NEW CASTLE – William Penn was reeling after Sussex Central scored two touchdowns in the final 17 seconds of the first half.
The Colonials desperately needed a big play, and Angelo Ortiz delivered it.
The senior took a counter play 55 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the second half as William Penn regained its bearings and pulled away for a 38-21 victory on Saturday in the opening round of the DIAA Division I football playoffs at Bill Cole Stadium.
“Ortiz played with a chip on his shoulder today,” Colonials coach Marvin Dooley said. “I was challenging him because he didn’t make all-conference, and I think he was an all-conference player. I told him, ‘You proved me right today.’”
Ortiz rushed seven times for 116 yards and two scores, and Joe Greenwood carried 19 times for 118 yards and a touchdown as third-seeded William Penn (10-1) reached the D-I semifinals for the third straight season. The Colonials will travel to second-seeded Smyrna for a 7:30 kickoff next Saturday night.
The sixth-seeded Golden Knights (7-4) were making their first playoff appearance in four years, and they had their moments. Sussex Central outgained William Penn 346-298, but the Colonials put more points on the board.
“We didn’t play our best football, as far as mistakes, penalties and turnovers,” Central coach John Wells said. “But William Penn was good enough to take advantage of it. Give them credit.”
Zachariah Burton gained 17 yards on a fake punt to key the Colonials’ first scoring drive. Greenwood carried eight times for 59 yards on the march, and scored from the 2 for a 7-0 lead with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
Then William Penn forced a punt, and Ortiz made it look easy with a 41-yard counter for a 14-0 lead.
“I wasn’t touched,” the fullback said. “My line was so good, they made the hole big and I made it happen.”
The Golden Knights pushed deep into Colonials territory, and appeared to be going in for a score when the ball popped loose. William Penn linebacker Myles Goodson-Tatum took it in stride and romped 97 yards for what appeared to be a back-breaking score.
“I remember last year, missing a scoop and score, so I couldn’t let it happen again,” Goodson-Tatum said. “It bounced once and popped right into my chest. Then nobody was tackling me.”
Down 21-0, Central was forced to go to the air. Quarterback Brady Bowden found success, hitting Mark Tolson for a 22-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in the first half.
Then the Golden Knights’ Isaiah Barnes recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Two plays later, Bowden found Lashawn Handy for a 4-yard score on the final play of the first half. Just like that, the Colonials’ lead was cut to 21-14.
“We had momentum, and we wanted to wear them out,” Wells said. “We thought we had more one-way players than they had, and that was one of the objectives, to try to wear them out.”
But William Penn found its second wind three plays into the second half, as Ortiz gashed the defense with another counter for the long touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
“If we don’t have that drive, they get the ball back and the momentum is all their way,” Dooley said. “I give kudos to the offense, coming out after we got smacked in the mouth and responding with a good drive.”
The Colonials put together another good drive late in the third quarter, rolling 78 yards in just five plays. Greenwood started it by shaking out of three tackles for a 33-yard burst, and Isaiah Gaynor used a spin move on his way to a 16-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Sussex Central answered with an 11-yard touchdown run by Kendrique Nocks to make it 35-21 with 9:45 to play, but the Golden Knights couldn’t get any closer.
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.