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Penn Wood claims Del-Val League football title behind QB Desman Johnson’s rushing success

No. 1 seed Penn Wood (9-1) will host No. 16 Kennett (4-6) in the first round of the PIAA District 1 Class 5A playoffs on Friday night.

Penn Wood players, from left to right, Kennedy Poles, Desman Johnson, and Edmund Dennis.
Penn Wood players, from left to right, Kennedy Poles, Desman Johnson, and Edmund Dennis.Read moreCourtesy of Penn Wood

Desman Johnson switched from prolific passer to dangerous runner.

The result for Penn Wood on Friday night, with the quarterback rushing for about 170 yards and four touchdowns, was a 40-20 romp over Academy Park in Sharon Hill.

"I think I'm just as good running the ball as throwing it," Johnson said matter-of-factly.

In thriving on the ground against the surprised Knights, Johnson and the Patriots captured their second consecutive Del-Val League championship and earned the No. 1 seed in the PIAA District 1 Class 5A playoffs.

"We're usually more of a passing team, but we try to take advantage of whatever the other team gives us," Penn Wood second-year coach Ato Troop said. "It's good to be balanced."

The Patriots (9-1 overall) captured the league crown with a 5-0 mark, outscoring opponents 200 to 65.

Through nine games, Johnson completed 112 of 179 passes for 2,026 yards and 25 TDs, with six interceptions. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior and second-year starter now has 12 rushing scores.

In Penn Wood's only loss — a 43-28 nonleague decision against West Chester Rustin on Sept. 21 — Johnson connected on 29 of 48 throws for 326 yards and two TDs.

Johnson mostly spreads the ball among five receivers: Kennedy Poles, Edmund Dennis, Brian Parker, Tayshon Harmon, and Anauri Hankey.

"The great thing about that is the other team can't focus on just one or two receivers," Johnson said. "They have to watch out for a bunch of guys."

Poles, a 6-1, 175-pound senior who has scholarship offers from Morgan State and Stony Brook, had 40 catches for 976 yards and 11 scores heading into the regular-season finale.

"He can turn a 5-yard drag route into a 50-yard gain," said Johnson, who escaped for an 85-yard score early against Academy Park (8-2, 4-1).

Penn Wood's top ballcarriers are Elijah Gleplay and Michael Dargan. The surge up front for a team that averages 33.8 points is led by center Keivon Stevens, right guard John Mabin Jr., and left tackle Jacquez Mabin.

The headliners for a 4-3 defense are ends Dashawn Brickle and Christian Suber, outside linebacker Aliyoh Turay, cornerbacks Poles and Dennis, and safeties Dargan and Omar Ba.

Of Dennis, a 6-0, 190-pound senior with a scholarship offer from Morgan State, Troop said, "He doesn't get a lot of attention because teams don't throw the ball his way."

Johnson, a forward for Penn Wood's basketball team, played youth football for the Colwyn Comets. The 17-year-old participated in seven-on-seven tournaments last summer for Delco Elite Training.

Late-game altercation

A fourth-quarter skirmish halted Friday night's nonleague game between host Northeast and St. Frances Academy (Md.).

St. Francis, which was ranked No. 7 in the country in USA Today's most recent Super 25, was ahead, 35-0, with about 5 minutes to play, Northeast coach Phil Gormley said.

"The officials stopped the game at that point," Gormley said, "because they thought that anything that happened from there was not going to be good."

Gormley said he was told that a Northeast player had swung his helmet and hit a St. Frances player during the fight, though the coach said he did not see it.

On Saturday, Gormley said he was suspending the player for at least Friday night's Public League playoff game against Lincoln.

"The kid was wrong, no doubt about it, but their players came to our side of the field when the fight broke out," Gormley said. "Our kids never left our bench."

James Lynch, the executive director of athletics for the School District of Philadelphia, said Saturday evening that he was aware of the incident.

"The league is reviewing the reports with the Northeast administration and will be suspending the students who were involved for violation of the unsportsmanlike-conduct policy," Lynch said.

St. Frances is 6-0 and has won by a combined margin of 301-18. Gormley said he still planned to schedule a game against the high-powered Panthers next season in Baltimore.

"If you want to do well in the district and states playoffs, you have to go out and play the top teams out there," Gormley said. "That's the only way to truly get better."

On Aug. 24 at the University of Maryland, St. Frances held a 13-7 lead over St. Joseph's Prep in the third quarter when the game was halted because of lightning.