South Western defensive back Mike Duffy said he felt as if his coach was trying to ice him during their final timeout. Damian Poalucci, the Mustangs coach, thought time froze for the game's final 2 minutes.
For a South Western team (5-4, 2-2) carried by its running game, the secondary provided the difference on two plays in the end zone to eke out a 28-21 YAIAA Division I win Friday night at William Penn (3-6, 2-2). The first was Duffy's interception of Bearcats quarterback James Way with 6:37 left. The second, Friday night's final play, was a tip by junior Ryan Lane to deny 6-foot-3 standout receiver Derek Wilson of a touchdown.
As soon as the football fell to the ground, so did Lane, thanks to a swarm of teammates that included Duffy, who trailed on the play.
"We were just trying to keep everything in front of us," Duffy said.
The Bearcats had 1 minute, 54 seconds to drive from their own 23-yard line. The sequence included a 17-yard run from Kelvin Nieves to the South Western 39, but it was nearly as devastating as positive. Nieves could not get back up. Bothered by cramping and a bad ankle, he remained on the ground yelling for a few moments before walking to the sideline.
The Bearcats followed with three straight incomplete passes -- including an intentional grounding -- to set up fourth-and-20. Way converted, finding Wilson on a 24-yard pass to the 25.
However, time was of the essence.
Just 15 seconds remained. Way stepped back again and fired. Another incomplete pass and just 6.8 seconds left. He took another pass toward the end zone. Down to 0.5.
One last play, which went to Wilson as it had so many times before, was just beyond his reach.
"We battle in basketball and everything, so I know what kind of tendencies he has," Duffy said of Wilson, who caught a game-high six passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. "The ball was in the air, and it seemed like forever."
Poalucci had no doubts where the ball would go, either, but said "it's still scary."
While the two passes to the end zone ended William Penn's threat, an overturned fumble recovery early in the fourth altered it. The Bearcats' recovery after scoring a tying touchdown with 11:55 left was ruled a dead play and re-kicked. Both Poalucci and William Penn coach Shawn Heinold said they were told an inadvertent whistle on the kickoff was the reason but added the explanation was not clear.
The second kickoff return was not fumbled. In fact, South Western advanced to midfield and proceeded to run nine plays, ending with Dillon Thomas scoring his fourth and deciding touchdown.
The Mustangs' ground attack shredded William Penn's defense for 380 yards. Thomas had 198 on 34 carries. Brady Shultz had 124 on 11 attempts, as his three straight runs of 19 yards or more in the final minute of the first half set up a tying South Western score.
"It's been a lot of hard work and thanks to the O-line, we couldn't have done it without them," Thomas said.
Poalucci pointed to his team's physicality as the biggest difference in winning three of its last four after a 1-3 start. The run should help South Western leap over William Penn in the District 3 Class AAAA rankings. The Mustangs entered 17th, while William Penn was in the 16th and last playoff spot.
So. Western 0 14 7 7 -- 28
Wm. Penn 7 7 0 7 -- 21
WP -- Kelvin Nieves 4 run (Thurman Fogleman kick), 5:35.
SW -- Dillon Thomas 1 run (Jake Tracy kick), 2:21.
WP -- Derek Wilson 33 pass from James Way (Fogleman kick), 1:07.
SW -- Thomas 7 run (Tracy kick), 0:19.
SW -- Thomas 13 run (Tracy kick), 2:27.
WP -- Bryshon Sweeney 20 pass from Way (Fogleman kick), 11:55.
SW -- Thomas 4 run (Tracy kick), 7:25.
-- SW -- WP
First downs -- 26 -- 12
Rushes-yards -- 65-380 -- 17-110
Passing -- 5-8-0 -- 10-27-1
Passing yards -- 55 -- 244
Total yards -- 435 -- 354
Fumbles-lost -- 2-0 -- 1-1
Penalties-yards -- 3-19 -- 6-40
Rushing -- South Western, Thomas 34-198, Brady Shultz 11-124, Dakotah Moses 5-17, Bobby Wildasin 4-25, Zach Osborne 4-20, Mike Duffy 3-4, Tyler Sterner 3-(-)10, Wyatt Trostle 1-2; William Penn, Way 10-66, Nieves 7-44, Sweeney 1-2.
Passing -- South Western, Duffy 3-6-0-22, Sterner 2-2-0-33; William Penn, Way 10-27-1-244.
Receiving -- South Western, Mike Mooradian 2-39, Brady Thayer 1-6, Osborne 1-5, Shultz 1-5; William Penn, Wilson 6-139, Dakeem Dennison 2-86, Sweeney 1-20, John Philips 1-(-)1.