PHILADELPHIA — Fresh off a season-opening loss in which Malvern Prep gave up 47 points, the Friars were desperate to find a defensive identity.
They found it, and boy was it timely.
Playing at historic Franklin Field on University of Pennsylvania’s campus, Malvern held off La Salle College High, 21-12, despite a major advantage by the Explorers in ball control.
La Salle (1-2 overall) ran 60 offensive plays to Malvern’s 38, but key stops and devastating penalties thwarted the Explorers, while the big play propelled the Friars to their first win in the rivalry in seven years.
“I’m happy for the seniors,” Malvern coach Aaron Brady said. “It’s a big game for the program and for us to get back after a tough loss last week. This a great venue and it was an awesome football game.”
La Salle seemingly lived in Malvern territory. In fact, the Explorers ran more plays on the Malvern half (41) than the Friars did in their own territory (23). The Explorers recovered a short opening kickoff at the Malvern 25, but the Friars forced a turnover on downs.
The Explorers reached the red zone two more times in the game but only got three points out of it. On their final trip, midway through the fourth quarter, they scored two touchdowns only to have both called back due to illegal formations. A field goal try to make it a one-score game fittingly clanked off the upright.
“(Malvern) is a really good football team and they played hard,” La Salle coach John Steinmetz said. “We shot ourselves in the foot twice down there with penalties. That really hurts. They were fundamental mistakes, lining up wrong and it’s very disappointing.”
La Salle did open the scoring when Brett Mallee found pay dirt on a 29-yard pass from Tom Lamorte, to make it 6-0 in the first quarter.
Malvern struck back with a seven-play, 75-yard drive setup by a 50-yard run by Zac Fernandez and
capped with an 11-yard grab by Fernandez from Kevin Doyle.
After forcing a punt on La Salle’s next possession, Malvern extended its lead on the first play when Quincy Watson got free on a screen pass and sprinted 70 yards to the house.
“The biggest thing is we stopped ourselves so many times,” Brady said. “We had big plays, but we need to be more consistent.”
La Salle added field goals by Mike Wells at the end of the second quarter and midway through the third to make it 14-12, but once again Malvern totally stole the momentum.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Doyle took a read option off the left tackle and raced 80 yards basically untouched to push the margin to nine, where it would remain the final 17 minutes.
“It lets them out of the bag a little,” Steinmetz said of the big plays. “We had them pinned down and didn’t score and a quarterback shouldn’t go 80 yards, at least not on a team that thinks it has a good defense.”
Sy Manning finished with 152 yards on the ground for La Salle, and Fernandez led the Friars with 90. Take away those two long touchdowns for Malvern and it had 162 yards on 36 plays, but the big plays will be extra memorable in such a renowned stadium.
“There was more excitement,” Doyle said of the trip to Philadelphia. “There was way more build up, Thursday and Friday and parents and alumni were coming down. It’s great for the school and I’m happy to be a part of it.”