Vikings rise up

Thumbs up: Des­pite a grim scene, Dav­id Pul­li­am emerged from the hos­pit­al a few hours later hav­ing es­caped ser­i­ous in­jury. Be­fore the in­jury, Pul­li­am scored on a 1-yard TD run and had the key block on the con­ver­sion. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

— After watch­ing a team­mate get wheeled off the field on a gurney, North­east ral­lied for an emo­tion­al Thanks­giv­ing vic­tory over Cent­ral.

In the mo­ments fol­low­ing North­east’s thrill­ing, come-from-be­hind 14-12 Thanks­giv­ing vic­tory over Cent­ral, it was easy to for­give Shimeek Carter and his team­mates for be­ing a tad over­ex­cited. 

“Man, I’m about to go streak down Cottman Av­en­ue right now, I’m so ex­cited for this win,” Carter said with a laugh.

As far as we know, Carter re­frained from such a lav­ish post-game cel­eb­ra­tion, even if every mem­ber of the Vik­ings had plenty of reas­ons to be elated.

For starters, just win­ning this an­nu­al Thanks­giv­ing Day event brings enough brag­ging rights in and of it­self. In the longest and most com­pet­it­ive of the Tur­key Day rival­ries (North­east now leads the all-time series, 55-51-11), emer­ging from this con­test vic­tori­ous rep­res­en­ted the cap­per for two teams that qual­i­fied for the Pub­lic League play­offs but failed to make a le­git­im­ate cham­pi­on­ship run. The Vik­ings have won eight Thanks­giv­ing games in a row over Cent­ral, en­sur­ing that the game’s top prize — a trophy of a wooden horse — would re­main at North­east.

Not only that, but the Vik­ings played the game’s second half with heavy hearts, hav­ing watched seni­or team­mate Dav­id Pul­li­am get car­ted off the field on a stretch­er after a de­fens­ive col­li­sion with team­mate Har­old Al­ex­an­der just un­der four minutes be­fore half­time. Al­ex­an­der was fit­ted for a neck brace and watched the second half from the North­east side­line, but Pul­li­am was taken to Al­bert Ein­stein Med­ic­al Cen­ter after be­ing im­mob­il­ized, placed on a gurney and loaded in­to an am­bu­lance — all in the middle of the field of play.

“They didn’t know what happened, so they didn’t want to move him,” said seni­or line­back­er Shahir Gates. “It hurt us a lot. We wanted to come out and play our hearts out and win this game for him.”

Hours later, the Pul­li­am fam­ily (young­er broth­er An­thony is a ju­ni­or mem­ber of the Vik­ings) had lots to be thank­ful for, as Dav­id Pul­li­am left the hos­pit­al no worse for wear. But as the clock inched to­ward noon on a beau­ti­ful morn­ing at North­east’s Charles Mar­tin Sta­di­um, the game went on.

Up 8-6 at half­time (Dav­id Pul­li­am had scored on a one-yard TD run and offered a beau­ti­ful block on the con­ver­sion run less than a minute be­fore he was in­jured), Cent­ral struck im­me­di­ately on the first play from scrim­mage after half­time. The Lan­cers got a 41-yard touch­down run out of the Wild­cat form­a­tion from re­ceiv­er Wal­ter Pegues, giv­ing Cent­ral a 14-12 ad­vant­age. 

The score stayed that way un­til the wan­ing mo­ments of the fourth quarter, when the Lan­cers turned over the ball on downs and North­east took over on the Cent­ral 48. Fa­cing a 3rd and 17 from the Cent­ral 18-yard line, North­east seni­or quar­ter­back Daquan Bo­han­non (also a safety and the team’s punter) faked a toss to his left and rolled to the right. Just be­fore a wall of Cent­ral de­fend­ers met him, Bo­han­non flicked a beau­ti­ful pass that found the hands of seni­or wideout Devon Dillard in the back of the end zone. Of Bo­han­non’s 17 touch­down passes this sea­son, nine went to Dillard, also a Vik­ings corner­back.

“I told our coaches, give me that route and I prom­ise I’ll catch it,” Dillard said. “As soon as he threw the ball, I knew we were go­ing to win the game.”

