By MARK TRIBLE
South Jersey Glory Days Senior Football Writer
MOUNT HOLLY — Due to the soft-spoken sophomore nicknamed “Ice Cup,” Atlantic City High football coach Keenan Wright got the ice bath.
Here on a chilly night at Rancocas Valley High School, the frozen-monikered Sah’nye Degraffenreidt hauled in two fourth-quarter touchdown passes — the latter with 47 seconds left that lifted the Vikings to their first playoff win since 2012.
“When it was in the air, I was thinking that was me,” Degraffenreidt said of the 14-yard score. “That’s me. I got it.”
He did. Ky Gilliam’s interception on the next possession sealed it. Atlantic City, with a 32-28 triumph, is headed to the Central Jersey Group 5 semifinals.
Long before he got soaked by players with water from two bright orange coolers, Wright spoke about his star receiver. Look for No. 2, he said. Look for him on the field not just because of his terrific talent — a penchant to grab any ball thrown his way — but because of his love for this game.
Football is in Degraffenreidt’s heart. It is what he knows and dedicates himself to. He is quiet, but relentless. When this classic ended, the prophetic coach brought it full circle.
“It’s poetic if you really think about it,” the Blackwood native Wright said. “It’s a kid who doesn’t miss practice.
“It’s a kid who is at practice and running around like a maniac all day long. He loves football. If practice is flat — and all coaches know we have practices that are flat — he picks everybody up. He just loves the game. As a coach, it’s a privilege and honor to coach a kid that loves the game like that.”
The victory drive began at the 15-yard line with 2:16 to play.
Quarterback Joe Lyons used a couple of passes to Gilliam to start things off. Then, a 34-yard slant to Degraffenreidt put fifth-seeded Atlantic City (7-1) in position at the 32 of the fourth-seeded Red Devils (6-4).
A pass interference call on 3rd-and-10 brought the Vikings to the 17 with 1:09 left. Allen Packard ran for three. Lyons threw incomplete.
Then, the fade to the front right corner of the end zone.
“First, second down, we still have a lot of time left,” Lyons said. “Just give it up to him and see what happens.”
What happens is a memory that those who made the 60-mile trek will never forget.
“That bus ride is going to feel good!” Degraffenreidt exclaimed.
His eight grabs for 174 yards and two touchdowns made it so. As did Packard’s incredible performance. On Atlantic City’s first snap of the first half, he broke a 99-yard touchdown run.
On the first play of the second half, Packard took the kickoff 71 yards to the house.
But RV had a weapon of its own in Jerimya Paula, who raced for three touchdowns on the night and 176 yards. His final saunter for six came from 33 out with 9:01 left in the game.
The extra point try came with a penalty, so the Red Devils opted for two points and got it. They went up 28-20.
Then, Lyons went to work and found Degraffenreidt on a deep ball down the right sideline for a 48-yard connection. It brought the score to 28-26 with 6:33 left.
The conversion failed.
RV marched from its 28 to Atlantic City’s 44 before a second-down incompletion created a 3rd-and-long. The Vikings held strong on a 3-yard run from Paula.
A punt put the ball at the 15.
Then, the fateful possession to seal the Atlantic Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram FIAT Game of the Week.
It ended in Degraffenreidt’s hands.
So did the frustration of a fruitless nine years for the city. AC owns a 5-game win streak now.
In Wright’s first two seasons, they had four total wins.
“It’s great for our program,” he said. “This is a result of putting a program in place and kids sticking with it.
“…The kids bought in. That’s really what it comes down to.”
It doesn’t hurt to have a star as ice cold as Ice Cup.
“Before him, I’ve never seen a high school player like that,” Packard said. “He’s different.”
Mark Trible is a special high school football writer for South Jersey Glory Days. You can follow him on Twitter @MTrible. Also, catch his high school football show (The South Jersey Football Frenzy Show) every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at facebook.com/sjglorydays, and his “Hat’s Off” Podcast every Sunday at 9 a.m.