The Saints had all the momentum, scoring two touchdowns in less than 60 seconds to slice the Crusaders’ 17-point advantage to a meager three points with more than 10 minutes to play.
All Berks Catholic needed was another defensive stop and the Saints would have been in full control.
That stop never came.
Bishop McDevitt put together a championship-clinching drive that was part risky, part crazy and 100 percent the difference in the Crusaders’ 41-31 victory at Manheim Township High School.
Officially, the drive was 18 plays, 69 yards and took 8:13 off the clock. Crusaders quarterback Chase Diehl hit wideout Nazir Burnett from 5 yards out on a fourth-down play to cap the drive with the all-important touchdown.
But there was so much more that made it a memorable championship drive.
How about Burnett, who occasionally rugby punts for the Crusaders, taking off on fourth-and-5 from his own 36 instead of punting the ball on third down? He made the first down by a yard.
“He has that option, it’s his call,” Bishop McDevitt head coach Jeff Weachter said. “That’s all him. When he took off, I said, ‘you better make it.’”
Two negative rushes later, McDevitt faced third-and-16 from its own 41.
The next play, a pass from Diehl to freshman Mario Easterly, was drawn up in the locker room at halftime. The stretch by Easterly at the end of the catch was good for 17 yards and a first down.
And leading by three points with two minutes to play, Weachter never considered kicking a field goal to go up six. At that point, the coach said it was an easy decision to go for the two-score lead and the win.
“With our kicking game being not-so-great, there was no decision. It was time to win the game,” Weachter said. “And we finally got the single coverage matchup we were looking for and had the perfect call.”
This was the first District 3 championship for the Crusaders since 2015.
Bishop McDevitt (12-1) won this game by running the football straight at Berks Catholic behind a dominant performance by the offensive line at the line of scrimmage, and playing smart and disciplined defense.
“The difference was our linemen up front,” said Diehl, who threw for 142 yards, rushed for 55 and accounted for a pair of touchdowns. “Our backs ran hard all game, but the difference was man-up our guys up front were winning.”
McDevitt rushed for 301 yards on 47 carries against a Berks Catholic defense that came into this contest allowing fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground.
Running back CJ Reyes-Diggs continued his stellar second half of the season by ringing up 159 yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns. Fullback Devyn Clair added 55 second-half yards on seven carries, and Diehl scrambled for another 57.
“Our offensive line deserves a lot of credit. They played really well. Our offensive line was lights out,” Weachter said. “The way Berks Catholic lined up defensively, they were daring us to run the ball.”
McDevitt’s defense was holding fort against the Saints run game through three quarters. Then a 60-second lapse where the Saints hit on a big play and McDevitt turned the ball over changed the whole dimension of this game.
The Crusaders led 34-17 with 12 minutes to play, but 14 Saints points in 55 seconds pinned McDevitt in survival mode with its back against the wall.
“It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. This senior class wanted to create its own legacy since they had not won a district championship,” Weachter said. “That drive was crazy, but it was all about taking back momentum and wanting it more than they did. This group wanted to leave a legacy and that’s how you do it.”
The Crusaders advance to the PIAA Class 4A semifinals, where they will face either District 10’s Cathedral Prep (10-3) or the WPIAL’s South Fayette — the teams play at 7 p.m. — at a site and time to be determined.