ALLENTOWN: On to the finals

Allentown team to face Delsea on Dec. 6

By Justin Feil, The Packet Group
   David Krieg’s mohawk paced back and forth on the Allentown High School sidelines as his football team wound away the final minutes of its 25-18 win over Central Regional.
   ”I knew we’d pull it out,” said Krieg, the Redbirds’ senior linebacker. “I had a lot of faith in our offense. We’ve worked hard all season. I think I was just nervous.”
   Moments later, he and the Redbirds were celebrating their first trip to a sectional final thanks to a balanced effort from both sides of the ball. Michael Curry and the Allentown football team’s offense wore down Central over the second half after the Redbirds defense showed its resiliency in the first half. The top-seeded Redbirds pulled away for a 25-18 win in the South Jersey Group III state semifinals Friday night.
   ”We lost to a lot of good teams when we’ve gotten to the playoffs,” said Curry, the Allentown quarterback who ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns. “All week we said we wanted to make history. We just kept it going. I think we did a really good job of not letting our season end today and we get another two weeks.”
   The Redbirds advanced to the sectional final Dec. 6 at Rowan University against Delsea.
   ”Our student-athletes deserve all the credit, and our assistants for the time and preparation they’ve put in,” said Allentown head coach Jay Graber after improving to 9-2. “Five years ago, we came into this program and we did a lot of losing. These kids had blind faith and believed. I’m excited for our student-athletes and the opportunity they have in two weeks.”
   Central Regional looked to have Allentown on its heels at the start of the game. Central’s first two drives took it inside the Redbirds 10-yard line, but neither ended with points.
   ”Those stops were huge for us,” Curry said. “They go 80 yards down the field, and for us to bend and don’t break down at the 5 for us, that was huge. The game could have went either way. They could have had two touchdowns right there. We did a really good job, our linebackers and D line did a good job of stopping the run there.”
   Added Graber: “They played excellent in the first half. They controlled the ball and converted on third and fourth down a couple times. They kept our offense off the field. They did an excellent job.”
   On the first drive of the game, Allentown safety Jake Alessi forced the Central ball carrier out of bounds on fourth down from the 7-yard line. Allentown gave the ball right back, and Central drove all the way to the 6 before Krieg came up with a tackle for a 2-yard loss on fourth down.
   ”It was a momentum changer,” Krieg said. “We believed we could stop them. We knew that we were the better team and we joined together.”
   After Krieg’s tackle gave the ball back to Allentown at its own 8, the Redbirds methodically marched 92 yards with 19 plays that consumed almost seven minutes of the second-quarter clock to take a 7-0 lead on Dean Apostolico’s 3-yard rumble into the end zone. Central answered with a drive of its own keyed by a 42-yard pass, but their kick was blocked and the Redbirds took a 7-6 lead into halftime.
   ”We came out flat,” Curry said. “That’s the bottom line. Halftime came around and we all went inside and there was a lot of yelling. No. 8, Rob McClees, he’s a little guy, he’s a junior, but he let us know we were messing up.
   ”We all got pumped up. Jake Alessi got up there too and got us going. I think it w as big for those guys to step up and get us ready to play.”
   The second half began with the teams exchanging punts before Allentown opened its lead with a nine-play drive that included one of their only two pass attempts on the day. Curry had an 11-yard carry as did Alessi and Apostolico ran for 19 on one carry before Curry scored from the 10-yard line.
   ”The offensive line is great,” Curry said. “They do a good job. I’m screaming at them, let’s go, let’s go. I don’t know how they don’t get tired. They do a really good job of blocking and opening up holes for the running backs.
   ”We’d run and run in the offseason. I think all our conditioning in the offseason paid off.”
   The Redbirds defense held Central again, and Allentown scored after driving it 62 yards, all but 60 of it from Curry. He scored his second touchdown when he won the race to the left corner of the end zone for a 19-6 lead after the extra point was missed with 45 seconds left in the third quarter. It’s Curry’s first season at quarterback, and though he has passed for four touchdowns and more than 300 yards over the last two games, he did his damage on the ground Friday.
   ”I love having the ball in my hand every play,” Curry said. “It’s a lot of fun. The transition wasn’t that bad. I used to play quarterback when I was younger so I knew a little about it. Coach (Jay) Graber was a quarterback in high school and college so he knows a ton about it. He was able to guide me through the process. I’m really thankful for that.”
   Central stayed within a score when they opened the fourth quarter with a touchdown drive to make it 19-12, but Allentown’s running game began to take its toll with a drive that featured big chunks of running gains with every carry. Curry scored from 26 yards out to cap it and make it 25-12 after the extra point was blocked.
   ”We stuck to our plan,” Krieg said. “I think we tired them out. We out-physicalled them. We worked harder than them.”
   Central didn’t let anyone relax when it scored with 4:21 left on a 43-yard scramble by their shifty quarterback.
   ”He was a really good player,” Krieg said. “We struggled a bit holding him up, but it worked out in the end.
   ”Our coaches put us in the right spots, and they told us what to do and it worked,” he added. “We were really confident. Our coaches get us prepared for the game mentally, and physically we’re getting ready lifting, running, and we feel we’re in tip-top shape.”
   The conditioning paid off after Alessi recovered the ensuing onsides kick. The Redbirds used Apostolico and Curry to pound the ball and run the clock out on their first sectional semifinal win.
   ”It’s awesome,” Krieg said. “Words can’t describe it. We’re happy to see our hard work pay off.”
   It helped them on both sides of the ball. They were able to fight off a tough run attack and they were able to wear away Central.
   ”Our kids work so hard and they condition so hard for these types of situations, and the fourth quarter, that’s what they condition for,” Graber said. “That’s what they work for in the offseason. They deserve all the credit. They were excellent and did a great job.
   ”I think that Central came in with a very good game plan. They punched us in the mouth a bit, but we were able to bend but not break. We were able to get some stops.”
   Allentown’s run game ended up accounting for all 325 yards of their offense. Apostolico finished with 112 bruising yards and a touchdown, and Curry carried his share of the load as well as playing defense — and long-snapping.
   ”It was fun,” Curry said. “It was a lot of hitting. I’m going to be really sore. My legs, my arms, even my voice. It’s going to be a rest day tomorrow.”
   The Redbirds have two weeks to prepare for Delsea. They are anxious to return to the field and play for a state crown.
   ”We’ll get back to work Monday,” Krieg said. “We’ll get back in the weight room. We have a lot of momentum. We’re excited.”
   The Redbirds will go in a confident team after surviving a stern test and seeing that they were able to win a well-matched physical game. It sends them forward on their historic run.
   ”We got this far, we might as well win it,” Curry said. “We want to keep it going. I think with this week off, we’ll be able to rest up a little bit. We’re going to stay focused watching film and making up a game plan. Coach will spend hours in the office. We’ll be ready.”