Earlier this week after the Perkiomen Valley football team finished practice, Vikings head coach Scott Reed stood alone with a visitor contemplating the biggest game in program history that was on the horizon.
"I don't know how it's going to all wash out,' Reed said of the impending District 1-AAAA semifinal against perennial kingpin North Penn. "But I am pretty sure the best player on the field will be on our side.'
Reed was talking about Perkiomen Valley senior quarterback/safety Rasaan Stewart. And he was spot on.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, a near Herculean first-half effort by Stewart wasn't quite enough Friday, as the Knights used a 27-point explosion over the final two quarters to secure a 40-19 victory at Crawford Stadium.
But man, was it fun while it lasted.
Stewart didn't waste any time making his presence felt on the soggy field, taking a quarterback draw 81 yards to the house on the game's first play from scrimmage.
"That run,' highly-successful North Penn coach Dick Beck said, "was as scary as it gets.'
Stewart, however, was only getting heated up. He tacked on TD runs of 5 and 33 and racked up 163 of his 183 rushing yards in the first half as the Vikings opened up a 19-10 lead deep into the second quarter.
The Knights may have been bloodied, but they bounced back by scoring the game's final 30 points over a span of 24:02, started by Matt Ammendola's 20-yard field goal just before halftime.
"We went into the locker room proud of ourselves,' Stewart said. "We thought we had the game, but we knew we had to keep the momentum up in the second half and we couldn't do that.'
North Penn got 206 rushing yards from tailback Nyfease West and 163 rushing yards from bruising fullback Luke Berry, but one could argue the real key to the Knights' rally was how they contained Stewart in the final two quarters. The 6-1, 182-pound Stewart finished 10-for-19 for 124 yards, but only 18 of those yards came after halftime.
"I think he's a great athlete, and he throws a hell of a ball,' said Beck, whose adjustment of using an extra linebacker, Kris Akins, was instrumental in slowing Stewart. "I mean, he's lining up at nose tackle (on defense) trying to jump over the line. And one time I thought he was knocked out cold. I'm saying, ' Get the ambulance,' but he gets back up. He definitely left it on the field, no doubt.'
Though the final minutes of his career were ignominious ones, lowlighted by an ejection in the closing moments as a result of what the officiating crew interpreted as Stewart throwing a punch in a scrum after the whistle of a North Penn first down, Stewart's career will go down as one of the best in area history.
He finished with 4,438 career passing yards, 2,954 career rushing yards and 96 career touchdowns.
Stewart earned All-Area Player of the Year honors as a junior, and you don't need to be Einstein to figure out who will receive that honor when it is announced in about a month.
"Rasaan's taken our program and almost put it on his shoulders and put us on the map,' Reed said. "Here we are one game away from playing for a district championship, and a lot of it has to do with him. He's a special athlete, and it's been an unbelievable pleasure to coach him.'
Still, even the scintillating Stewart wasn't enough to overcome the Knights' ground-and-pound attack that earned North Penn its fifth trip to the district final in six years.
"Their offense kept pushing us back,' Stewart said. "They were getting like five yards a carry, and that's one thing we couldn't stop. They're a great team. They run right at you, and have an offensive line that's aggressive and physical. But we fought hard. I'm proud of my teammates and coaches.
"I was giving it all I had, and so were my teammates and coaches. I just want to thank everyone in this program for the best three years of my life.'
Rest assured, Rasaan, that feeling is reciprocal.
Contact Darryl Grumling at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.