|High School Football:
Rams Win, Vikings Make Taliaferro Proud
Thursday, September 28, 2000
By Ed Benkin
SJSports Staff Writer
On a beautiful autumn afternoon in Pine Hill, the Eastern Vikings and Overbrook Rams took the field for an Olympic Conference battle with post-season implications. Emotions were running high throughout the game. It wasn't because both teams entered the contest at 1-1 and were looking to remain in the thick of the playoff race. It was because of a much greater battle being waged by a young man who has touched the hearts of everyone in South Jersey. It was a day for the Vikings to play for Adam Taliaferro. The former Eastern star and 1999 player of the year in South Jersey continues his fight to walk again. Taliaferro, now at Penn State, suffered a spinal injury in the Nittany Lions' loss to Ohio State last weekend. He still cannot move his fingers and legs, and there is no guarantee that he ever will. On Thursday, Eastern took the field for the first time since Taliaferro's injury.
On a day in which both teams came up with a performance that would make Taliaferro proud, Overbrook came away with a hard fought 18-13 victory. The Rams took the lead for good with just under ten minutes left, when senior fullback Winston Womble powered into the end zone from two yards out. Eastern mounted one last drive with under two minutes remaining, but Khalin Sterling picked off a pass from quarterback A.J. Salarizadeh to seal the victory. While Overbrook came away with the win, the Rams' thoughts were also with Taliaferro throughout the week.
"I feel sick about what happened to Adam," said Overbrook coach Harvey Miller. "You truly feel the pain."
It looked as if Overbrook was on their way to a rout early in the game. After a scoreless first quarter, the Rams took a 6-0 lead in the second period when Sterling dashed for a 50 yard touchdown run. Sterling crossed the goal line again in the third quarter from three yards out to stretch the lead to 12-0. However, the Vikings fought back valiantly as they rattled off 13 unanswered points before the quarter ended. Salarizadeh connected with Lance Evans on a 30 yard touchdown strike to cut the Overbrook lead in half. On Eastern's next possession, fullback Chuck Hotz scored on a 27 yard run, and the extra point gave Eastern the lead until Womble's heroics in the fourth quarter.
"We had a chance to win the game," said Eastern coach Dan Spittal. "We gave an effort that Adam would have been proud of."
Overbrook is now 2-1 on the season. The Rams have a tough schedule in front of them before the November 4 playoff cutoff date. Overbrook must still face Cherokee, Washington Township and Lenape before the cutoff, so the win over the Vikings was a big boost for the Rams. Miller was proud of how his team came back to win the game, and also proud of how well his team performed on a difficult day.
"We knew this would be an emotional game," Miller said. "But football is always an emotional game."
The Vikings are now 1-2 on the season. They will continue to play hard in their season of sadness. In addition to the Taliaferro tragedy, Eastern is coping with the loss of assistant coach Ernie Oldenberg, who passed away in August. Players and fans at Eastern will continue to honor Taliaferro. Yesterday, several fans wore ribbons with "AT" and "44" attached to them. The Vikings and the rest of the South Jersey area will continue to pray that Taliaferro will one day walk again. Meanwhile, his former teammates continue to honor him even in defeat, as they play with the heart Taliaferro has on and off the field.
"These youngsters have had a lot to cope with," said Spittal. "All we can do now is pray for him."
Photos by Forrest Robleto