CONCORD — They let one slip away.
As amazing as Abington's 26-21 District One Class AAAA quarterfinal-round victory over top-seeded Garnet Valley was, the Jaguars knew it should have never reached a point where the eighth-seeded Galloping Ghosts were lining up on offense with 30 seconds to go in regulation, needing only 11 yards to reach the end zone.
Garnet Valley's defense couldn't stop the bleeding, couldn't come up with that final stop to prevent the Ghosts from doing what no team had done in 2013.
There were opportunities, and the Jags let them fall by the wayside. And when the game was in the hands of a sophomore quarterback, there's no telling what could have happened. To the credit of young David Kretschman, he delivered the biggest throw of his life, a perfectly thrown pass to 6-5 wide receiver Khari Jefferson, who hadn't caught a ball all night.
Jefferson put his arms in the air, wrestling the ball from Garnet Valley defensive back Frankie White, and hauled in the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left on the clock.
Abington completed the comeback, moving the ball with precision and shutting out the Jags' high-powered offense in the second half; thus, punching its ticket to the District One Class AAAA semifinal round.
On the final play, the Jaguars (11-1) tried a hook and lateral, a desperate attempt to salvage what had been a historic season for the program. The Ghosts eventually snuffed out the last-ditch effort.
On their previous drive, the Jaguars gambled on fourth down. Instead of punting the ball away, Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci decided to go for it around midfield, opting to put the ball in the hands of his senior quarterback. Christian Portale ran up the middle, but lost the football roughly a yard shy of the first-down marker. Garnet Valley had proven successful in converting fourth downs throughout the game.
"I'll take that,' Ricci said. "We talked about punting the ball, but we thought that we had a play that we were able to get. I don't know what I would have done now. It's easy to look back in hindsight ... and I'll take that. It's a bad call on my part.'
It opened the door for Abington and dynamic running back Craig Reynolds, who torched the Jaguars for 168 yards on 39 carries and gave the Jaguars staunch defense all it could handle. "We worked our (tails) off. Both teams wanted it bad,' said senior linebacker Tyler Shankle. "They were competing like we were and wanted it as much as we did. It came down to that last play, that last inch. They were able to move the ball on all, and the better man tonight.'
Reynolds had a big run and Daron Boone caught a 22-yard pass to set the Ghosts up at the Garnet Valley 11-yard line. Kretschman then found Jefferson for the winning strike. Jefferson had been dealing with a knee and shoulder injury.
"I knew I had the advantage and I would come down with the ball,' he said. "I had longer arms than him. I could just jump up and get it.'
Despite running 39 offensive plays for 174 yards in the second half, the Jaguars couldn't build off their 21-13 lead at intermission.
"Our defense played phenomenal, kind of bend but don't break,' Abington coach Tim Sorber said. "The odds are, I guess, you can't make every fourth down and the odds would be in our favor. Our defense made plays. Kretschman was also big for us. He struggled ... in the first half, but came out in the second half and made the throws necessary to get us the win.'
Abington relied on Kretschman, who entered the year as the team's third-string quarterback, but was pressed into action due to injuries.
On the other side was Portale, who had 15 touchdowns against just two interceptions this season. The first-year starter had a 24-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to give Garnet Valley an early 7-0 lead. Portale added scoring scampers of 5 and 17 yards and amassed a team-high 109 yards on 18 carries.
Garnet Valley had a 13-play drive stall at the Abington 12-yard line to kick off the second half. The Jags appeared on their way to reaching pay dirt before Jake Irving lost a fumble, the first of two pivotal turnovers. Abington would march 91 yards the other way to cut their deficit to 21-19 with 11 seconds to play in the third quarter.
"This was a great high school football game, a great game to watch,' Ricci said. "Abington, we knew coming into the game that they were well-coached and a very good team. I thought it was a battle between two very good teams. All year long, we've not put ourselves in a position to hurt ourselves, but turnovers really hurt us at inopportune times. In a game like this, turnovers can't happen and those were really detrimental to our efforts tonight.'