Acad­emy Park cap­tures its third district crown in past four sea­sons

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Todd Oro­denker For Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

SPRING­FIELD >> Two District 1 ti­tles in a row. Three in the last four years. A state semi­fi­nal ap­pear­ance.

No, none of this gets old for the Acad­emy Park Knights. Es­pe­cially not af­ter a thrilling 24-18 vic­tory Fri­day over Spring­field to earn the Class 5A District 1 cham­pi­onship. They will face mighty Arch­bishop Wood next week for a berth in the state ti­tle game, but that daunt­ing task was hardly on any­one’s mind on this rainy, yet beau­ti­ful, night.

Not af­ter the way Acad­emy Park (13-1) won this game.

“This was a game, man. It felt great, it felt great step­ping up when my team needed me,” line­man Togba Porte said. “Amara (Ken­neth) step­ping up. It just felt great.”

The ex­u­ber­ant Knights were so ex­cited they cel­e­brated a bit early, giv­ing coach Ja­son Vosh­eski a Ga­torade bath with nine sec­onds left. But, af­ter run­ning those fi­nal ticks off, they stormed the field af­ter the clock hit zero. There were hugs, there were tears, there were a plethora of pho­tos with friends and fam­ily.

No­body wanted to leave. Every­one wanted to soak this in.

“It’s amaz­ing see­ing ev­ery­thing that we started in Jan­uary, and we built, come to fruition,” Vosh­eski said. “And the kids played tremen­dous.”

Acad­emy Park, down 15-8 early in the third quar­ter af­ter Spring­field work­horse Ja’Den McKen­zie’s 41yard touch­down run, was star­ing at a sea­son-end­ing loss. The re­silient Cougars had run off 15 straight points and had all the mo­men­tum in the world.

En­ter Dazhon Miller, whose 62-yard scor­ing run — two plays af­ter McKen­zie sent Spring­field into eu­pho­ria — tied the game. The de­fense then held the Cougars to a 34-yard Jack Coary field goal (Spring­field quar­ter­back Johnny Fanelli was in­jured mid­way through the drive), which set up Ka­reem Bur­ton to make amends.

Benched ear­lier in the game, Bur­ton took a jet sweep 46 yards to the house to give Acad­emy Park a 2218 lead. Key lead block­ing from John El­lis helped make it hap­pen. With ex­actly one minute to go in a wild third quar­ter, the Knights had their lead back.

“Man, it was amaz­ing. I wouldn’t be able to do it with­out my O-line and my re­ceivers block­ing for me,” Bur­ton ex­plained. “I just fol­lowed them and they took me to the end zone.” The Acad­emy Park de­fense took it from there.

Bran­don DiChi­ac­chio re­lieved Fanelli, picked up two first downs, but the Spring­field drive fiz­zled out. The Knights ate nearly four min­utes off the clock be­fore punt­ing back to the Cougars, who sent Fanelli back in, but he just went back­wards and was re-in­jured.

Smartly, though, Spring­field took a safety with two min­utes, 16 sec­onds left in­stead of punt­ing the ball from its own seven. The Cougars re­cov­ered the sub­se­quent on­side kick and moved the chains twice, but a mess of Knights met DiChi­ac­chio in the back­field and forced a fum­ble with un­der a minute to go.

“I knew we would (do that),” Porte said. “All we had to do was keep our com­po­sure — that’s it. We just had to keep our heads up and we just had to stay calm, that’s it.”

Spring­field (12-2) made the Knights waste ev­ery sec­ond off the clock, but the cel­e­bra­tion was even­tu­ally on for the vis­i­tors. The hosts were dis­traught.

“We had to back each other up, but un­for­tu­nately, we came up short tonight,” wide re­ceiver/de­fen­sive back Greg Ta­mac­cio said. “We had Bran­don com­ing in as the backup, we just had to back him up and we tried. We just came up a lit­tle short.”

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