DuBOIS, Pa. – Amid the postgame celebration, Bishop McDevitt senior quarterback Matt Johnson was running around the melee with a Santa hat in his hand. The red hats with the poofy white ball on the end are quite a common sight this time of year, as Christmas is not too far away.
Moments earlier, Johnson played “Santa Claus” and helped deliver the McDevitt Crusaders a Christmas gift that will be talked about on Market Street and in the blue and gold football community for years and years to come.
Johnson threw for 214 yards and a touchdown and also executed a beautiful 28-yard rugby-style faked punt run to lead Bishop McDevitt (13-2) on an improbable 21-point second half rally to defeat Erie Cathedral Prep (9-5) 24-21 in the PIAA AAA Western Final from E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois.
With the victory, McDevitt will play Allentown Central Catholic (15-0), a 49-27 victor over Philadelphia Catholic League representative Archbishop Wood. The Crusaders will be charged with containing an ACC team that has scored 158 points in the last three weeks.
“We’re going to Hershey, coach!” Johnson yelled, embracing Crusaders’ boss Jeff Weachter.
Had one only happened upon Mansell Stadium at the end, they probably wouldn’t have had any inkling the Crusaders were on the verge of being run off the field in the first half by a speedy and lightning-quick Cathedral Prep football team.
The District 10 champion Ramblers used three big offensive plays – a 25-yard Damion Terry run and two scoring passes from Terry to junior speed demon Anthony Jordan (4 rec., 121 yards) covering 50 and 37 yards, to build a 21-3 halftime lead.
“I think we’ve been catching people off-guard all season (with our speed),” said Prep head coach Mike Mischler.
The Crusaders, despite having troubles with the Ramblers’ speed, weren’t being statistically dominated like most 21-3 scores indicate. The Crusaders had only been outgained 185-159 in total offensive yardage. But it was the little things that dug McDevitt into so deep of a hole.
The gold domers finished the first half with three turnovers on downs in Cathedral Prep territory (including a 4th-and-goal from the 3 which ended with Jameel Poteat gaining only two yards), an interception, four penalties for 25 yards, a dropped touchdown pass in the end zone and two fumbles (none lost). If the first half was a Shakespearean play, it was nothing short of a comedy of errors for the Crusaders.
“We made it so hard on ourselves,” Weachter said. “We killed ourselves. They weren’t stopping us. We were stopping us.”
That became evidenced on the first two possessions of the game. McDevitt, who opted to receive the opening kick, had consecutive turnovers on downs. Cathedral Prep, meanwhile, scored consecutive touchdowns. All McDevitt had to show for its first half effort was a 30-yard field goal from sophomore Connor Maloney.
But everything that went wrong for the Crusaders in the first half suddenly flipped sidelines. Cathedral Prep, which was flagged only once in the first half for five yards, was flagged six times, including twice for intentional grounding – for 45 costly yards. The Ramblers turned the ball over twice and finished with only 3 net rushing yards in the second half and three first downs.
McDevitt’s Miles Williams got the rally started when he intercepted Terry (8-of-20, 177 yards, 2 TD, INT) and returned the pick 42 yards to the house down the Cathedral Prep side of the field to slice the deficit to just 21-10.
Then, after forcing a Rambler punt, the Crusaders gained possession at the Prep 47. Seven plays later, faced with a critical 4th-and-13 from the Prep 24, Johnson fired a bullet of a pass to Shaun Seif for a 24-yard scoring strike. Suddenly, Prep was on its heels, reeling a bit as McDevitt was now within four, to 21-17.
After forcing a turnover on downs with 8:21 left in regulation, Johnson and the Crusaders went to work from their own 33 yard line. Johnson, who began the drive 12-of-22, suddenly came to life. #11 connected with 6’4 senior Matt Boland on gains of 11 and 16 yards (the latter moved the ball to the Prep 31), with Seif on an 11-yard strike. The dagger came after the 16-yarder to Boland. Johnson hit Brian Lemelle on a 29-yard rainbow to the Cathedral Prep 2, and Poteat (29 rush, 110 yards) charged into the end zone with 6:03 left to complete the comeback.
Johnson then saved his best play for when McDevitt needed it most. Faced with a 4th-and-10 and punting scenario with just over 4 minutes left in the game, Johnson flawlessly executed a 28-yard run of a rugby-style faked punt. The big gainer helped the Crusaders drain two and a half minutes of game clock.
“I saw an overshift to the right,” Johnson said. “I was hoping they didn’t blitz to the left.”
After a 25-yard pass on its last drive of the 2010 season, Terry threw four consecutive incompletions. Two Johnson knees sealed the win and the celebration.
“Everybody said we couldn’t get it done against western Pennsylvania teams,” Johnson said. “(Well, guess what?) We’re 2-0 against western PA teams this year.”
Johnson finished the night with 16 completions in 29 attempts and ran 12 times for minus-2 yards. McDevitt finished with 323 yards of offense and 15 first downs. Defensively, Noah Spence added his 21st sack of the season and was a dominant force the entire second half of the game.
Prep was paced by Terry’s passing night and Jordan’s receiving. Terry added 25 yards rushing on 16 carries. Markel Keys ran for 35 yards on five totes. As a unit as a whole, Prep finished with 248 yards of offense and 11 first downs.
“(In the first half) they were on fire and found out they could play with these guys,” Mischler said of his team. “We just let things slip away (in the second half).”