Some late-game indecision proved to be the difference in West Catholic's 23-20 loss to Lancaster Catholic in a PIAA Class AA football semifinal Saturday at Coatesville.
After seizing its first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter, the Burrs lined up for a fourth and 1 at their own 29-yard line with a little more than a minute remaining. Go for it, gain the yard, and it's to the state final for the second year in a row, with a chance to defend the title.
That was the plan - until it wasn't. West sent in a sneak call, but senior quarterback Jaleel Reed didn't like what he saw when he got to the line: a loaded box with two linebackers showing blitz.
"We called timeout and I figured we would go for it with a different play, but we chose to punt," Reed said.
Instead of exploring the idea of a different run play - perhaps a pitch to Division I recruit/running back David Williams? - coach Brian Fluck took the advice of his brother and defensive coordinator, Dennis Fluck, and chose to punt, trusting the defense to make one final stop.
The change in tactic proved devastating. The snap went high, West never got off a punt, and Lancaster took possession on the 16 with 1 minute, 9 seconds to go. Two plays later, Andrew Dzurik hit Sean Titus for a touchdown as defensive backs Blaise Schieler and Williams got tangled on the crossing routes.
West had 47 seconds and one timeout to try for the game-winning score. The Burrs drove to Lancaster's 26, but a last-second heave by Reed, intended for Williams, was picked off by none other than Titus. Lancaster took a knee on the final play.
West's sideline went listless. Not too many eyes were dry. The team had won 10 straight since dropping its opening three games to Roman Catholic, Archbishop Wood, and La Salle. The Burrs finished 10-4, advancing to the state semifinals for the fourth year in a row.
"You don't expect the ball to go over the punter's head," Brian Fluck said after the game. He added: "It's a judgment call. You're a genius if you can make it. You lose the game if you don't. That's what we did."
The Burrs rallied in the second half and looked in control down the stretch. They went into halftime trailing by 16-6. But they scored 14 consecutive points in the latter two quarters. Lancaster's only points after halftime came on the game-winning play.
Reed finished 8 for 15 passing for 210 yards, a TD, and two interceptions, his fourth and fifth of the season. He ran for 97 yards and a TD on 14 carries. Williams added 53 yards on 17 attempts, lost a fumble in the first quarter, and scored on a 3-yard run with 9:57 left in the game that gave West a 20-16 lead.
Williams ended the year with 1,930 yards rushing and 18 TDs.
Bruce Mapp caught five balls for 139 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown from Reed on a bootleg in the third.
"It's been a great season. Just being able to play, the chance to repeat, stay champions," Reed said. "But things don't always work out as planned."
Lancaster Catholic 7 9 0 7 – 23
West Catholic 0 6 6 8 – 20
LC: Clay 39 run (Ziffer kick)
LC: Hollister 18 run (run failed)
WC: Reed 1 run (kick failed)
LC: FG Ziffer 18
WC: Mapp 57 pass from Reed (pass failed)
WC: Williams 3 run (Shoatz run)
LC: Titus 16 pass from Dzurik (Ziffer kick)
West Catholic's Jaleel Reed and T.J. Waters talk about the loss.