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Preston carries load for Henderson in win over Downingtown West

WEST CHESTER >> West Chester Henderson led with a strong rushing attack and a swarming defense to hold off Downingtown West, 14-7, in a Ches-Mont League affair at J. Oscar Dicks Stadium Friday.

“I can’t say enough about how the defense and special teams played,” said Henderson head coach Steve Mitten.

Henderson was determined to use tailback CJ Preston in a high-powered rushing attack. The Warriors ran the ball 53 times for 313 yards. Preston had 34 of those carries for 266 yards.

“He’s a special back,” Mitten said. “It doesn’t happen without a lot of good blocking in front of him.”

But, it wasn’t until the second half where the junior running back started to wear down West’s defense to the tune of 18 carries for 199 yards and a touchdown.

Preston said the blocking was a big reason for his second-half performance and he was just following their lead.

At the end of the first half, Preston carried the ball 16 times for 67 yards. And, for the most part, Downingtown West kept Preston from breaking any big runs. But on Henderson’s first play of the second half, Preston broke one for 41 yards. After that, it was all downhill.

Preston scored in the third quarter on a pitch from the Downingtown West 17. As he broke free, the Whippets’ Darin Warfield was waiting at the 2-yard line to make a tackle. Except Preston picked up speed and dove for the end zone to put his team up 14-7.

“I was going to the sideline on a pitch,” Preston said, “and DiFabrizio made a great block after that I knew I had to beat the safety to score.”

A week after scoring the game-winning touchdown with less than a second left against West Chester East, the Whippets seemed poised to score another late touchdown.

West forced and recovered a fumble — one of three they picked up on the night — with 6:54 left in the fourth quarter.

The offense started with the ball on its own 48-yard line. As the clock ticked down, quarterback Kyle Geiser made some big passes to move the ball down to Henderson’s 4 yard line. Facing 4th and 1 with 1:46 left, the Whippets seemed destined to tie the game. But, a false start penalty pushed them back a crucial 5 yards, and on 4th and 5, Geiser dropped back and tried to hit Brayden Williams on a slant, only to see the ball drop out of his hands. Henderson senior Nick Mascetti was the man in coverage on Williams, forcing the tough play.

“We’ve got 4th and 1 and six guys jump offside,” said Downingtown West head coach Mike Milano. “After a timeout, we talked about cadence and it’s tough. In between, it was a hard-fought game. Like it always is. Our series with Henderson is always seemingly a one-point game coming down to the last possession.”

Downingtown West’s offense was less than stellar, combining for 223 yards and struggling to move the ball. Penalties also hurt, with seven flags totaling 66 yards.

“To hold a team like West to seven points was really an exceptional effort?” Mitten said. “Playing great defense, playing great special teams and getting just enough offense has been a recipe for success around here for a long time. That’s what we did tonight.”

Henderson next travels to Great Valley to face the Patriots Friday at 7 p.m.

“We’re excited about this one and we’re ready for Great Valley,” Preston said. “The train keeps moving.”

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