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High School Football:
Pennsauken Holds off Highland's Charge

Saturday, September 23, 2000

By Art Redd
SJSports Staff Writer

Knowing that you can count on someone being there for you has its advantages. On the football field a quarterback's best friend is not only having the offensive line protecting you, but also having a receiver who runs that passing route to free himself for a first down. Pennsauken's tandem of quarterback Andrew Virnelli and wide out Tawan McNair were showing how well they counted on each other during their game on the road at Highland High School. The junior wide receiver McNair had 96-yards receiving in the first half as Virnelli lead Pennsauken over the Tartans in a close game, 21-19. Highland had a chance to tie the game but failed to convert on their two-point conversion attempt.

Quarterback Virnelli and wide receiver McNair seemed to be on the same page of the play book all afternoon. Under constant pressure from the Highland defense, the southpaw quarterback was able to find his receivers right where he wanted. With that much success, the running backs of Calvin Bell and Derrick Singleton were able to catch the secondary back on their heals throughout most of this game. The coaching staff was pleased with the way their team was playing, but knew that this game would not be over until the final tick of the clock had expired.

The meeting between these two Olympic Conference teams featured the senior runningback Ayo Saba from Highland. The bruising 254 pound back has to be one of the hardest players to tackle with his punishing style of run. In the first quarter of this game, the Tartans went right to work handing the ball off to Saba. With that much attention on stopping the run, the Indians began some hard nose defense of their own when they force a fumble that was recovered by Pennsauken's Calvin Bell. Starting from Highland's 34-yard line, Pennsauken went to work moving the ball down field. Pennsauken would jump out to a 7-0 lead when Virnelli found Bell for a 19-yard touchdown with 2:38 remaining in the quarter. Highland's next drive would go into the second quarter, but again the Indians defense came up big with a turnover. On the very next play, Virnelli connected with McNair for a 31-yard touchdown. Just that quick, McNair had two catches for 43-yards and one touchdown.

With Highland behind 14-6 they just couldn't reach the endzone. The second half started with Saba running the ball. After picking up a first down, Highland went to the passing game but came up short and punted the ball to the Pennsauken 31-yard line. Five plays later and facing a third and five from their own 46-yard line, the magic between the quarterback and wide receiver struck again. Virnelli threw a quick sideline pass to McNair whose ability to slip tackles, flashed down the sideline for the 54-yard score. The entire Pennsauken offense dominated this game for the first 3 quarters.

As we all know, there are four quarters to a football game. This was something that the Highland coaches keep instructing their players to keep their head up with one more quarter remaining. With twelve minutes left, Nate Giles started off the Highland series with a 5-yard run to the Indians 36-yard line. On the next play, Saba pushed his way for a 10-yard gain down to the 21-yard line. Highland's offensive of line began winning their battles on the front line and was rewarded with scored on an 8-yard touchdown run by Giles with plenty of time left in the game.

This exciting game watched each team making mistakes and turning the ball over. The last turnover occurred when Highland recovered a fumble with 5:49 remaining. The Tartans methodically marched down the field sticking to their game plan and not rushing. When they picked up a key first down that gave them a first and goal with 1:53 on the clock, Highland had enough time to tie this game. Quarterback Lafayette Crawford completed a third and goal to Jamie Johnson with 50 ticks showing on the game clock. Needing a two point conversion to tie the game, Pennsauken called a timeout to make sure their defense would come up big. The pass attempt was no good and the Indians ran out the clock for the win.

Photos by Art Redd

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