For the second straight week, St. Francis needed some late heroics to pull out a 12-7 City League victory at Whitmer, spoiling the Panthers' homecoming festivities.
A week earlier a late TD enabled St. Francis to escape with a 17-14 win at Clay.
Last night, the Knights (4-1, 2-0 CL) shook off their offensive woes from the game's first 46-plus minutes and saw two pivotal runs from senior quarterback Brandon Speweik beat upset-minded Panthers (2-3, 1-1).
"I don't know if I can handle it at my age," Cromwell said. "But it's great that the kids hung in there and played the whole 48 minutes. That's what we preach, and we made some big plays the last couple weeks late in the game."
The first key play was Speweik's 16-yard keeper around left end after a well-executed fake dive to tailback Robert Garza. That put St. Francis at the Whitmer 44.
"The [assistant] coaches talked about it and Speweik, same thing," Cromwell said. "He said, 'You know, I can get outside.' We faked to Garza, and Speweik and I were the only two people who knew we called that play. He got good yardage there."
On the next play, Speweik faked an option pitch left to Garza, then streaked 44 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 1:13 remaining.
"All I knew is that they were concentrating on Garza," Speweik said. "He had a great game. I just thought, 'Let's give the fake and let me carry it out there.' They bit on Garza and I took it all the way. They didn't pay attention to me."
Until those two plays, the Knights had managed just 114 yards of offense on 46 plays, all rushing. Speweik was 0-for-6 passing.
"I don't doubt our effort at all," Whitmer coach Dan Fought said."The defensive line did a great job of plugging the holes so the backs couldn't get through. It's just that, at the end, we gave that option up.
"I'll have to see the tape to see how it happened, but we con
tained them all night and then we let that one loose. For 47 minutes the defense played outstanding."
While the Knights did a lot with a little, Whitmer was its own worst enemy on offense. The Pan
thers rushed 36 times for 147 yards, quarterback J.J. Fought was 12-of-27 passing for 154 more. But Whitmer committed five turnovers and were penalized nine times for 74 yards.
Three first-half turnovers for Whitmer, all fumbles, led to the Knights' first score, a one-yard sneak from Speweik 8:57 before halftime, and stymied two promising Panther drives.
Whitmer's first giveaway came on a third-and-two play from its 28 on the first play of the second quarter. Backup tailback Chris Perry was stopped for a three-yard loss and fumbled.
Knight defensive tackle David Stanford recovered at the Pan
ther 25, and St. Francis rode six runs from Garza (29 carries, 119 yards) to a second-and-goal at the 1, setting up Speweik's sneak.
Whitmer threatened on its last two possessions of the half, but Fought lost two other fumbles deep in St. Francis territory, each recovered by Knight defensive end Chris Ceparski.
Fought was then intercepted on a first-down pass from the St. Francis 33 by Knight safety Jim Paszczykowski a minute into the third quarter.
But the third-year QB would atone later in the quarter.
On a third-and-10, his option keeper covered 25 yards to the Knight 17. Fought (17 carries, 73 yards) then bolted for a TD on the next play. Pat Carmean's suc
cessful PAT kick gave the Panthers a 7-6 edge with 1:52 left in the third.
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