GRATERFORD — The calendar might only say December, but Wednesday night's Pioneer Athletic Conference boys basketball game between Spring-Ford and Perkiomen Valley had a distinctive February feel to it.
At one end were the visiting Rams, eager to validate their 2-0 start under first-year coach Chris Talley with a statement win.
At the other were the defending PAC-10 champ Vikings, looking to pick up where they left off after last year's magical title run.
"It was one of those games our kids had circled since last year,' Talley said.
Suffice it to stay the Rams and Vikings didn't disappoint.
When the smoke cleared after a furious fourth quarter that featured no fewer than 10 lead changes, Spring-Ford had come away with a 64-62 victory to open league play in thrilling fashion.
Senior forward Nick Stanek scored a career-high 28 points, including all of his team's points in a 7-2 spurt over the final 1:24 that erased a three-point deficit.
"He's our leader, vocally and emotionally,' Talley said of the 6-foot-4 Stanek, who is averaging 22 points per game thus far. "After each game, he's battered and bruised; he leaves it all out there.'
Stanek, who also grabbed six rebounds, had six points during a game-opening 11-3 run for the Rams and 17 by halftime to help stake Spring-Ford to a 34-30 lead.
The Vikings (0-1 PAC-10, 1-2 overall) did a good job containing him most of the second half, but when defensive stopper Rasaan Stewart picked up his fourth foul with 5:27 left in the game, Stanek began to re-assert himself and the rest of the Rams took their cues.
"To be honest, it was good team play,' Stanek said. "There are no individuals on this team. Everyone on the team stepped up, stayed calm and kept their heads.'
Perkiomen Valley, which had struggled to solve Spring-Ford's 3-2 matchup zone for most of the first three quarters, opened the final period with a seven-point run to take its first lead at 49-46 on a 3-pointer by silky-smooth guard Purnell Wilson (team-high 24 points) with 5:41 left.
From there, the Rams and Vikings traded punches down a scintillating stretch run.
Spring-Ford got gutsy penetration from guard Drew Kakareka (15 points), while the Vikings got clutch play from Stewart (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Tyler Krause (12 points).
But Perkiomen Valley couldn't avoid foul trouble, which had plagued the Vikings in Saturday's 64-56 loss to highly-regarded Great Valley. Mekhi Clemons (nine points) fouled out with less than six minutes left in the game, and Wilson picked up his fourth foul with less than four minutes left.
"We can't keep getting in foul trouble like that,' PV coach Mike Poysden said. "That's two games in a row now. And we really struggled to rebound the ball. They had five guys slashing in from all directions, and we struggled to keep them off the glass. They had too many easy second looks.'
Trailing 57-56, Perkiomen Valley got two foul shots from Stewart with 2:13 left, then Krause knocked down two more free throws to put the Vikings up 60-57 with 1:40 left before Stanek took over.
First, he finished a strong drive to cut the deficit to one with 1:24 left.
Then, he scored inside with 50 seconds left to put the Rams up to stay before tacking on two huge foul shots that made it 63-60.
Stewart's basket with 8.6 seconds remaining cut it to 63-62, then Stanek went 1-for-2 from the foul line with seven seconds left and Wilson's last-gasp driving attempt was no good.
"To his credit, he was constantly active,' Poysden said of Stanek. "He won't let you take a possession off, and that's a great trait in a player.'
Gary Hopkins had six points and Mike Olsen had five rebounds to go along with four points and three assists for Spring-Ford, which wound up with a 27-21 rebounding advantage.
"We were coming off a close game, and I think that really prepared us for tonight,' said Talley, referring to Saturday's 65-56 overtime victory over Central Bucks South. "They handled the pressure well, and this win gives them a lot of confidence.'
Stanek went 9-for-10 from the line as the Rams were 19-for-29 as a team. ... Wilson hit two 3-pointers for the Vikings. ... PV took the JV game 48-46 thanks to a buzzer-beating layup by Dan Bubb.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.