PHILADELPHIA — It sounds like the height of lunacy to say that a defense giving up 42 points did, by and large, what it needed to for the better part of three quarters.
Jason Vosheski is fine with that.
When the dust settled on the 42-14 ouster for Vosheski's Academy Park team against Archbishop Wood, the coach's message was for his Knights was to keep their heads held high. For the defense in particular, that edict went unquestioned, for reasons beyond the history the team had made before Friday's PIAA Class AAA Quarterfinal.
"That's probably the most turnovers they've had in a game all season,' Vosheski said. "Pregame, I told them, ' Don't be afraid to be great.' And they played their hearts out.'
Yes, the game had reverted to a running clock when Wood went up 35-0 before the third quarter had closed. Yet in the face of all that, you can't help but say that the Knights defense played well.
They gave up touchdowns to Wood on its first two possessions. But after that, they held Wood to a string of seven possessions that involved three interceptions, a missed field goal, a turnover on downs and only two scores.
This isn't the Wood juggernaut that waltzed to a state title two years ago, but there aren't many teams in the last half-decade that have entered the second half with a very real chance of defeating Wood. Add Academy Park's name to that list.
It's why, when Jerry Lanier found an oh-so-rare bit of free space on the opening kick of the second half to set the Knights up at midfield, down just 21 points, the feeling was that one spark, one big play could change the game.
"I feel like our offense did a pretty good job after they scored their first two scores,' linebacker Osman Toure said. "I think we did a good job getting turnovers. That's probably the most turnovers we ever had. But unfortunately we weren't able to get things rolling on offense the way we wanted to and the way we usually do.'
The Academy Park defense made the big plays. They gave the offense momentum to build off of. But that's where the plan broke down.
Without starting quarterback Brian Ingram and the Vikings able to key on stopping Lanier, there was no space to be had on offense. The drive chart for Academy Park through the first three quarters is grim reading: punt-punt-turnover on downs-punt-punt-punt-punt-punt-botched punt.
Yet in the face of that, the defense still fought on, as it has all season.
Three times, Wood quarterback Tom Garlick was picked off — twice by Eric Doe (who found the strength despite a busy day punting) and once by Lanier. They got important pressures off the end time and again from Tremaine Lewis and Khyree Thomas.
Each time they produced a big play and the defense ran off, screaming and cheering to the sidelines, the pendulum of momentum threatened to swing the way of Academy Park. Yet each time, Wood prevented it.
Where Academy Park made the big plays, Wood's defense alleviated the need for them, never letting the Knights' offense breathe. Lanier was bottled up to 39 yards on his first 22 carries, escaping the reserves to embellish the total to 84 yards, getting him to 2,306 on the season. At halftime, though, Lanier had a mere 24 yards on 11 totes; the offensive contributors not named "Lanier' totaled minus-15 yards.
"If the offense could've helped the defense out at all, maybe the score is closer,' Vosheski said. "Maybe we have a shot. But the offense couldn't muster anything, and the defense played their rear ends off.'
It's also a testament to Wood's ability, to the talent it takes to shrug off so many errors. And Doe and others admitted that the offensive frustration informed their play on the other side of the ball.
But for a team of two-way players that booked the first District One title in any sport in the school's history, the question of effort, especially on defense, never needed to be asked Friday.
"It kind of got to me,' Toure said. "We were trying. We were trying our best to put something together. But unfortunately with the turnovers we were getting on defense, it didn't happen.'
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