The high school’s trophy case was getting too crowded anyway. And the cross-town police escort can be awfully loud, especially at night. And with inflation the way it is, who knows what the cost would be to buy a new championship banner for the gymnasium or to update the Memorial Field sign.
When you take those factors into consideration maybe it’s OK that the Abington High football team picked a bad time to play arguably its worst game of the season. The Green Wave turned the ball over five times and suffered a few key defensive lapses leading to a 23-13 loss to Rockland in the Division 6 Super Bowl Friday night.
“We hurt ourselves a lot,” said Abington Coach Jim Kelliher, who returned to the sidelines after missing the previous two games.
The Green Wave, who struggled to move the ball all night, had just six offensive snaps in the first quarter, didn’t earn a first down until there was less than 4 minutes left in the second quarter, and produced just 73 yards of total offense in the first half.
“We didn’t play as well as we’d all like to play but they gave it every effort they could have,” Kelliher said. “They battled and you couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
It was the opposite story for Rockland who scored all the points they needed in the first half on the back of 200 total yards of offense, and a 99-yard kickoff return by senior PJ Celestino
Celestino, Rockland’s fleet-footed quarterback, was the unquestioned star for the Bulldogs. On the game’s fourth play, Celestino ran 40 yards up the middle to the Green Wave 4-yard line. Three plays later, he rolled left and found Lucas Leander in the front corner of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown pass. The point after attempt was no good, but Rockland led 6-0 less than four minutes into the game.
A nice, 20-yard kickoff return by Mason Kilmain put Abington in business at midfield. Senior captain quarterback Ed Reilly then connected with fellow senior Drew Donovan for a 9-yard completion, but the next snap was fumbled with Rockland jumping on the ball.
The Abington defense stiffened. Nice defensive efforts by seniors Shea McClellan and Jack Robbins on back-to-back plays resulting in negative yardage forced the Bulldogs to punt. Donovan collected the ball around the 10 yard line near the left hashmark, circled back to the right side and dodged his way through traffic out to the 50 yard line — nearly exactly where Abington had been on its previous possession. The Green Wave offense remained stuck in neutral however. Another bobbled snap was recovered this time by Reilly who took the 2-yard sack. Donovan attempted a fake punt but was tackled a couple yards short of the first down marker.
Taking over at its own 41, Rockland executed a 13 play drive that featured 12 running plays. It culminated with Celestrino diving up and over the pile from 1 yard out for his second touchdown of the night. The extra point this time was good, and Rockland was up 13-0 with 9:13 left in the half.
Rockland chose for a squib kick but kicked it right to Green Wave running back Kurtis Lucas-Summers standing at the 31, who then ran it back 30 yards to the Bulldog 20. Abington’s offensive woes continued however, as the Green Wave could only muster 9 yards in four plays, with Lucas-Summers unable to convert on 4th-and-1 from the 13 yard line.
A strong defensive stand forced the Bulldog to punt, and Abington took over again on the Rockland 45 with 4:26 remaining in the half. The Green Wave offense looked like it would again flounder a short field when Lucas-Summers ran for no gain, and Reilly missed Desean Leggett over the middle. But on third down Reilly found his co-captain Tommy Fannara down the left sideline for a 27-yard completion, and a first down on the Rockland. Reilly found Donovan for an 8-yard completion, and a Lucas-Summers run brought the ball to the 7. Isaiah Ricketson then bounced off a couple tacklers and scored from seven yards out. Fanara’s point after attempt was good, closing the deficit to 13-7.
Any momentum the Green Wave held vaporized quickly. Celestrino watched the kickoff trickle down to the goal line, picked it up with one foot in his own end zone, and then slashed his way down the field for a 99-yard touchdown run. A good point-after try gave Rockland a two-score lead again, 20-7, with just over 2 minutes left in the half.
Abington appeared to come out strong, with Reilly finding Donovan for a 23-yard gain, but on the next throw Rockland picked off Reilly for the first time in the night, and took back over at its own 26. On the first play from scrimmage, Leander used a sharp cut back to navigate his way through the Abington defense for a 23-yard run. Celestrino, who completed just four passes all night, found Logan Rogers and Jacob Coulstring on back-to-back plays, and suddenly the Bulldogs were on the Abington 9 yard line. Rockland kicker Jerry Esposito booted a 27-yard field goal as time expired and the Green Wave went into the halftime locker room down 23-7.
The official scoresheet will show that Abington’s defense shut out the Rockland offense in the second half, and that the Green Wave offense gained 114 yards compared to 75 for the Bulldogs. But those wins, sadly, didn’t affect the outcome.
Abington moved the ball briskly down the field on its opening possession before stalling about the 21-yard line. Rockland defenders appeared to employ a hands-on coverage strategy against Abington receivers on 3rd and 4th down, but the officiating crew felt otherwise. The pass attempts were ruled incomplete and the Bulldogs took over on downs.
Two runs and a pass by Celestino netted Rockland -1 yard. Donovan collected the ensuing short punt on the Rockland 45, faked an end-around hand-off, and scooted down field to the 30. On 3rd down and 2, Lucas-Summers bulldozed his way up the middle for an 11-yard gain, giving Abington a fresh set of downs on the 8. Lucas-Summers picked up another five yards on the next play, and Kilmain found the endzone from 3 yards out to make the game 23-13. The two-point conversion try was not successful.
On the subsequent drive, Abington forced Rockland into a 4th down and 5. Celestino, however, found Rogers down the right sideline for a 40-yard pass. On the very next play, Lucas-Summers helped knock the ball loose from a Rockland runner and Abington recovered.
Abington advanced the ball from the 21 up to the 45, but on 2nd and 10, Ricketson fumbled, giving Rockland the ball back with under 8 minutes to go. The Green Wave defense held tough again, with Robbins blowing up back-to-back plays, giving Abington the ball back on its own 33-yard line.
On the first play from scrimmage, Abington gambled big. Reilly threw a backwards pass toward Donovan standing near the left sideline. Donovan dropped the throw, picked it up, and threw a pass downfield towards Leggett. The rushed pass was underthrown and intercepted, giving the ball right back to Rockland.
Abington’s defense continued to dig in, giving the offense another chance. A shanked Bulldog punt meant the Green Wave had another short field with 4:11 to go. However, the turnover bug bit Abington for the fourth time when Leggett fumbled while being tackled with 3:39 left the game.
Rockland ran three running plays to bleed the clock, and then punted, giving the Green Wave another shot with 1:56 remaining. On the first play from scrimmage an attempted hook-and-ladder play nearly resulted in a turnover but the officials ruled it an incomplete pass. Reilly then missed on a pass to Fannarra, found Leggett for a 7-yard gain, and threw another incomplete pass. On 4th and 3, and the game on the line, a pass downfield to Fanara was off the mark and Rockland took over with just seconds remaining.
Celestino, who played a role in all three Rockland touchdowns, took a knee and the Bulldogs’ celebration began. Season over.
Kelliher told his team after the game they should be proud of how far they came.
“It didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to be, but that’s the way sometimes life is going to go,” he said. “Be happy for what your accomplishments are and we’re all excited for you.”