WEST CHESTER >> West Chester Henderson, which finished 1-9 last fall, is off to a 3-0 start after defeating Owen J. Roberts, 35-0, Friday evening at J. Oscar Dicks Stadium.
The Warriors did it with a tough defense, led by senior middle linebacker Ryan Brida; and a potent running attack (nearly 400 yards rushing), led by junior C.J. Preston (245 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries) and senior Dom Palmer (106 yards).
Henderson’s defense really sparkled in the first half, holding Owen J. Roberts to only one first down until just before halftime. Senior middle linebacker Ryan Brida, as usual, anchored the Warriors’ defense.
“Ryan Brida is the heart and soul of our defense,” said Henderson head coach Steve Mitten. “He’s very much a physical force, and works hard.”
Brida said, “We’ve been playing great defensively all year. The key [tonight] was everyone playing to their responsibilities. Everyone was just flying around….It was really hot tonight, but we told the guys, ‘It’s Friday Night Lights, and make the most of your opportunities.’”
Meanwhile, Henderson did not have to punt until the third quarter. Preston led the way on offense, scoring three touchdowns. His first touchdown romp, a 53-yarder up the middle, gave the hosts a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
“I have to hand it to the offensive line,” said Preston. “On that first touchdown, I saw a hole at the No. 2 spot (right guard), broke one arm tackle, and took off.”
Last spring, Preston ran track for the Warriors – the 100- and 200-meter run, and the 4×100 relay, which qualified for districts. His track work came in handy in Friday night’s humid conditions.
Mitten said, “All the track work that CJ did last spring has paid off, all the work he did in the weight room. He’s got great speed, and he’s a great kid. We got great blocking up front and on the perimeter.”
Preston said, “We knew that conditions [heat] were going to be bad, but I kept telling myself to stay hydrated, and not get cramped.”
There weren’t a lot of high spots for Owen J. Roberts (1-2) Friday night, but Wildcat head coach Rich Kolka saw a few positives for his team Friday night, particularly in the efforts of 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior lineman Nick Duliakas.
“We’re a young team, we only have two starting seniors, but if we can find players with a motor like [Duliakas], then we’ll be all right,” said Kolka.
Henderson held a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when Warrior junior defensive back (and quarterback) Joe Saulino made an interception that led to the host’s second touchdown drive.
Brida said, “I thought it was a key play. I got good coverage on their No. 2 receiver, our defensive line pressured their quarterback and Joe made a great interception.”
Saulino hit senior back Ryan DiFabrizio and and senior wide reciver Robert Calhoun for a couple of key gains totalling 56 yards, and senior running back Dom Palmer broke for an 18-yard gain, and Preston capped the touchdown drive with a one-yard plunge to make the score 14-0 with 11:29 to go before the half.
Three minutes later, Dom Palmer bolted down the left sideline for a 60-yard touchdown to give the Warriors a 21-0 lead.
Midway through the third quarter, Joe Saulino’s brother Jack intercepted a Wildcat pass and returned it for a 14-yard touchdown to make it 28-0, and Preston’s 30-yard touchdown romp midway through the fourth quarter completed the scoring.
Henderson did rack up more than a dozen penalties Friday night, something Mitten said the Warriors will have to work on.
“Our penalties were symptomatic of losing focus on a hot night, and some sloppy play,” said Mitten. “But [overall] I give credit to my kids. Owen J. Roberts is a well-coached team and their quarterback has a good arm. And on hot night like tonight, we were lucky no one went down with meaningful cramps.”