NEW HOLLAND — When Penncrest opened the fourth quarter with a basket to give the Lions a 16-point lead, the end of the Fred Mulbah-Antonio Rizzuto era seemed almost a foregone conclusion.
Northeastern, the No. 3 seed from District 3, seemingly had no answers for the District 1 champions.
That's when the magic started.
While Mulbah played a starring role for the Bobcats, it was two sophomores, Nate Wilson and Andrew Brodbeck, who made an improbable, come-from-behind victory possible.
Scoring more points in the fourth quarter than it had the entire game, the Bobcats rallied from a 47-31 deficit to stun Penncrest 63-60 Tuesday night at Garden Spot High School in a PIAA boys' 5-A second-round contest.
The victory sends Northeastern (27-3) to the state quarterfinals Friday night against District 2 champion Abington Heights (24-3), which edged Chester on Tuesday night, 49-48. The site and time for Friday's game has yet to be determined.
Chester (19-9) was the fourth-place team from District 1. Penncrest finished 25-3.
Outside of an opening basket by Wilson, who led all Bobcat scorers with 26 points, Northeastern didn’t take the lead again until the final minute when Brodbeck scored a layup off an unbelievable drive from Mulbah, who dished off to a wide-open Brodbeck.
“I texted my oldest son today and told him I was a little nervous about this game,” Bobcats coach Jon Eyster said. “Every team is good at this point, but I told him I’d been with these four seniors since third grade and I didn’t want it to end.
“Their coach had a great game plan and they were able to take Tony (Rizzuto) out of our offense, but somehow, we dug deep and got it done.”
Rizzuto, who’s been hampered by a fractured tailbone suffered in districts, was limited to six points. But his teammates stepped up. Northeastern sank 11 3-point baskets. Wilson had four in the second half.
“We knew our sets weren’t working, so we put Tony down low and let Fred do his thing and it worked,” Eyster said. “Fred was sick all week, too, and I think he was a little sluggish for a while.”
Mulbah, however, was in high gear in the fourth quarter. Add in the fact that the Lions lost two starters to five fouls, and the momentum swung to the Bobcats.
Mulbah (15 points) made two of four free throws to give Northeastern a 61-59 lead with 13 seconds left before Chris Mills made it 61-60 in the final 10 seconds. With Northeastern inbounding, Brodbeck was quickly fouled, but the sophomore sank both free throws to make it 63-60 with four seconds left.
Senior Tyler Norwood, who had a game-high 27 points, heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer that bounced off the rim as Northeastern began the celebration.
“I just had to block out the crowd and focus on the basket,” said Brodbeck of the huge free throws. “We weren’t giving up even if it didn’t look too good for a while.”
Reach George Hammond at firstname.lastname@example.org.