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With time winding down in Friday night’s SOL contest against Plymouth Whitemarsh, Upper Moreland was hoping to stage one last desperation drive.
Kenny Williams had other ideas.
PW’s sophomore defensive back intercepted a pass and, for good measure, ran it to Upper Moreland’s seven-yard line. It was a play that put an exclamation point on the Colonials’ impressive 19-7 win over the Golden Bears, and it also summed up a second-half of frustration for the Golden Bears, who had three turnovers and watched a 7-6 third quarter lead slip away.
“I knew he was going to throw it deep, and I was looking to score,” Williams said. “We were very aggressive defensively.”
Williams is part of the young nucleus on a PW squad that – as a result of Friday’s win - brought to a halt a 16-game losing streak that extended back to November of 2007.
“I truly feel good for the kids,” coach John Staudenmayer said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.
“They’re the ones that have to go in to school week after week, day after day and hear all the naysayers. I feel bad that they have to face that. Plymouth Whitemarsh has had that history of being so successful back in the mid-90s, and even though we’re almost in the year 2010, people still see 1995.”
What they see in 1995 was a squad that not only won the league championship but also the District One title and advanced to the state semifinals. The Colonials also captured a league title as recently as 2005. Since then, the program has fallen on hard times, and the players admit they heard about it in school.
“It was tough,” Williams said. “I didn’t like it, but I tried to ignore it.”
There was no ignoring a 2008 season that saw PW stagger to a record of 0-11, but talk to Williams, and it’s clear he saw a bright future.
“I thought we were going to be good this year,” the PW sophomore said. “I always thought we were going to win last year, but I always have a positive mind.”
The Colonials opened their 2009 season with four straight non-league losses. They were outscored 163-20 in those four games, and while that kind of start might have broken the spirit of some teams, the players and coaches knew if they could survive that test, they would be ready for life in the SOL American Conference.
There were signs that the Colonials might be turning things around in their final non-league game when they extended a then-undefeated Quakertown squad before falling 27-14.
“When we went into Quakertown, they were 3-0 and had some quality wins,” coach Staudenmayer said. “We were just trying to take little steps along the way, and our theme for that week was to be competitive.
“We hadn’t really played a competitive football game the first three weeks. That was our major focus, and we certainly accomplished that against Quakertown.
“I kept trying to tell the kids – ‘Just wait until we get to our league schedule. You’re going to notice a difference. You’re going to see good things start to happen.’”
Those good things started to happen in Friday night’s game against Upper Moreland.
On PW’s opening drive of the night, senior Terrell Steele ran it in from 43 yards out for a touchdown, capping a four-play drive and propelling the Colonials to a 6-0 lead that held up until halftime.
The Golden Bears – with star running back Chris Smallwood on the field after sitting out the first half – scored a touchdown on their second possession of the third quarter to go on top 7-6.
This was an opportunity for the Golden Bears to fold.
It didn’t happen.
“That is definitely the thing that has separated us from what might have happened in the past if we had gotten behind in the third quarter 7-6,” coach Staudenmayer said. “To our kids’ credit, they didn’t panic.
“There wasn’t a whole lot I said to them. We just went back to business.”
On this night, the Colonials got the break they needed when – after an Upper Moreland defensive stop – the Golden Bears fumbled the punt. Garnell Sanders pounced on the ball at the Bears’ 24-yard line. Four plays later, Phil Bucci punched it in from eight yards out, and the Colonials had a lead they would not lose.
“We caught one break on the fumble recovery on the punt,” coach Staudenmayer said. “That changed the whole complexion of the game, but that’s the way football is – a bounce just changes the whole game. The ball hasn’t been bouncing our way in the past. Finally, you get that one little bounce – we capitalized on it, we took advantage of it, and we won the football game.”
It was a win that arrived at the perfect time.
“It’s just amazing, especially living with the coach who’s my dad – just the feeling of victory,” junior linebacker John Michael Staudenmayer said. “I talk to my dad all the time, and we stay up.
“This feeling is unbelievable. It’s a feeling of relief. We can go to school on Monday, say we won this game, and everybody’s going to be happy. Nobody’s going to be on our backs anymore.”
And just how did the players stay positive during the losing streak?
“We practice this all the time,” Staudenmayer said. “When the team morale gets down, pick it right back up. You have to get in each other’s faces if that’s what it takes - smacking somebody upside the head.
“Our players don’t single each other out. It’s a team thing, and we’re team oriented all the way.”
While Friday’s win over Upper Moreland may have stunned some outsiders, coach Staudenmayer said he could see it coming.
“A lot of the kids now are experienced players who have played both at the youth level and are now playing at the high school level,” the PW coach said. “They have a lot of good football sense and savvy.
“They realize as well as the coaching staff that this thing wouldn’t go on forever, that’s for sure. I think anybody who knows football – after seeing us – could see that win was coming. I think we have a good, solid foundation in place for the remainder of this year and certainly into next year as well.”
The Colonials don’t have long to celebrate. On Friday night, they will face a Norristown team (4-1) that is still stinging from its loss to Upper Dublin last week.
“What we want to avoid is a letdown this week,” coach Staudenmayer said. “I really don’t believe that will be the case.
“Honestly, I really do believe from here on out if we do lose a football game it’s going to be because the other team was better than us, not because they worked harder than us, not because of some fluke reason. I truly believe if we lose, it’s going to be to a team that’s better than us.”