DOWNINGTOWN — Two years ago Thomas Mattioni was a varsity wide receiver and Jake Barr was Zach Barr’s little brother.
Now, on the verge of one of the biggest games in Downingtown football history, Mattioni and Barr have proven to be the perfect duo in Downingtown West coach Mike Milano’s offense.
Neither would be considered prototypes at their positions, but their athleticism and versatility fits seamlessly in Milano’s breakneck scheme.
“Coach Milano did a good job scoring even when he didn’t have the best offenses,” Mattioni said. “But when you have the talent too, it’s lethal.”
Mattioni had nine pass attempts the previous two seasons, playing receiver and defensive back, before transitioning into the full-time quarterback this fall. All he’s done since taking over for Tyler McNulty is lead the area in passer rating the whole season, throwing 19 touchdown passes with just two interceptions.
West is 9-0 for the first time in its history and faces 9-0 Downingtown East. The Whippets have scored an area-high 352 points and average 404.4 yards a game, and Mattioni has been at the forefront.
“We always want to run the ball first and that helps when we find a kid to manage things,” Milano said. “We can play with an athlete or more of a pure passer. We threw more with McNulty, but our efficiency is up because of our ability to run the ball. If I was a quarterback, and I’m biased, I’d love playing in this offense because you can run and pass and be fully involved in the offense.”
If Mattioni has steered the ship, Barr is the engine that drives it. He gives West the kind of dual threat at running back that Coatesville enjoyed with Dre Boggs in 2012. Barr is ninth in the Ches-Mont with 630 yards rushing, eighth in receptions with 26 and sixth in receiving yards with 558.
Barr leads the area with 20 total touchdowns, scoring 10 on the ground, nine through the air and one on a kick return. He also had an interception return for a touchdown that was called back due to a penalty. Seven of his touchdowns have been 35 yards or longer.
“Kids mature as seniors and always play with a different level of intensity and urgency,” Milano said. “Jake is faster and stronger than he was.”
For as good as West has been offensively — and no one has scored as many points offensively since East scored 349 in 2012 — the Cougars have been downright dominant on defense.
East has only given up one offensive touchdown in the last six games and is giving up 6.8 points and 63.1 rushing yards to opposing offenses this season.
“They leave their first D in the whole game, but we want to show that we can play just as well as they play defense,” Barr said.
Mattioni knows this will be his biggest challenge as a QB, but he has played a part in the past two games and the stage will not be new to him.
“Honestly, I expected to be 9-0 and for them to be 9-0,” Mattioni said. “I dreamt about it all year and it just shows all the tradition Downingtown has. It would be even crazier if we had never split, but this shows the history and tradition of Downingtown football.”
West has typically been more on the finesse side of offense, using angles to benefit smaller linemen. This year the Whippets have more size up front and are lead on the line by three-year starters John West, Jackson Hale and Matt Geary.
The only thing that has slowed West has been injuries, most notably to running back Mike Riddick, whose season was ended in week five. Braden Harper has filled in, running for 338 yards and four scores while doubling as an outside linebacker.
“We’ve all been playing together since we were younger and the offensive line has been with each other since sophomore year,” Barr said. “We’re a tight unit and we fit well together.”
Never has there been a bigger East-West game since the split in 2003. There is a good chance the two schools will be the top two seeds in the Class AAAA District 1 playoffs seeds, but a packed house and thousands others wishing they had a ticket makes bragging rights at an all-time premium.
“Our number one goal was to win the Ches-Mont title and it’s in front of us right now,” Milano said. “(East) will have the best defense we see all year. They play fast on the defensive side and bring six or seven guys almost every play to challenge you. If you’re unwilling or unable to make plays outside or over the top I think you’re in trouble.”
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