By: John Knebels
MECHANICSBURG, PA – After the final seconds, postgame handshakes, and meetings with coaches had ended and it was time to head back to the locker room, Neumann-Goretti players remained inconsolable.
Needing only one yard to reach the end zone in the final minute of the PIAA Class 3A state championship December 10 at Cumberland Valley High School, the Saints were unable to execute, falling to tough-but-beatable District 7 champ Belle Vernon, 9-8.
Facing lots of questions from a pool of reporters, N-G coach Albie Crosby praised his players for engineering a terrific season. He rightfully lauded the Saints’ defense, which was outstanding from start to finish. He also acknowledged that the Saints made way too many mistakes on offense, turning the ball over on five different occasions, including a fumble on a third-and-goal from the one-yard line with one minute remaining in regulation, in addition to committing ill-advised penalties.
Given a couple of days to assuage their emotions, however, several Saints enthusiastically accepted an opportunity to reflect on their experience. Instead of focusing only on the pain of losing in such excruciating fashion, the Saints acknowledged the plentiful accomplishment of having done something that no Neumann-Goretti football team had ever done – compete in a state final.
Junior two-way lineman Samier Bromfield offered particularly thought-provoking commentary. For many if not most of the players on Neumann-Goretti, he said, football is much more than just tackling and scoring points.
“Personally for me and for others, the loss hit because we love this sport and for most of us, it’s our way out of Philadelphia,” said Bromfield. “Growing up in Philly, it’s dangerous. We’ve seen killings, loved ones taken from us at a young age, a lot of drugs, not knowing what you’ll eat one night so you’ll steal to feed yourself . . . a lot of negativity.
“If you are not a strong enough person, you’ll adapt to your environment. Football is an escape from that for a lot of people. Some people have to grow up at a young age so they can help their family. Everybody’s story is different, but that’s just some examples.”
Neumann-Goretti came so close to winning a state title despite losing one of their best players to a controversial and hotly debated one-game suspension. Clearly, the Saints would have enjoyed having their full array of starters, but that was made moot because the PIAA maintained its stance despite copious video evidence that had transpired during and after their semifinal win.
Feeling cheated and disappointed by the PIAA decision makers, the Saints competed for four quarters with understandable anger and confusion. Losing by one point made it even tougher to accept the life lesson.
“The loss affected a lot of us emotionally,” said Bromfield. “It was some people’s last high school game, and we were one yard away from being state champions. What I took from it was, we need to work harder, and we have to be more disciplined in the future.
“We came a long way from the beginning of the season in late August, where we had a lot of negativity surrounding us because of the talent we had last year leaving. But we remained strong and gave it our all and the leadership played a big part from our seniors.
“Of course, everyone wishes the outcome was different and we felt robbed, but we still lost and we will improve from that loss going into the next season. We went on an amazing run and made history. I wouldn’t want to do that with any other group of guys, and I appreciate all of them.”
Senior center Lou Governatore effusively lauded his teammates.
“We had our ups and downs in the beginning, but during hard work at practice and chemistries building up, we started to flourish,” said Governatore. “Our state playoff run was really something special. We were the first Neumann-Goretti team to ever appear in the state final. Even though we couldn’t achieve a victory at the end, my senior season was incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of coaches and players to do this alongside of. I wish all my fellow seniors the best for the future and I’m looking forward to seeing the NG Team next year and keeping in touch with them.”
Senior linebacker Sam Hobbs, who seemed to be in the Belle Vernon backfield all game long, scored the Saints’ only points via a touchdown on a recovered fumble in the end zone following a botched punt snap and a subsequent two-point conversion run:
“First, I want to thank my coaches and teammates for a great run,” said Hobbs. “Even though we didn’t come up with the triumph, we still made history. We’re the first team ever in Neumann-Goretti history to make it that far in states.
“I’m proud of who we are and how much we accomplished. As a team, I felt as if we played phenomenal. All we needed was an extra push to get across that one-yard line. This won’t be the last team you hear about from Neumann-Goretti and how outstanding we are as a team and as a whole.”
Senior two-way lineman Jose Rivera agreed.
“This season was the best season of football I’ve ever played in my life,” said Rivera. “It was a season of ups and downs, but there’s nothing that compares to the strengthening of our brotherhood this year.
“It takes a special group of guys to do what we did, especially when everyone counts you out. I praise every single one of my coaches for doing what they have done for us, especially Coach Albie for continuing to show up for us through his own tough time (the recent loss of his mother). I wouldn’t trade what I’ve had with this team for anything in the world. I just wish I could do it again.”
(Contact John Knebels at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.)