Down to the bitter end

  • Slump buster: Despite the best efforts of Asa Manley and Hakim Coles (pictured), Central won on Turkey Day for the first time since ‘04.

  • Central’s Walter Pegues rushed for 75 yards, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

  • Slump buster: Despite the best efforts of Northeast’s Asa Manley and Hakim Coles, Central won on Turkey Day for the first time since ‘04. MICHELLE ALTON / FOR THE TIMES

Sco­re­less through four full quar­ters, it al­most seemed ap­pro­pri­ate that the new­est chapter of the an­cient North­east-Cent­ral Thanks­giv­ing rivalry would be de­cided, in part, by a coin toss. 

In 48 minutes of reg­u­la­tion on a bit­terly cold morn­ing, neither team could crack the scor­ing column. Not only that, but the Vik­ings and Lan­cers barely threatened to sniff the end zone in either half, which meant the old­est con­tinu­ous high school Thanks­giv­ing foot­ball game in the coun­try would be de­cided in over­time.

How fit­ting.

Over­time in high school foot­ball, much like its col­lege coun­ter­part, has a pre­de­ter­mined for­mula. In­stead of one team kick­ing off to the oth­er with a timed clock (as is the case in reg­u­la­tion), a coin toss de­cides pos­ses­sion, then the ball is auto­mat­ic­ally placed at the de­fense’s 10-yard line. Cent­ral won the toss and op­ted to get the ball second; the Lan­cers held North­east out of the end zone, for­cing the Vik­ings in­to a 20-yard field goal try that gave North­east a brief 3-0 lead. Cent­ral run­ning back Wal­ter Pegues, who was every­where in this one, car­ried the ball nine yards to the 1 on the Lan­cers’ first play, then sealed a 6-3 vic­tory on the next play with a short touch­down run. 

Just like that, the Lan­cers won their first Thanks­giv­ing con­test since 2004, giv­ing North­east first-year head coach Phil Gorm­ley an 0-1 mark after pre­vi­ously hav­ing served as a Vik­ings as­sist­ant. The Vik­ings still hold an all-time lead in the series, 56-52-10.

“As I said last week, the team that made the least amount of mis­takes would win, and un­for­tu­nately that wasn’t us,” said Gorm­ley, who donned khaki shorts on the side­lines des­pite sub-freez­ing tem­per­at­ures. “I cer­tainly thought it would be close … of course I didn’t ex­pect 0-0 through four quar­ters, but we just made too many mis­takes and they were able to throw the ball a little bet­ter than we were.”

Due to in­jur­ies and aca­dem­ic eli­gib­il­ity is­sues, Gorm­ley used his third start­ing quar­ter­back of the sea­son, sopho­more Hakim Coles. He threw just three times, com­plet­ing one pass for sev­en yards, while Cent­ral QB Jeff Co­plin went 6-for-13 for 51 yards. Both teams, as ex­pec­ted, ran the ball a ton: North­east ju­ni­or Asa Man­ley bruised his way to 72 yards on 25 car­ries, while Pegues went for 75 yards on 18 rushes, in­clud­ing the game’s only touch­down. Both play­ers were on the field for every play, as each is also heav­ily in­volved on de­fense and spe­cial teams (Man­ley even serves as the Vik­ings’ punter).

As it pro­gressed, the game had the feel­ing that who­ever got in­to the end zone first — Man­ley or Pegues — would be the team to win the game. That turned out to be a cor­rect as­sump­tion. Pegues’ score was the 39th of his ca­reer (19 rush­ing, sev­en re­ceiv­ing, four on kick re­turns and nine on punt bring backs), and he fin­ished his ca­reer with 2,225 yards from scrim­mage.

“I think most people don’t ap­pre­ci­ate how hard it is to run the ball that many times and take that kind of pun­ish­ment on such a cold day,” Gorm­ley said. “To run the ball 20 or 25 times in 25-de­gree weath­er and hit­ting the ground on every play like they did, that’s not easy. They both did a de­cent job of run­ning hard and pro­tect­ing the ball. Ba­sic­ally, they just had one more play than we did, and it cost us the game.”

As Gorm­ley ex­plained, los­ing the over­time coin toss com­pletely changes the ap­proach and plan of at­tack for a coach­ing staff. By way of de­fer­ring pos­ses­sion, Cent­ral’s de­fense forced Gorm­ley to take the short field goal at­tempt in­stead of go­ing for it on fourth down, be­cause if the at­tempt was no good, the Lan­cers would have had to “just line up in the middle and kick it.”

“It af­fects play-call­ing,” Gorm­ley said. “By get­ting the ball first, you know you have to come away with points. Their philo­sophy then be­comes, ‘Score a touch­down to win.’ They did a great job to score when they needed to, and they played a great game.”

And though Gorm­ley ad­mit­ted the over­time loss “ruined my day for sure,” he did his best to take the high road. Though North­east lost, the Vik­ings are an ex­tremely young team that won’t lose a heck of a lot to gradu­ation. All-Pub­lic de­fend­ers Gladi­mir Paul (DE) and Steven Rowe (LB) are ju­ni­ors, as is Man­ley, who ended the sea­son with 812 rush­ing yards and six touch­downs. 

“They’re already ex­cited to get back at it, and this will serve as mo­tiv­a­tion for next sea­son,” Gorm­ley said. “We made sure to keep our guys on the field to watch Cent­ral cel­eb­rate to burn that spot in their memor­ies. I told them that I think it’s im­port­ant to step away from foot­ball for the next month to men­tally re­charge. But our weight room opens on Jan. 2, and I ex­pect it to be full.”

It was a sea­son of more highs than lows for Gorm­ley in his re­turn to North­east. Des­pite fin­ish­ing with an over­all re­cord of 5-7, the Vik­ings went 3-2 in the Pub­lic League, won a first-round play­off game over Lin­coln and came with­in a whisker of up­set­ting George Wash­ing­ton in the post­season semi­finals.

After Jim Adams resigned fol­low­ing just one year as North­east’s head coach, Gorm­ley was the third man in three sea­sons to take the job (Chris Ri­ley, who still serves as North­east’s ath­let­ic dir­ect­or, held the po­s­i­tion be­fore Adams). If any­thing, Gorm­ley brings some sta­bil­ity to the pro­gram, and now can work on im­prov­ing his young play­ers by con­tinu­ing to build a new found­a­tion at the school. The Vik­ings, who last won a Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship in 2010 un­der Ri­ley, hope to be back in that mix in 2014, as well as want­ing to start a new win streak over Cent­ral (7-5).

“This is a very spe­cial game, no ques­tion, and it’s one of the main reas­ons I wanted to come back to take this job,” said Gorm­ley, who was the head coach at Jen­k­in­town High School be­fore re­turn­ing to North­east. “The hoopla for it, you just don’t get that type of en­vir­on­ment for high school foot­ball games. It’s ex­cit­ing for our kids and the alumni, and I’m real dis­ap­poin­ted we didn’t win. But in my opin­ion it’s the best high school game there is, peri­od. 

“When we came in this year with this staff, pretty much every­body was new. It might take us a couple years be­fore we get this thing to where we want it to be, but the kids took that first step this year in buy­ing in to the ex­pect­a­tions we had for them. It was a pos­it­ive step in the right dir­ec­tion, and we can’t wait to re­group in Janu­ary and get after it again.” ••

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