Saturday was supposed to be a grand day for Chip Knapp. Wesley's offensive coordinator was returning to his native Ohio with his 5-1 football team playing NAIA Walsh University. at the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Stadium in Canton. Many family members, including excellent cooks, were going to be there for Wesley's 3rd game in Ohio in 4 years. It was to be a giant Knapp football family reunion. The game promised to be a battle, going against a scholarship football program in the place where football is truly king.
Ben Knapp, Chip's 16-year-old son, rode along with the team for the game. Chip has been a constant at games since I first met the Wolverines 6 years ago. The fact he doesn't play for the Dover High School Senators, like you might expect from many coaches sons, allows him to spend more time with his Dad.
The 8-plus hour trip from Dover to Canton began Thursday night. As the team did with its trips to Bangor, Maine and Charleston, South Carolina, the Wolverines split up the trip into two segments, choosing to stay at a hotel in Breezewood, PA. Ben and Chip were roommates of course, with one of Chip's top lieutenants Steve Azzanessi nearby.
Azzanessi is Wesley's wide receivers coach. The former all-ACFC quarterback is in his 10th year with the team after spending 2 years as a sports reporter for WBOC-TV in Salisbury. During that time, I had the chance to intern under him for one summer. One of the most energetic guys I've ever met, he's turned the passion needed to make it in media into an excellent coach, and coordinator for a Division III power. Also on his resume? Dewey Beach Lifeguard.
I don't have all the details, but sometime after 4am Friday Morning, every father's worst nightmare happened. Chip realized that Ben was going into cardiac arrest. Every minute in that state reduces your chance of living by 10%. Steve stopped in, and did what he had once been trained to do, he brought Ben back to life. Being in South Central Pennsylvania, Ben was quickly transported to Pittsburgh Childrens' Hospital. He was eventually placed into a medically-induced coma.
Chip made the obvious decision to stay bedside with his son. Sure, Wesley had a big game against a tough opponent, but who wouldn't stay bedside their pride and joy? Besides, he could listen to me attempt to stammer through a broadcast thanks to the WDEL Mobile App (cheap plug, learn more about it at wdel.com).
There was no hiding this from the team. Quarterback Shane McSweeny has a very close relationship with both head coach Mike Drass and Knapp, and since Ben was on the trip, he was very much a part of the team. Team chaplain Randy Chambers held several prayer circles giving strength to the Knapps and the Wolverines as well.
After an emotional team breakfast Saturday, the team walked into Fawcett Stadium. With the busts of Walter Payton, Jim Thorpe, and Reggie White no more than 300 yards away, the Wolverines prepared to enter battle with emotions all over the map.
The game started slow, a 3-and-out by Chip's offense was followed by a long drive by the Cavaliers that ended in a field goal. In a rarity, Wesley was down 3-0 after a quarter.
As the quarter changed though, Wesley faced a 3rd-and-1 at the Walsh 33. Brandon Wright, who has been battle turf toe for most of the season, converted it on a 2 yard run, and ultimately Shane McSweeny found Sean McAndrew (The Irish Connection) for an 8 yard score. A long Wolverine drive at the end of the half proved fruitless, but Wesley had a 7-3 lead at the break.
After a short Walsh drive led to a punt, Wesley responded going 69 yards entirely on the ground. Wesley was pulling the will out of the physical Cavaliers. The next Wesley drive? Another 69 yards. This time a beautiful 36-yard strike from McSweeny to a diving Matt Barile set up a 1-yard sneak by Chip's quarterback to make it 21-3.
Wesley finished the scoring when Concord High School alum Dakevis Howard took an interception 18 yards into the end zone. Wesley won 28-3. A classic Wesley game of solid defense, and a very effective balance of running and passing. As I said at the end of the game they "Won one for the Knapps."
Meanwhile, the Knapps reunion did happen, but at PCH. The joyous family reunion on a crisp October afternoon would have to wait, but the family was not complete.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat at the stadium, the two team buses took a detour from Dover and went immediately to Pittsburgh to join one of their leaders and friends in more prayer circles. The team presented the game ball to the man who means so much to them, Chip Knapp.
Winning a game was great, but just looking at the pictures I've seen, you can see the raw emotions of a tough 48 hours pouring out of everyone.
As I type this Sunday around 1pm, Ben is slowly being awaken from the medically-induced coma. It will be a long road ahead for everyone associated for the Wesley program. The Wolverines face "Route 13 Rival" Salisbury University Saturday. A win, and Wesley is one step closer to yet another playoff berth, a loss, and it could take a lot to get the Wolverines into the field of 32.
I think I can say beyond a shadow of the doubt: Football scores be darned, Wesley is hoping praying for just one victory this week, Ben Knapp.
Posted at 1:05pm on October 23, 2011 by Sean Greene
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