In the most recent installment of what many believe is the longest continuous public school football rivalry in the country, got a pair of touchdowns by quarterback/receiver Desmond Ellis and a gutsy performance by halfback Max Golden to top Tajee Bryant and the favored Raiders 21-14.
For exactly half of Saturday afternoon's 115th annual gridiron battle between the Radnor Raiders and the Lower Merion Aces, it looked like the outcome would turn out a lot like the rivalry's 114th, 112th, 111th, 110th, and 109th meetings. Home at Prevost Field, Radnor took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter on a four-yard touchdown rush by Tajee Bryant, stifled the Aces 1-2 backfield combo of Earnest Pendleton and Max Golden, and ended the initial half, by all indications, poised to win their 49th game in the series.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, they play two halves in these things.
The Aces, dull and listless for the first 24 minutes, roared back in the back end. They opened the third quarter by recovering an onside kick, Earnest Pendleton scored on an eight yard rush two plays later (the Aces, in a lucky break on the previous play, had a Desmond Ellis pass sail through the arms of a Raider defender and right to Max Golden, who scampered inside the ten). On their next offensive series, the Aces continued the momentum: Ellis, the senior quarterback, lined up at wide receiver, beat a Radnor corner to a jump ball along the right sideline, and scampered 70-yards for the touchdown and an Aces lead.
"It's a game changer," the versatile (and out of breath) Ellis said on the sideline after the score.
Problems continued for the Raiders on the subsequent drive, as a muffed hand off by quarterback
Mike Koernick put the ball on the ground, and Lower Merion hopped on it at their own 30. Three minutes, and a couple nifty runs by Ellis, later, the senior quarterback rushed in from one yard out to give the Aces a 21-7 lead.
"They didn't change their scheme, they were running the same counter-trey stuff, they just executed," said Radnor coach Tom Ryan after the game, trying to make sense of the 21-point outburst his previously impenetrable defense allowed.
Despite the sudden deficit, the Raiders, down by not out, kept swinging. Koernick found receiver Garrison Jacques up the seam on the following possession, and the senior galloped 60-yards for the score.
It was as close as the Raiders would get, though. Despite threatening to tie the game twice in its waining minutes, the Raiders were twice turned away by the suddenly stout Aces defense: Radnor turned it over on downs from the Lower Merion 12 with 2:14 left in the game, then, after their defense gave them another shot, Koernick threw an interception to Pendleton with 4.9 seconds left at the Aces goal line.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Lower Merion fans stormed onto the field and joined their players in a joyous mosh-pit. Gathered in a huddle by the west endzone, Radnor players fought back tears as their fans quietly exited the field and their head coach addressed them for, in the seniors' cases, the final time.
Until next November.
ACE OF THE GAME
Desmond Ellis—The quarterback was benched early in the season for his uneven performance and moved to wide receiver. On Saturday, that demotion paid dividends. Ellis, despite now predominantly playing quarterback, caught a 70-yard touchdown pass to go along with his a touchdown rush to lead the Aces in the final game of his career.
"He played like a man possessed," said head coach Jon Rothberg.
OTHER KEY PERFORMANCES
Max Golden—The senior missed a handful of games with a mid-season Lyme Disease diagnosis, but he made up for lost time on Saturday. A consistent presence in the ground game, Golden was outstanding defensively, intercepting a pass for the Aces and deflecting a handful of others.
And it was his birthday.
"I'm just speechless right now," said the senior after the win. "Speechless."
Ernest Pendleton—The explosive junior was the bookend for the Aces: he got them on the board for the first time with his third quarter touchdown rush, and ended the game with his interception of Koernick.
"I said, 'Guys, this game is ours. We want it more than they do. We're stronger than they are.'"—An emotional Jon Rothberg, whose Aces went winless a year ago, on what he told his team at the half
THEY SAID IT
"It started last Nov. 14. We all looked one another in the eye after they won our trophy on our field, and we vowed we were going to get better."—Rothberg, reflecting on the factors that led to Saturday's win