By ANDY EDWARDS
EAST WHITELAND – Heading into Saturday’s nonleague showdown with Bishop Shanahan, Great Valley quarterback Chris Geiss wanted to enjoy every second of his last Homecoming start.
Thanks to 29 of the best seconds of his career, Geiss sent a raucous crowd home smiling.
After a costly mistake by the Eagles, Geiss threw a 45-yard touchdown pass and returned an interception 41 yards for a score on consecutive plays to break open a tie game in a half-minute span just before intermission as the Patriots (5-4) built a big lead and staved off a spirited second-half comeback from Bishop Shanahan for a 26-21 victory at Great Valley. Mix in another long touchdown pass and one of the season’s most breathtaking highlights, and Geiss finished his home career on a high note.
“It’s a big win for the seniors,” Geiss said. “Homecoming is always a good game to try to win with the crowds here. Now we get to celebrate tonight.”
For a while, it looked like the celebration was going to start early. Geiss connected with Sean Fitzpatrick for a 59-yard strike on Great Valley’s first drive of the second half, staking the Patriots to a 26-7 lead. The Eagles, however, weren’t ready to surrender.
Justin Cook nearly brought Shanahan (3-5) all the way back on the strength of his right arm, throwing for 233 yards and three touchdowns- two of them to tight end Cody Smith- with no interceptions. The second, a beautiful 16-yard fade to the corner of the end zone, brought Shanahan to within 26-21 with just under 11 minutes to play. He got the ball back with 1:27 to play and a chance to win, driving the Eagles from their own 7 to near midfield. But Cook was flushed from the pocket on fourth down and brought down well short of the sticks as the Patriots finally locked up a wild win.
“Justin played well,” said Shanahan coach Paul Myers. “It’s unfortunate that it had to end that way at the end of the game.
“We didn’t do what we had to do to win the game.”
If not for a devastating first-half sequence, the game could have ended quite differently.
Facing fourth-and-11 near midfield with 40 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Eagles appeared primed to send the game into halftime tied at 7. That is, until Shanahan didn’t get its punter on the field and snapped the ball to up-back Vince Angelini, resulting in no gain and a bizarre turnover on downs. The Patriots took over at the Eagles’ 45 and wasted no time cashing in, Geiss finding River Johnson behind the defense for a long touchdown and a 13-7 lead with 30 seconds left in the half.
Great Valley had all the momentum, and it seemed likely that the Eagles would elect to take a knee when they took over at their own 37 on the ensuing kickoff. Instead, Shanahan took to the air, looking to get into field goal range for strong-legged kicker Colin Johnson. Instead, the decision took the air out of the Eagles’ sideline.
Cook dropped back and swung a pass to Jeff Zebrowski in the flat. The ball sailed through his hands and into the waiting arms of Geiss, who doubled as a defensive back with several Patriots nursing injuries. Geiss burst down the sideline and weaved his way through the pursuit and to the house for a back-breaking pick-six with eight seconds left in the half to put the Patriots ahead, 20-7.
“It was huge,” said Great Valley coach Mike Choi. “I was fortunate. Chris got put into the secondary this week because we had some injuries, and I was really confident in him. Not playing the whole season, you get a little worried about how he’s going to respond. I tell you what, he’s a football player.”
Instead of a tie game and the ball to start the second half, Shanahan found itself behind by 13 in the blink of an eye.
“The last minute and a half of the first half was the difference in the game,” Myers said. “We made two big mistakes.”
The Patriots came out in their blue jerseys Saturday afternoon, but a litany of penalties and mental mistakes had Choi wearing a bright shade of red for much of the contest. Great Valley was flagged 12 times for 150 yards on the day, one of which nearly cost the Patriots the lead as a wild sequence unfolded late in the game.
With Shanahan facing a third-and-15 from the Patriots’ 44, Izaiah Colon sacked Cook for a six-yard loss, forcing the Eagles into a punting situation midway through the final period. Instead, Shanahan got the down back – plus 10 yards- when a Patriot player lost his helmet and returned to the field for the next play. The penalty made it a manageable third-and-five for the Eagles, who nearly picked up the first down on a Cook scramble. But on fourth-and-one from the 30, Cook couldn’t handle the snap and lost a yard, giving Great Valley the ball back. The Eagles’ defense eventually forced a punt, giving Cook one last chance to traverse 93 yards in 87 seconds without a timeout. He drove the Eagles to the 45, but that was all as the Patriots celebrated an exhausting victory.
“It was a challenging game,” said Choi. “What I preach to our kids is that the game of football is about momentum and adversity. You’re going to have momentum that’s going to be on one side or the other, and you’re going to face adversity. The good teams find a way to get through that and come through with the plays that they need.”
Smith (seven catches, 82 yards) and Zebrowski (six catches, 101 yards, TD) each had monster days for the Eagles in defeat. Zebrowski’s 23-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-eight brought Shanahan to within 26-14 late in the third quarter. Smith, meanwhile, was all over the field, making 12 tackles on defense in addition to his two touchdown receptions.
“He played awesome,” said Myers. “He was all over the field. He’s only a sophomore, so I’m happy to have two more years of him.”
Great Valley only has Geiss for two more games, but the 6-3 signal-caller gave Patriots fans a play to remember early in the second quarter. Geiss took off on a scramble from the Eagles’ 41, rumbling all the way down to the 10-yard line. With a Shanahan tackler draped all over him, Geiss pitched the ball to Connor Middleton, who took it into the end zone for a spectacular score that tied the game at 7.
“That was just schoolyard ball,” said Geiss, who finished with 54 yards on the ground, plus two scores and 130 yards through the air. “I saw (Middleton) as I was getting tackled, and he got a touchdown out of it, so I know he’s happy about it, too.
“He was aware and he made the play. It was awesome.”
Great Valley 26, Bishop Shanahan 21
Bishop Shanahan 7 0 7 7 -- 21
Great Valley 0 20 6 0 -- 26
BS-C. Smith 21 pass from Cook (Johnson kick)
GV-Middleton 10 lateral run (Cavanagh kick)
GV-Johnson 45 pass from Geiss (kick failed)
GV-Geiss 41 interception return (Cavanagh kick)
GV-Fitzpatrick 59 pass from Geiss (kick failed)
BS-Zebrowski 23 pass from Cook (Johnson kick)
BS-C. Smith 16 pass from Cook (Johnson kick)
First downs 13 10
Yards rushing -3 177
Yards passing 233 129
Total yards 230 306
Passing 23-34-0 5-7-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties 5-40 12-150
Punts-Avg. 2-41.0 5-37.8
RUSHING - BS: Cook 17-4; Harper 3-(-2); Angelini 3-(-5). GV: Temple 13-88; Geiss 12-54; Johnson 4-24.
PASSING - BS: Cook 23-34-0, 233 yards, 3 TDs. GV: Geiss 5-7-0, 130 yards, 2 TDs.
RECEIVING - BS: C. Smith 7-82, 2 TDs; Zebrowski 6-101, TD; Roselli 5-46; Oakes 3-2; Angelini 1-2. GV: Fitzpatrick 3-79, TD; Johnson 1-45, TD; Lamb 1-6.
SACKS - BS: Gueriera. GV: Colon 2, Slaats, McGowan.
INTERCEPTIONS - None.