Lyons, Degraffenreidt lift Atlantic City to first playoff win since 2012
MOUNT HOLLY (N.J.) - Sah'nye Degraffenreidt will remember his 16th birthday for a long time.
After celebrating another trip around the sun on Wednesday, the Atlantic City High School sophomore reeled in the game-winning score as the Vikings rallied past Rancocas Valley, 32-28, in the Central Jersey Group 5 quarterfinals on Friday night.
The sophomore's touchdown with 47 seconds left propelled Atlantic City to its first playoff win since 2012.
"I ain't really feel pressure," Degraffenreidt said. "This is for my city, for my team, for my brothers. Everybody. I got them. I'm gonna make it happen."
The sophomore made it happen with nine receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
Jerimya Paula rushed for a trio of touchdowns to help Rancocas Valley erase a third-quarter deficit and establish a 28-20 advantage with 9:01 left to play. The senior began to wear out the Vikings' defense with his power between the tackles, and shifted the momentum into the Red Devils' favor.
Atlantic City showed no signs of fatigue on its next drive as Degraffenreidt snagged a 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Lyons to cap a five-play, 59-yard drive and cut the deficit to two points.
It happened once already, so pressure was nonexistent when the Vikings were tasked with traveling 86 yards with only 2:16 left to play.
"We all stayed calm," Lyons said. "Just trusted everything around me. Trust the coaches, trust the players, trust the linemen."
"The connection is strong," Degraffenreidt said. "We always find a way."
The resilience stemmed from the Vikings' 26-21 win over Oakcrest a week earlier. A come-from-behind triumph against a "crosstown rival" prepared them for this moment.
"We showed that we could do it last week," Atlantic City coach Keenan Wright said. "We had a tough game against Oakcrest. We came back in the last minute to win that game. They don't flinch. That's a part of being resilient."
Running back Allen Packard tallied 16 rushes for 184 yards, including a 99-yard touchdown to put the Vikings ahead in the opening quarter. The senior exerted his firepower again with a 71-yard kickoff return touchdown to extend Atlantic City's lead to 20-13 on the first play of the third stanza.
The senior's leadership is infectious.
"You'll never hear him speak at practice," Wright said. "He's a captain. Kids respect him. When he speaks they listen. He's the fastest kid on the team. When he hits that sideline, it's over."
Rancocas Valley concluded its season with a 6-4 record. It marked the first time the Red Devils clinched a playoff berth and celebrated a winning season since 2018.
The Vikings improved their record to 7-1 and will visit Lenape in the Central Jersey Group 5 semifinals next Friday.
And the 10-year playoff win drought is over.
"It's great for our program," Wright said. "It's not a team - this is a result of putting a program in place and kids sticking with it. We had a solid offseason and we got a lot of support from the community. The kids bought in. That's really what it comes down to."