CONCORD >> Homecoming is a special event at any school, but the stakes get a little higher when there is a major milestone on the line.
While Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci would most likely prefer not to lead off this recap of the Jaguars’ 35-13 Central League victory over visiting Strath Haven, there was no way for him to avoid acknowledging his 200th victory at Garnet Valley when asked about his tenure and how he has overseen the growth of the program from a small-scale operation to a local powerhouse.
“I truly love being here at Garnet Valley and have been truly blessed to have kids who buy into our program and are completely selfless,” said Ricci, who has coached at Garnet Valley since 1986, with the exception of one year when he coached at Widener University. “They work hard and I have a phenomenal group of assistant coaches, who guide them along the way. I’ve always said that this is a win for the football program at Garnet Valley and all that it stands for. It’s also for all of those kids who have come through the program.”
With the win, Ricci became only the fifth coach in Delaware County history to reach the 200-victory plateau, joining Kevin Clancy (Archbishop Carroll/Strath Haven), Phil Marion (Ridley), Joe McNicholas (Ridley) and Steve Lennox (Interboro).
Congrats to Coach Ricci on win #200 pic.twitter.com/lJ3vGGNHtM
— GV Athletics (@GVAthletics) October 15, 2016
One of the major reasons for the Jaguars’ success has been their ability to optimize their talent. With a deep and talented roster, Garnet Valley has the capability to be both explosive and grinding. Strath Haven got a dose of all that Friday night.
A big piece of setting the tone for the night was Jacob Buttermore, who continued his assault on opposing defenses as he was, again, a terror to defend. Buttermore, who rushed for 115 yards on 17 carries and had one rushing touchdown, took a reverse on a punt return and dashed 67 yards for the game’s opening score.
“Jacob has been making big plays for us all year and today was no exception,” Ricci said. “It was set up by a great play by Denny Nealon to get him the ball. We work very hard on special teams and I was very proud to see that pay off.”
Buttermore, however, did make one mistake and even that turned into a touchdown. After rushing to the goal line Buttermore had the ball stripped, but Jaguars offensive lineman Joey DiAntonio pounced on the ball for a score.
With the end zone being a foreign place to most linemen, DiAntonio appeared unsure how to celebrate at first, but threw his arms up before being mobbed by his teammates.
“I saw the ball pop out and just ran, dove on it, and scraped up my elbow,” DiAntonio said. “I didn’t know it was a touchdown at first because they didn’t call it right away.”
While he may have been a bit shocked to find himself in the box score, DiAntonio was not surprised by the team’s performance.
“Our o-line was pretty dominant and the backs ran really hard,” DiAntonio said.
Matthew Lassik ripped off a 31-yard scoring run, while quarterback Nick Juliano added a one-yard score for the Jaguars, who did not attempt a pass all night. Instead, they used the strong legs of Buttermore, Lassik (114 yards), Juliano (55 yards), and Austin Patton (86 yards) to wear down the Strath Haven defense.
“We’ve been running back by committee all year and we’ve got a group of guys who work hard to excel back there,” Ricci said. “The line really enjoys blocking for them and when you have people who run hard like that, everyone wants to be a part of it.”
The Panthers offense, however, have many weapons to choose from and did give the Jaguars trouble at times. Jaguars’ linebacker Shane Donegan was one of the Garnet Valley defenders ensuring Strath Haven would not be able to spoil Ricci’s big night.
“Coach Ricci is an awesome coach,” Donegan said. “He does a lot for this team and it’s awesome for him to get his 200th win with our class going through.”
Using a mix of Hunter Mazur, Zachary Newlon, and Nick O’Connor on the ground and Evan Atsaves firing out wide to Thomas Foster through the air, Strath Haven (3-5 overall, 3-4 Central League) had the Jaguars on their heels at several junctures.
Foster hauled in six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown, while Mazur rushed for 77 yards and also had three receptions for 31 yards, including a touchdown. But the deeper Jaguars (6-2, 5-2 league) weren’t going to be had.
“We came out, took care of business, and stuck together as a team,” Donegan said.