Imhotep Charter coach Albie Crosby prefers to celebrate the whole, as opposed to the individual, when it comes to his football team.
However, the fourth-year head Panther singled out Mike Crawford after Imhotep's 20-14 win Saturday night against seven-time defending champ Archbishop Wood in the PIAA District 12 Class AAA title game.
"I don't usually do this, I don't usually do this," Crosby said in the Panthers' victorious huddle, which had likely tripled in size as Panthers fans flooded Charles Martin Memorial field at Northeast. "Game ball goes to Mike Crawford."
Crosby flipped the ball into his pack of Panthers, and it was promptly plucked by the capable hands of Crawford.
The 6-foot, 181-pound junior defensive back had changed the game in the third quarter by forcing a fumble, recovering the ball, and returning it 68 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14.
Three plays earlier, a diving interception by Danny Freeman had given Wood, the Catholic League Class AAA champion, possession near midfield.
The Vikings, who defeated Imhotep, 42-34, in last year's District 12 title game, appeared poised to add to their 14-8 advantage after two runs netted 19 yards and put the ball at the Imhotep 29-yard line.
On the ensuing play, Crawford sniffed out a reverse and tracked, corralled, and stripped the ballcarrier. He then scooped up the bouncing ball and motored toward glory.
"When they got the turnover, I knew I had to make a play," Crawford said. "I envisioned myself making it. I saw them in motion, and then they came back on the sweep and I just knew I had to stop them. I was the last line of defense. I saw the opportunity to strip, so I took it, picked the ball up, and all I saw was end zone."
Senior running back Mike Waters scored the go-ahead touchdown for the undefeated Public League Class AAA champion Panthers (12-0, 6-0).
Waters, who already set single-season league records for rushing touchdowns (30) and total touchdowns (32), scored on a 3-yard plunge that was set up by a spectacular, 28-yard diving catch by sophomore wideout Justin Harris.
Waters also added a fourth-quarter interception that gave the Panthers possession for good with 5 minutes, 53 seconds remaining.
Senior defensive end Shaka Toney applied pressure on Wood's scrambling quarterback, Anthony Russo, just before Waters made the diving interception at his own 18-yard line, just in front of the Imhotep sideline.
"I saw it," Waters said. "We went over that play all week in practice. I saw Shaka on his tail, and I just came up and made the pick."
Russo, a Rutgers recruit, finished 12 of 21 for 164 yards and a first-quarter touchdown pass to Mark Webb that gave the Vikings, winners of three of the last four AAA state titles, an early 7-0 lead.
Shawn Thompson also added 14 carries for 58 yards and Wood's other score.
Imhotep junior quarterback Nasir Boykin finished 5 of 9 for 168 yards and a touchdown pass to Aamir Brown.
Waters finished with 85 yards on 16 carries. Senior Arizona recruit Tyliek Raynor added 86 yards on 18 attempts.
"This was big," Crosby said. "You get an opportunity to play the defending state champs . . . they are a really good football team, and to go out and win, not just for our school, but to win for the Philadelphia Public League and represent the city of Philadelphia is major. It's major."
Imhotep Charter 0 8 6 6 - 20
Archbishop Wood 7 0 7 0 - 14
AW: Mark Webb 32 pass from Anthony Russo (Dan Zanine kick)
IC: Aamir Brown 22 pass from Nasir Boykin (Waters run)
AW: Shawn Thompson 2 run (Zanine kick)
IC: Mike Crawford 68 fumble return (run failed)
IC: Mike Waters 3 run (pass failed)