start the game with a great scheme. They really stopped what we had planned on doing,' Leyden said. "In the second half, we all just bumped it and everyone did a great job of changing things up, figuring out what to do and we got the job done.'
That unexpected bye week Haverford had last Thursday? It turns out, the time off did the Fords some good. Their game with Neumann-Goretti was postponed due to inclement weather, allowing the Fords more than enough time to prepare for the Panthers.
"Last Friday, we began focusing on Strath Haven, and I think it helped us a lot,' Thornton said. "We knew, we had to get a Central League win. That was the main focus, and it really showed here tonight, we were ready to play.'
Haverford's Kevin Maloney and Anthony Zinni also recorded interceptions.