Fourth down and about a yard to go.
One minute and three seconds left in the PIAA District 12 Class AAA final between the Imhotep Charter Panthers from East Germantown and Archbishop Wood Vikings from Bucks County.
A touchdown and two-point conversion separates the pair of powerhouse football teams.
Make a stop after sunset on Saturday at Northeast High’s Charles E. Martin Memorial Stadium, and the Panthers would have a chance to tie a game in which they trailed the six-time, and defending, champs 21-0 and 42-20.
Don’t make a stop and the Panthers’ playoff dreams were over.
The ball was snapped and Alex Arcangeli, a 225-pound senior running back, powered forward for a two-yard gain that left Vikings players, coaches and fans celebrating victory in a game that lived up to the citywide-football buzz it sparked.
The final score: 42-34.
The final statement from Panthers Head Coach Albie Crosby: “We took a lot of their best shots and came back to deliver our best shots. I’m proud of every single one of [my players and coaches].”
The AAA title game was highly anticipated in city football circles since Imhotep, which reached the state championship in the smaller AA class last season, moved up to face a team that manhandled the Public League champs from MLK High in 2013.
It lived up to expectations and was seen as the start of a new football rivalry in the area.
After the Panthers opening drive was halted on a failed fourth-down conversion at their 41-yard line, Arcangeli ran for a touchdown on the Vikings first play from scrimmage just two and a half minutes after kickoff.
An Imhotep fumble paved the way for a one-yard Jarrett McClenton touchdown run with 4:21 left in the first quarter.
Ill-timed penalties helped keep Imhotep at bay, negating big plays and defensive stops and, with 8:58 left before halftime, McClenton ran 15 yards for the second of his four touchdowns on the day and a 21-0 lead.
Crosby then mixed it up with both quarterback Andre Dreuitt-Parks and star wide receiver DJ Moore taking snaps on a drive.
After a nifty pass from Dreuitt-Parks to junior tight end Naseir Upshur left the Panthers at the one, Mike Waters got Imhotep on the board with about three minutes left before halftime.
That 21-8 score would last about two game minutes until a 19-yard pass from Vikings quarterback Anthony Russo to tight end Jake Cooper drove the halftime lead to 20.
A promising last-minute drive ended when an Imhotep receiver was stripped of the ball at Wood’s 25-yard line.
Walking toward the locker room at halftime, Crosby told NewsWorks that penalties and mental lapses hurt his team in the first half, and he expected better things in the second.
He was right.
Facing a sizable deficit and already missing star running back Tyliek Raynor, who reaggravated an injury from last week’s game at a Friday walk-through session, Imhotep was not done battling.
The defense stepped up and stuffed the Vikings on their opening drive. A short punt gave the Panthers possession at Wood’s 35-yard line. That ultimately led to a Waters 12-yard touchdown grab which cut the lead to 28-14 with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter.
McClenton’s third touchdown came on a six-yard run shortly thereafter.
Then came a spectacular, highlight-reel touchdown catch for Imhotep’s Naseir Upshur.
Seconds later, an 80-yard McClenton touchdown sprint gave Wood a 42-20 lead going into a fourth quarter that would bring about an exciting comeback attempt that fell one yard and eight points short.
The connection between seniors Dreuitt-Parks and DJ Moore would be the star of the fourth quarter.
With 10:57 minutes remaining, the quarterback hit Moore with a pass near the sideline, and the receiver sprinted about 90 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 14.
Tep’s defense (along with an untimely drop and a couple of calls) would then hold the Vikings at bay.
With 4:37 left, a 64-yard Vikings touchdown was called back on a penalty. Imhotep took advantage with a 71-yard Moore touchdown that cut the score to 42-34 with 2:44 left.
A procedural call on a tricky onsides kick cost Imhotep a chance to pick right back up on offense and the Vikings then controlled the ball, leading to Arcangeli’s AAA championship-clinching fourth-down conversion.
Cheers could be heard from Wood’s end of the stadium during the trophy presentation as Coach Crosby addressed his team, many of whom will be returning for the 2015 season.
He spoke of his pride in how they battled back from a steep deficit.
“No excuses will be made for this football game,” he said. “We just lost to a better team today.”
For his part, PIAA District 12 Chairman Robert Coleman came over with a pep talk of sorts.
“You are the best team in the Public League,” said Coleman, who watched Ben Franklin High lose 47-22 to St. Joe’s Prep in the day’s AAAA championship. “You’re building the foundation for a mansion that’s going to touch the sky.”
Crosby then made sure that his players and coaches, some of whom had tears in their eyes, knew they couldn’t wallow in defeat.
“On Monday, we get ready for Thursday,” said Crosby of the Panthers last game of the season on Thanksgiving against the cross-neighborhood rival MLK High Cougars.
Kickoff is 10:30 a.m. at the Germantown Super Site.