By MATT SMITH
NETHER PROVIDENCE — Upon taking a halfback pitch in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, Strath Haven’s Tevon Howie had two objectives.
“First thing was, hold onto the ball. That was my No. 1 priority,” he said. “My second priority was to follow my blocks and score.”
Check both off the list.
Howie’s 24-yard run to the end zone capped a furious Strath Haven comeback Friday night at George L. King Field. The Panthers erased a two-touchdown deficit, beating Conestoga, 21-14.
“(Fullback) Jake (Morris) had a great block the whole way,” Howie said.
Howie set up the deciding touchdown with an interception of Harvard-bound quarterback Joe Viviano. With a minute left to play, Howie was in the end zone, celebrating a remarkable comeback in the sense that the Panthers (4-3, 4-2) were outplayed for a large chunk of the first half. But after Kevin Sherry caught a 10-yard pass from Kevin Mohollen to cut Conestoga’s lead to 14-7 just before the band marched onto the field, it was clear the Panthers weren’t out of it.
“We’re underdogs now,” said Howie, who finished with 131 yards on 24 carries. “We don’t like being the underdog, but when we’re the underdog we play a lot harder I feel. When we got the win last week against Lower Merion, we tried to bring the momentum into this game and now we want to keep bringing the momentum into next week. We’ve got to keep it going.”
The Pioneers (4-4, 3-3) dominated time of possession in the early going. They ran 21 first-quarter plays while the Panthers ran only three. Viviano was on fire early, hooking up with Marcus Dorsey on a 9-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter.
Conestoga halfback Nick Prespitino’s 2-yard scamper through the teeth of the Haven defense extended the Pioneers’ lead to 14-0 with 5:14 to go before halftime.
So maybe it was the Mohollen-to-Sherry connection right before intermission that lit the proverbial fire. Speaking of Sherry, he had two rather important, drive-killing sacks in the second half. John Fender had the Panthers’ first interception of Viviano.
“We weren’t doubting ourselves the whole game. We definitely hung in there and played our hearts out, and Conestoga played a hell of a game,” Sherry said.
The Panthers had the remedy for Viviano and the Pioneers’ high-octane offense in the second half, when Viviano was 0-for-8 with a pair of interceptions after completing 10 of 16 passes for 119 yards in the opening 24 minutes.
“That’s a real good football team over there,” Strath Haven coach Kevin Clancy said of Conestoga. “They have an outstanding quarterback. Heck, this league has outstanding quarterbacks, but this guy’s going to Harvard for a reason. He’s a heck of a player.”
Clancy was proud of the way his team persevered.
“I was real thrilled with the kids. They battled, and a lot them are playing hurt,” Clancy said. “I’m proud of them, even during the bad times. They’re good kids.”
Strath Haven amassed 219 rushing yards, only the third time this season it has gained 200 or more yards on the ground.
Prespitino led all ball carriers with 112 yards on 25 totes, but had only 32 yards after halftime.