WEST CHESTER – As the final seconds ticked away Saturday afternoon and the crowd at West Chester Rustin High School meandered toward the parking lot, freshman Dajuan Harris twisted and turned, trying in vain to gain another few yards.
Regarding the final tally, it didn’t matter. Conwell-Egan was on the short end of a 49-7 score against rugged and undefeated Middletown, and the Eagles’ dream of reaching the PIAA Class 3A state championship was about to fall one game short.
But Harris pushed and prodded anyway. Indeed, there was no surrender in Conwell-Egan, no woe-is-me countenance. The Eagles were defeated by a better, stronger opponent.
“We could either hang our head and let them keep pounding on us, or we could come out and keep fighting and show people that we’re not going to quit,” said Conwell-Egan coach Jack Techtmann. “We were pushing all the way at the end to try and get another one in there. I couldn’t be prouder of our team.”
When the season began, no one could have foreseen Conwell-Egan advancing all the way to the state semifinals. The Eagles, however, improved weekly. In the five games before losing to Middletown, Conwell-Egan scored a Catholic League-record 63 points in a single half against Bonner-Prendergast; lost to eventual Blue Division champion Neumann-Goretti by only 20-13; trounced favored New Hope-Solebury, 42-14, in the Class 3A sub-regional semifinal; overwhelmed Blue Division toughie Lansdale Catholic, 44-20, in the sub-regional final, and then startled undefeated Palisades in the state quarterfinal, 34-17.
Needless to say, this was a team whose performance on the field betrayed a final overall record of 7-7, especially when considering a largely inexperienced roster that included only 13 seniors.
“We talked early on as a staff and said we’re going to have to suffer through some youth, and it surfaced today,” said Techtmann. “They got better every week and they loved playing the game, and they did a great thing. The run we made I’m really happy with. It really shows some character at every level.”
Conwell-Egan junior running back Patrick Garwo established a school single-season record for rushing yards and eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for combined yardage. Against Middletown, Garwo was manhandled on every attempt, finishing with 40 yards on an uncharacteristically low 10 carries.
Techtmann said Garwo understood that Middletown would not allow him any running room, so he asked Techtmann to use him as a “diversion” to give the Eagles a better chance of finding some offense against a Blue Raiders team that is now 14-0 and has outscored the opposition 124-7 in the PIAA playoffs.
That was part of the reason why junior quarterback Alex Goldsby was able to connect with Harris for a perfectly executed 77-yard touchdown bomb down the right sideline with 29 seconds remaining in the first half.
Unfortunately, that was the lone highlight of the afternoon for the Eagles’ faithful who made the long jaunt from Fairless Hills.
#5 Conwell-Egan junior Patrick Garwo - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
2017 PIAA 3A State Semifinal - Conwell-Egan vs. Middletown - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
While the future looks extremely bright and a Blue Division championship next year is a realistic goal, there are 13 players who won’t be able to don a Conwell-Egan football uniform ever again.
Among them is senior defensive back Chuck Layton IV.
Standing tall outside the locker room, Layton reflected on his Conwell-Egan career.
“I’m feeling emotional,” said Layton. “Four years of my life I just dedicated to football. I love the school. I love football here. It’s disappointing not going (to the state final), but I had the time of my life. No regrets with that.”
Layton was asked to offer some advice to CE’s underclassmen.
“Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” he said. “Always believe in yourself.”
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)