Talk about good timing.
For the first time in his four-year football career, Medford (N.J.) Shawnee High player Alex Mourtos caught a football. The senior receiver is a part-time starter for the Renegades, but spent almost all of his time as a blocker in a run-heavy offense.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer's Phil Anastasia recounted, that finally changed on Friday, when a pass was finally thrown to Mourtos in the second quarter. Crushingly, the senior dropped a ball that was delivered right to his hands.
Luckily, he'd get a second chance, and he would definitely make the most of it. Shawnee was trailing undefeated Williamstown (N.J.) High 17-14 with just 26 seconds remaining, holding the ball at the Williamstown 14-yard line. That was the good news. The bad news was that the Renegades were facing a fourth-and-4. Rather than run -- as Williamstown almost surely assumed they would -- Shawnee quarterback Jamie Jackopin dropped back for a pass … and found Mourtos open in the end zone.
The senior made the clutch catch, lifting Shawnee to a memorable 21-17 victory that puts the Renegades in position to qualify for the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs.
"I thought it was all over," Mourtos told the Inquirer. "[Catching a game-winning pass was] Just amazing."
While it took plenty of guts to put such a signature win on the shoulders of a player who had never notched an official reception, Shawnee coach Tim Gushue knew it was the right move to make. There was a good reason for that, too: He was convinced that Mourtos' late father, Chris, was looking down on Shawnee's fortunes. Chris Mourtos, an area restaurant owner who passed away after a battle with cancer in June, was a longtime booster of the program who fiercely supported his sons Henry and Alex's roles with the team.
"Chris Mourtos was so generous to this program," Gushue told the Inquirer. "His son Harry played for us, too, and anything that any young man needed, he was there for them. He would come to their aid. For Alex to catch that pass, it was just a special moment."
"Alex," Gushue said while rubbing Alex's red hair, "I know he was looking down on us tonight."
From a neutral standpoint, all can hope he was. The elder Mourtos would have caught a heck of a show, one which even starred his son for a change.
"My dad was always there for me," Mourtos said. "He was there with me tonight."