It was an es­pe­cially sweet mo­ment for Bo­han­non and Dillard, who were left off the Coaches’ All-Pub­lic Team des­pite boast­ing bet­ter num­bers than play­ers who made it. Over the course of the sea­son, Bo­han­non threw for 1,549 yards, while Dillard had 707 re­ceiv­ing yards and 11 total scores. One of the Vik­ings’ as­sist­ant coaches, Dave Dav­is, ex­pressed out­rage over the snubs earli­er in the week and was down­right giddy that the Bo­han­non-Dillard con­nec­tion ended up win­ning the Vik­ings the game.

“As a team, we used it as fuel,” Dillard ad­mit­ted. “The team knew what happened, and it made us play even harder.”

Bo­han­non (3-for-9, 46 yards, 1 TD) and Dillard (3 for 46) cer­tainly had help. Carter rushed 11 times for 49 yards, while Ma­lik Adams (all 5-foot-2 of him) helped move the chains on nine rushes for 40 well-de­served yards. The of­fens­ive line (which Dillard praised pro­fusely fol­low­ing the game) of cen­ter Dan Mush­at, guards Bern­ard Hou­s­ton and Brendan Mix­son and tackles Sadek Robin­son and Jerome Brown stood firm, while An­thony Pul­li­am (four tackles), Gates and Wil­li­am Okrafo-Smart all made key plays on de­fense in frus­trat­ing a stag­nant Cent­ral of­fense.

“I just re­mem­ber com­ing in on that last drive know­ing we were go­ing to punch it in,” said Carter. “We were go­ing to fight for every yard. This is my fam­ily right here.”

“Just to be able to say we beat those guys one last time,” Bo­han­non said. “It’s very spe­cial.”

North­east treated first-year head coach Jim Adams to a post-game Gat­o­rade shower. It was an un­even year for the Vik­ings, who fin­ished 7-5 over­all and lost to even­tu­al cham­pi­on Frank­ford in the Pub­lic League semi­finals. Still, Adams, a former North­east as­sist­ant who spoke of the im­port­ance of the Thanks­giv­ing game in the week lead­ing up to it, was thank­ful that his team nev­er quit.

“This game was just like our sea­son, up and down,” Adams told his team af­ter­ward while tri­umphantly wav­ing the horse trophy above their heads. “But you didn’t give up, and now this is stay­ing here. Thank you … thank you!”

For many of this game’s top con­trib­ut­ors — namely Bo­han­non, Carter, Dav­id Pul­li­am, Dillard, Adams, Gates, Hou­s­ton, Al­ex­an­der and Robin­son — this one served as their fi­nal Thanks­giv­ing con­test. Be­cause most, if not all, of these seni­ors won’t play foot­ball at the next level, win­ning the last one was par­tic­u­larly spe­cial. In the week lead­ing up to it, Adams fondly re­called his own Thanks­giv­ing games as a high school play­er years ago; he also said he em­phas­ized to his play­ers dur­ing the team’s first prac­tice on Aug. 13 to soak it all up, be­cause be­fore they knew it, Thanks­giv­ing versus Cent­ral would be here.

Now, the game has come and gone. For a lot of these play­ers, their foot­ball ca­reers are over, mak­ing this win … what, ex­actly?

“It’s kind of bit­ter­sweet,” Dillard said. “We’re glad we won the game, ob­vi­ously, but at the same time, it’s the last game with your team­mates. We don’t want foot­ball to be over.”

But this is the cyc­lic­al nature of high school sports. Play­ers come and go, and when the end fi­nally ar­rives, they’re forced to sub­sist on memor­ies. However, this North­east team that nev­er lost a Thanks­giv­ing game to Cent­ral built enough of those memor­ies to last the long haul.

“Be­ing here for four years, you hear about this game and when you look back at scores from past years … it makes you want to come out and put your own foot­print on his­tory,” Carter said.

Dillard agreed.

“The guys on this team, they’re some of the best team­mates I’ve ever had,” he said. “This game meant so much to us. Be­ing down late in the fourth quarter, we showed how hard we were will­ing to fight. We may ar­gue and we may fight, but at the end of the day, we stick to­geth­er. I’m just glad we were able to pull it out.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus