CONCORD — As Abington headed off to salute its fans Friday night and Garnet Valley collected the carnage of its season finale, only Craig Reynolds and Mike Bruette remained away from their teams.
Both with helmets still on and chinstraps up tight, made visibly emotional by the 26-21 emotional roller coaster Reynolds' Galloping Ghosts just rode into the District One Class AAAA semifinals, the running backs shared a moment alone.
"It's hard. They're seniors, and I feel bad, but it's football and someone has to move on,' Reynolds said. "It's hard for someone to lose a close game like this. I'm glad our team won and I'm proud of the guys celebrating, but you feel for a team like that.'
In a moment, they captured the difference in the game Friday. Reynolds, who had pounded the ball 35 times for 168 yards and two scores, was the one primarily responsible for Abington galloping back from an early deficit to claim the win in the final minute.
Bruette, meanwhile, was quite literally the last man standing in the backfield by committee that had propelled Garnet Valley to the top seed in District One. At a level of health he only described as "not healthy enough,' Bruette spent as much time on the sideline exercise bike as he did the field Friday. He gutted out 85 yards on 17 totes, needing to be helped out on several plays.
Fellow running back Jake Irving entered the game banged up. After 13 carries for 41 yards and a costly second-half fumble, he limped through the postgame commiserations with one shoe and two crutches after being carried off in the fourth quarter. Vince Razzano, so often the big-play provider this season, was confined to the sidelines for all but one carry and a handful of snaps.
Therein lay the difference between the teams. Reynolds was precisely the caliber of playmaker that the Jaguars relied on all season. Thanks to injuries Friday, though, Garnet Valley was out of options.
"We're pretty beat up. I just so happened to be OK enough to play,' Bruette said. "But we still had it. And that was our fault. There was nothing else but our fault.'
The proof is in the offensive pudding. The Jaguars (11-1) scored on their first three possessions, each capped by touchdown runs by Christian Portale. It appeared — especially with a team on the opposite sideline that posted 55 points in its first-round win a week ago — that an offensive shootout could be in the offing. The Jaguars just didn't oblige.
It wasn't for lack of possession. They marched 60 yards on 13 plays on the first series of the second half, cut short by Irving's fumble at the 12. The next series involved eight plays, cut short by Portale's fumble on fourth-and-4. They chewed up the fourth-quarter clock, clinging to a 21-19 lead, with a 13-play march that ended with a turnover on downs at the Abington 36.
They controlled the clock. They were 4-for-6 on fourth down. They had 39 offensive snaps in the second half covering 174 yards.
But those plays yielded no points, and consequently no game next week.
"Abington played unbelievably on defense; all the credit to them,' Portale said. "They were prepared, they were physical, and they clocked you a couple of times. We couldn't execute in the red zone. We had some ball security problems, obviously I was included with that. And it's just a shame that that's what it comes down to.'
What was missing for the Jags was that big-play potential, especially once the Ghosts bottled up Portale. There was some success through the air, but that's not the Jags' game. And there wasn't the constant threat to take one to the house on each snap, the hallmark of this Garnet Valley team.
In short, Garnet Valley was missing its collective Reynolds, a group reduced by at least two-thirds, plus whatever mysterious percentage Bruette was slowed.
"It's tough to swallow. It's kind of surreal right now. It just doesn't feel like it really happened,' Portale said. "You just want to get the ball back on the 20-yard line and redo those plays and try to score.'To contact Matthew De George, email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Sportsdoctormd.