In a moment of joyful clarity, a smile finally broke through on Albie Crosby’s face.
The Neumann-Goretti High School football coach had just guided his team to a miraculous 20-17 victory over Wyomissing in the closing seconds of the State PIAA Class 3 semifinal. Crosby delivered his postgame speech to the team in the northern end zone of the Germantown Supersite and was then surrounded by reporters as his team walked to the locker room. A chant then broke out from the Saints’ side of the field.
“We want Albie!”
Louder and louder it got.
The Saints coach paused during his remarks to the media and soaked it in for just a few seconds with a smile. It was an endearing moment after an emotional last few weeks.
“My mother passed away on November 12,” Crosby said solemnly. “And today is her birthday. I actually feel like she made this happen.”
The Saints didn’t let Crosby down. After conceding the go-ahead touchdown with just 34 seconds left in the game and trailing by three, Neumann-Goretti pulled off an incredible comeback, highlighted by a 44-yard touchdown pass from junior Mehki Wharton to a wide-open Qaasim Major, who crossed the goal line with eight seconds remaining.
“What’s crazy is my coach drew that play up during the timeout,” Wharton said. “It felt great and I was confident in him to catch it.”
Major ran a perfect route and Wharton hit him over the shoulder at about the 15 yard line. Major reeled it in and tiptoed along the sideline to arrive safely in the end zone.
“I just told myself to keep playing hard,” Major said. “It’s coming. I believed in my team. I knew my line was going to block, I knew Mehki was going to get it out there. I just knew I needed to give 100 percent for my team.”
Wyomissing, which defeated Neumann-Goretti last year in the state semifinal, scored the first 10 points of the game before Shawn Battle managed to break through for a 52-yard run with 4:26 remaining in the first half, and Samuel Hobbs provided the two-point conversion to make it 10-8. It remained that way until late in the fourth quarter when Wharton engineered a 56-yard drive that concluded with fullback Kyreese Bradley bulldozing the ball over the line from two yards out with 2:01 left in the game to put the Saints up 14-10.
It appeared Neumann-Goretti had secured the game winning drive, but Wyomissing wasn’t finished. The Berks County powerhouse marched 80 yards down the field and retook the lead on a 10-yard reception by Charlie McIntyre with 34 seconds left to make it 17-14.
The Saints should have been shell shocked. They responded with incredible poise.
“I felt great with my team and felt great with my coaches,” Wharton said. “I felt confident in them. When I’m confident and everyone else is confident, we got a lot of heart. We showed that on the field. With 34 seconds left on the clock, it’s nerve-racking. You don’t know if you’re going to win or go home. We chose to win it.”
Wharton found Major for perhaps the biggest touchdown in the program’s history just as the sun peeked through the clouds on an overcast and windy afternoon. Crosby pointed to the sky in celebration.
“I was just trying to touch base with her,” Crosby said. “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for me. I’m an only child. The last couple weeks have been really difficult for me and my family.
But we played three games in eight days. It kept my mind busy and the team just rocked with me.”
The Saints (11-3) were 3-3 after suffering a loss to Conwell-Egan on Oct. 15. The next week, they started an eight game winning streak, which included a revenge victory over Conwell-Egan on Nov. 4. The following week, Crosby won his 100th career game on the same day his mother passed away.
“It was actually during my 100th victory and I got the phone call at halftime against Kipp-(Dubois),” Crosby recalled. “The Kids just sort of rallied all the way around me. They put little stickers on the back of their helmets for my mom.”
A new chapter of Neumann-Goretti football was added to the history books as the Saints reached the state championship for the first time in school history. They will take on Belle Vernon (11-2) on December 10 at Chapman Field at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg. The Leopards have won 10 in a row including a 21-17 win over Central High School of Martinsburg. But when you get to this stage of the season, anything can happen.
“When you go down to Wyomissing with 34 seconds to go, hopefully my mom was the one who helped us out,” Crosby said with a smile. “And I hope she can help us a little bit more.”