By: James Williamson
Photos: Geanine Jamison
SPRINGFIELD, PA – In a game heavily dictated by quarterback play, Bishop McDevitt bested Conwell-Egan 14-0 to earn a PIAA 2A playoff berth for the second consecutive season. This is the first time in school history Bishop McDevitt has won back-to-back District 12 championships.
“My God, it’s my senior year, it’s been up and down all year with corona, back and forth, and to finally put the work in, get this win, and get the district championship. I can’t believe it,” said McDevitt wide receiver, Joachim McElroy. “I wasn’t sure if we were going to be going to school and now, we’re in the state playoffs.”
COVID-19 has defined the 2020 PCL football season. Due to scheduling limitations, PIAA playoff spots are already up for grabs despite many teams having played only about three games. Such was the case Saturday afternoon, when the Lancers of McDevitt faced off against the Eagles of Conwell-Egan at Cardinal O’Hara High School with a district title on the line.
Each team has felt different effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. For Conwell-Egan, the threat of the virus has caused their roster to shrink as well as their positional depth.
“It’s football in 2020,” said Conwell-Egan head coach, Jack Techtmann, after the Eagles’ second loss of the season. “2020 is a weird year.”
Going into Saturday afternoon’s game, each team was relying on their back up quarterback. Conwell-Egan had lost their starting QB several weeks prior, so Dante Morris was taking over the starting job. McDevitt on the other hand was making a change to a more promising passer. After impressing in their 42-6 victory over Pottstown the previous week, senior Nick Santo received the start against the Eagles.
“[The coaches] gave me a chance in the second half in our game against Pottstown and I did well, so they’re rolling with me,” said Santo.
Unfortunately, only one of these two QBs would go on to finish the game. Early on in the first quarter, Morris suffered what appeared to be a shoulder injury, forcing the Eagles to turn to their emergency third QB, former All-Catholic tailback, Khian’Dre Harris. This reshuffling of the offense created some clear issues for Egan as unforced errors, specifically turnovers and false start penalties, were a defining factor in the loss.
“We make a lot of checks with our quarterback, we work all week on that, and now Khian’Dre comes in and he’s not as astute on the checks as our normal quarterback, and we’re going to have to work with him all this week to get them ready for next week, but it all had to do with that,” said Techtmann. “When you’re a two-way school, you don’t have that many players as it is and when you start losing, it changes the whole perspective. And now we don’t have our All-Catholic tailback because has to play quarterback.”
On the other side of the ball, Santo was impressive. He wasn’t without his mistakes, but he was poised and managed to find his receivers when he needed to. McDevitt’s head coach, Mike Watkins, was happy about his QB’s first career start.
“He did a real nice job. That was his first start and he did a nice job making sure we’re moving the sticks, protecting the football,” said Watkins. “I know he had a couple throws he’d like to have back, but he wanted to get the ball in his playmakers’ hands. That’s what we tried to do and we came out on top.”
Despite the difference in quarterback play, the matchup was a tight contest throughout the entire afternoon. Both defenses were there to cover up any mistakes made by their respective offenses, but Conwell-Egan’s offense gave McDevitt to many opportunities in their own territory.
With 1:16 left in the first half, Santo dropped back from the Egan 26-yard line and found a wide-open McElroy over the middle, who slipped a defender and crossed the goal line to give McDevitt the 7-0 lead. The play was something the Lancers introduced in practice earlier that week hoping to capitalize on some of the gaps in Egan’s coverage.
“We put that play in this week just because we saw how we could attack their defense and how they played it,” said McElroy, “The quarterback made a great throw and I was there in the hole, I made the catch and it was just adrenaline.”
The game’s second half followed a similar game script as the first, with both offensives struggling to sustain drives and both defenses trying to compensate.
Egan had opportunities, but three second half turnovers were too much to come back from. With just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Lancers were able to score on a four-yard run by Nasir Baskerville to take the 14-0 lead. On the ensuing Eagles possession, with just about two minutes on the clock, McDevitt free safety, Kelvin Zoomie, picked off Harris to ice the game, sealing the Lancers victory.
“This is the first time we’ve ever, in school history, been back-to-back district champions, so that was a great accomplishment for the school,” said Watkins. “It’s been such a crazy year and, like I told these guys, ‘wins in this league are very tough to come by so enjoy everyone that you get especially against a well-coached football team, like Egan.’”
After their shutout performance, Watkins sang praise for his defense. He was clear about how much his team relies on its defense and how important they were in the victory over Conwell-Egan.
“We lean on this defense. We put a lot of pressure on them. There are times we give them a short field and they come up for us,” said Watkins. “They did a good job getting the ball back for the offense and putting us in the short field so we could run the ball and chew up some clock.”
Lancers middle linebacker, Johnny Pergine stood out as one of the vocal leaders on the defense. He kept his teammates focused throughout the game and came up with an important second-half interception almost immediately after McDevitt threw one of their own.
According to Pergine, discipline was the key to the defense’s performance.
“Our defense just worked on its keys,” said Pergine. “We stayed home, we made the right decisions, and we filled gaps. It’s all hard work.”
Bishop McDevitt had the week to celebrate and now focuses its attention on traveling to play Dunmore in the PIAA 2A on Friday night at 7 p.m.
As for Egan, the Eagles will play a non-conference game against Central Bucks East on Friday night before returning to league play against Archbishop Carroll on Nov. 14.
“We don’t have any choice if we want to keep playing. We’ve all wanted to play. They all wanted to play, so we’re playing now, and some kids are playing to get on film and get a look in college and that’s what we have to do,” said Techtmann. “We’re going to continue to do it. We have a tough schedule remaining. We have to get mentally healthy real quick. It’s next man up, next week up, and let’s go.”