A year ago, the Neshaminy Redskins took the field in a similar position, ranked atop of District 1 6A and facing a hungry 16-seed nicknamed the Rams. In both instances, they fell behind 7-0 early and needed to respond. It took a season-saving second half rally in last year’s district opener against the Pennridge Rams, but they were ready this time around.
In this game, facing the Spring-Ford Rams, Neshaminy wanted to keep themselves out of any troubling scenario that mirrored last year’s district opener. The first phase of that was controlling the clock. Joel Stills, Oleh Manzyk, and Mike Crescenzo put together a dynamic rushing attack to keep drives moving down the field.
Headlined by Stills’s three touchdown performance, the running backs found holes earlier and often behind a stout offensive line. Once on the loose, Stills was just as strong as he was elusive, evading Spring-Ford defenders all night long.
The three running backs all scored in the first half, putting the Redskins up 21-7 with 2:35 remaining in the second quarter. The 21-0 run was highlighted by key defensive stops and long, sustained drives by Neshaminy’s offense.
However, Spring-Ford was not about to go quietly into the night. A quick score from Justin Defrancesco (three TDs in the loss) with under a minute left in the half put the Rams right back into things. A blocked extra point resulted in a 21-13 lead for the Redskins going into break.
As the temperature continued to plunge, the intensity started to heat up with Stills running in a 33-yard touchdown early in the third quarter. Not to be outdone, Defrancesco capped off a big drive for the Rams with an 8-yard run and quarterback TJ Pergine ran in for a 2-point conversion, leaving the score 28-21 with 4:32 left in the third quarter.
For a moment in time, the considerably smaller Spring-Ford section had gotten louder, bursting with momentum and excitement as they stood just seven points behind the top seeded team in District 1. Then Ryan O’Connor happened.
Fresh off the touchdown and 2-point conversion, the Rams kicked it off to O’Connor standing back near his own 10-yard line. For a moment, he took a step back and caught it, but he was off to the races from there. Finally dragged down on Spring-Ford’s 33-yard line, O’Connor had reinvigorated the stands and paved the way for Brody McAndrew to find Cory Joyce on a screen pass for 25 yards and a score on the next play.
The Redskins never looked back.
Joyce would be a part of another crucial play later on, intercepting Pergine in the red zone with around six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. That defensive stand would prove enough as Stills led another touchdown drive, finishing it off with a 28-yard run into the end zone. That score made it 42-21, which was the final.
For Spring-Ford, this completes an up and down season for the Rams. At 6-5, they finish with the most losses in a season during head coach Chad Brubaker’s tenure. Costly penalties, the defense’s inability to get off the field, and untimely turnovers marred the Rams’ chances at an upset bid.
Defrancesco had another big game and ended an impressive season with well above 1,000 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. He and Stills put on a show that would make any former running back impressed.
As for Stills and the Redskins, they will host Pennsbury next Friday night in the second round of the District 1 6A playoffs. They lost in the second round last year to Garnet Valley, 42-14.