GA’s Trey Vance (29) attempts to break through a Father Judge defender. (Photo by Jonathan Vander Lugt)

by Jonathan Vander Lugt

After four quarters of hard-nosed, even-matched, back-and-forth football, Germantown Academy lined up at the ten-yard line of the southeastern end of GA’s Carey Stadium. Judge was up, 20-14, after its first overtime possession.

The Crusaders scored after two Tim Weldon carries but missed the extra point, giving Germantown Academy a sterling chance to win. The Pats had four snaps to get 10 yards, then needed to put the extra point through.

Colton Niedzielski stood under center, ready to take the snap. When he did, the running back cut to his left, and Niedzielski ran a bootleg out to his right, a favorite overtime play in Germantown Academy’s overtime arsenal.

In 2016, they ran it twice in two wins over West Catholic and Springside Chestnut Hill. This year, Niedzielski found Tanner Long in the flat about four yards from the line of scrimmage. Long met his first defender, stayed up, met another and kept going. After fighting for about six yards after and through contact, he found pay dirt to knot the game.

“He’s one of our best playmakers,” Niedzielski said. “I found him in the flat, gave it to him, and knew he’d get it done.”

“He wasn’t going to be denied,” GA head coach Matt Dence said. “That was unbelievable.”

Well, Germantown Academy can believe it. Michael Capone punched the extra point through, giving the Patriots a well-fought 21-20 win, their first in 2017 and an important rebound in the face of a 31-7 week-one defeat against Simon Gratz.

“We’re going to keep getting better each week, and that’s the goal,” Dence said, keeping the season in perspective. “Our motto is to ‘win the day.’ That means getting better every day, and I think we’ve done that. It’s important to play well, and we didn’t last week. Here, we did. When we look at the film, we’re going to be more satisfied with what we did right.”

Among those mistakes were failures on two early second-half drives. After going into the half up 14-7, Lacey Snowden found a gap on the first third-quarter play for a 59-sprint to the Judge 23-yard line, giving the Pats a great opportunity to extend a double-digit lead.

Three plays, eight yards and a failed fourth-down conversion attempt later, GA gave the ball back with nothing to show for Snowden’s run.

The next Patriot drive started at the Judge 42, and after a pair of Crusader penalties, Germantown Academy had a first-and-10 on the Judge 13. Again, they failed to score after Capone missed a 32-yard field goal try.

Weldon’s four-yard score capped the 80-yard Judge drive that followed, and the extra point brought the score to 14-all. That’s how it stayed until the overtime frame, though the Patriots missed two more great chances late in the fourth.

Shane Harkins had two interceptions for GA in the final frame, the second of which involved a run back to the Judge six-yard line with less than a minute to play. GA couldn’t score in its first two tries, and with time expiring, Capone missed another kick from 20 yards out.

“I don’t say much to Mike,” Dence said. “You just have to give him confidence. I know that he’s got a strong enough leg and attention to detail to get it right. The whole team picked him up once he got down, and that seemed to help him.”

Defensively, the Patriots were generally stout against a Judge team full of offensive weapons. On offense, Niedzielski showed improvement after a very erratic first week. He finished with 14-of-29 passing for 105 yards, with one rushing and one passing touchdown.

“Last week I was a little frantic, but this week I was a lot calmer,” Niedzielski said. “I started to get into a groove, and I felt really good.”

“When Colton sets his feet and is decisive, he’s great,” Dence said. “He’s a big strong kid, with a good arm. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he really did what he needed to do when the chips were on the line and I think he’s just going to get better and better.”

Next up for the Pats is a Saturday date against Neumann-Goretti. Niedzielski, Dence and company will look to continue their trend of improvements against the Saints, themselves a much-improved squad over previous years.

“We showed that we can keep our heads up and bounce back when things don’t go our way,” Niedzielski said. “It was really important to come out and show everyone that we could come out and get it done.”