LOWER POTTSGROVE — Five plays earlier, Jerry Lanier had proven his status as one of the state of Pennsylvania's best running backs by darting 10 yards to put him over the 2,000-yard barrier for his senior season.
That dash was long forgotten, though, with Academy Park facing a fourth-and-14 from the Pottsgrove 22, out of field-goal range and trailing by five points in the teams' District One Class AAA semifinal Friday night.
The fourth-and-long playbook isn't overflowing with ideas and diagrams showing Xs going one way and Os the other. But for Lanier, it was a chance to prove his worth as a receiver ... and a playcaller. It wasn't something the Knights practiced much, either, but it was the right time.
Quarterback Brian Ingram took the snap and Lanier jetted up the right sideline on a wheel route. Ingram's throw looked a little long at first, but Lanier made a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch while getting hit by a safety to secure the winning points in AP's thrilling 27-26 win over the top-seeded Falcons.
The Knights earned a rematch with Del Val League champion Glen Mills, which routed West Chester Henderson, 34-13. The Battlin' Bulls topped AP in the regular season, 20-13.
Oh, and after Brian Stevens intercepted Riley Michaels' fourth-down pass, Lanier toted the rock five times in the next six plays to run out the clock. The final stat line of 35 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown was plenty, but Lanier also proved that he might have a future as an offensive coordinator when he asked the Knights' coaches to dial up the wheel route.
"They were biting all day,' Lanier said of the previously undefeated Falcons (11-1). "Jamar (Dembry) was catching deep bombs on them, so we told him, ' Take them over there,' and we'll run (the wheel) on them. An old-fashioned play. I saw (the safety) in the corner of my eye coming and I was just, like, ' I'm going to have to jump for it,' and I came down with it.'
Knights coach Jason Vosheski admitted that No. 4 AP (9-2) hadn't practiced that particular play too much, but once Lanier asked for it, he knew there was a good reason for it.
"He's a really cerebral kid on the field,' Vosheski said of his All-Delco running back. "He kind of knew that the play would be open from the defense they had been running all day, but that catch was incredible. I actually thought (Ingram) threw it too deep at first, but then ...'
Then Lanier proved why he's having one of the best seasons in Delco history. He entered the game needing 130 yards to become only the fifth player in county history to break the 2,000-yard barrier in one season. The predecessors on that illustrious list? Former Sun Valley standout Tony Canci, a pair of NFLers in Upper Darby's Simoni Lawrence and Cardinal O'Hara's Kevin Jones and Glen Mills' Deries Hodge. Lanier vaulted past Hodge for third place and could reasonably take the top spot from Canci — he would need 294 more yards - if the Knights can make it to states.
Regardless, the most important play of the night came through the air and it was sweet redemption for Ingram. The senior signal-caller tossed a pair of first-half interceptions to Pottsgrove's Michael Fowler, including one on the goal line, and needed a shot to make a big play through their air after gashing the Falcons on the ground to the tune of 127 yards on 11 carries.
"The first wheel I threw to Jeff (Devaughn), I overthrew it,' said Ingram, who finished 4-for-9 for 66 yards and another touchdown to Dembry. "I thought I overthrew it to Jerry, too, but I saw him catch it and hold the ball, and I was just too happy.'
It wasn't over there yet, though, but the Knights' defense made sure that Lanier and Ingram got the ball back to bleed out the clock. Dembry roared through the line of scrimmage to bury Pottsgrove running back Marquis Barefield, who had 137 total yards and a 63-yard touchdown reception on a flare, for a loss of two yards. Two plays later, the Falcons' trips formation to the left tipped a rollout to that side and Stevens leaped above everyone else to snare Michaels' pass.
"I was going to take (Barefield),' Stevens said, "because if I left him to go into the middle, he would have been wide open. But (Michaels) threw the ball into the air and I just drifted over and made the interception.'
The Knights took an early 14-0 lead on the strength of a 40-yard Ingram quarterback draw and a nine-yard jaunt from Lanier, but the Falcons struck back. Sene Polamalu barreled in from two yards out, Barefield weaved his way to a 63-yard highlight-reel score on the flare, and Orrin Toomer dashed in from 29 yards out.
Even when Dembry countered with a 12-yard touchdown catch, Polamalu ended a quick four-play, 55-yard drive with a 16-yard rumble for another score. Dembry also had the most subtle big play of the night, though, when he blocked the extra point after the first Polamalu touchdown. Not that one point made a difference, though, right?
And for the Knights, there was a lot to celebrate on a night where they were barely given a puncher's chance at beating the mighty Falcons on their home field. Those 2,000 yards are nothing to sneeze at, even if Lanier never gave that goal much thought.
"It means a lot,' Lanier said. "I didn't really think about it. I just thought I was going to come out and just play. That's all I was really worried about.'
He's done that "just playing' thing pretty well. Maybe even better than anyone in Delco this year.