Connect with us

Central League

Wood’s pick helps Garnet Valley snip Springfield’s string of successes

SPRINGFIELD >> Dave Wood described the play as just like any other.

The linebacker dropped back into coverage, settled into a zone, then reacted to the ball, intercepting Springfield quarterback Johnny Fanelli to seal a 21-14 Garnet Valley win Friday evening.

But even the senior, in his role as Wood Jr., offered a little smirk about what that interception would mean when he got home. Wood’s pick evicted Springfield from the ranks of the unbeaten, opening the door for the Ridley team coached by that other, older Dave Wood to win out and split a title.

Garnet Valley's Denny Nealon, let, and Sam Rudolph try to take down Springfield's Ja'den McKenzie Friday. McKenzie scored two touchdowns, but the Cougars dropped a 21-14 decision. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Garnet Valley’s Denny Nealon, let, and Sam Rudolph try to take down Springfield’s Ja’den McKenzie Friday. McKenzie scored two touchdowns, but the Cougars dropped a 21-14 decision. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

“It’s going to be a great night,” the younger Wood said. “He’s going to be happy, and I’m going to be happy.”
That message carried clear across the Central League, through some version of familial intuition (and, perhaps, Twitter).

“(Springfield) lost and my son had the key interception,” Wood Sr. told a reporter after Ridley’s 36-0 win over Conestoga. “That’s awesome. It’s an awesome play and it’s just awesome he did that. Our kids were cheering on the sideline.”

Plenty of the younger Wood’s fellow Jaguars (7-2, 6-2 Central League) were ecstatic, too. It’s likely a longshot for the Jags to nudge back into the title race, but they solidified their placement in the District 1 6A field, entering the night seeded 11th.

They also spiced up the recipe for Week 10, which Ridley, Springfield and Marple Newtown will all enter with one league loss and designs on a portion of the Central crown. The Cougars play Haverford (5-2 in the Central League with Upper Darby waiting on Thanksgiving) in the arch-spoiler role.

Wood’s pick sealed a second-half shutout by GV, part of the Jags’ resurgence since early losses to Haverford and Ridley (in case you’re wondering, “there was no beef after that week or anything,” Wood Jr. assures us). But with Garnet’s offense accounting for a mere 151 yards Friday, it needed a little boost.

On that front, Denny Nealon shined brightest. All three Garnet Valley scores were set up by stellar special teams returns, two provided by the senior wide out/defensive back. He burst down the sidelines for 64 yards late in the first quarter, knocked out of bounds only by kicker Jack Coary at the 25, to set up the first of three Jacob Buttermore touchdown runs, a 23-yard inside handoff.

The game unquestionably pivoted the next time Nealon touched the ball, a 75-yard return of the second half’s opening kick. Coary was again the only thing standing between Nealon and paydirt with a last-ditch tackle at the 10.

Garnet Valley quarterback Nick Juliano is tackled by Springfield’s Dwayne Snipes in a game that turned defensive in the second half. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Garnet Valley quarterback Nick Juliano is tackled by Springfield’s Dwayne Snipes in a game that turned defensive in the second half. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

“Denny has always got the spark,” Wood said. “He’s always on the field getting everyone all excited. It gave us a chance and made us realize that we’re all still in this game.”

“Denny’s one of the most energetic guys on the team,” said Buttermore, who gained 81 yards on 19 carries. “So seeing him run up the field and doing that, it just gets our team pumped up and fired up.”

Two plays later, Buttermore finished the job with a four-yard score to tie the game at 14.

Buttermore did the dirty work on the next drive, returning a punt from midfield to the Springfield 30. It took 10 clock-grinding plays to push over the goal line, but Buttermore delivered the last blow, a one-yard option pitch from quarterback Nick Juliano on fourth-and-goal with 4:32 left in the third quarter.

Those would be the game’s last points.

“Our game plan is always drawn up perfectly: Pound the ball, pound the ball, trust our o-linemen,” Nealon said. “And it’s been working all year. But once they start punting and kicking, we’re like, this is our time, let’s take it.”

The problem was that Plan A wasn’t working very well early on Friday. The Jags went into halftime with just 72 yards of offense, yet they trailed only by seven points.

Springfield (8-1, 7-1), meanwhile, didn’t benefit from such advantageous field position. Both of its touchdowns were provided by Ja’den McKenzie in the first quarter — a 37-yard dash on the first series and a one-yarder with 1:13 left in the frame, less than a minute before Buttermore pegged it back.

But the Cougars couldn’t rise to the occasion after halftime. They punted three times, turned the ball over on downs on a Fanelli incompletion with 3:01 left and then the Wood interception.

“We just came out a little flat in the second half; that’s all,” McKenzie said. “They didn’t do anything special, we just came out flat, and we’re going to fix that up next week.”

Fanelli started strong, hitting eight of his first 10 passes. But he finished just 15-for-28 for 178 yards and two interceptions. He found Vince Puppio for a 52-yard completion to the 1-yard line that set up McKenzie’s second touchdown. McKenzie ended up with 85 yards on 19 carries.

But Garnet Valley’s defense ratcheted up the pressure late. Shane Donegan picked Fanelli off to end a promising drive late in the first half, though the big man’s return was nullified by a penalty.

Fanelli was placed under constant duress after halftime, with sacks from Rob Monachello and Josh Ciarrocchi short-circuiting drives, and the intensifying rain that greeted his final series didn’t help.

The defense’s rally allowed Nealon a little historical vindication. Two years ago, the Lehigh lacrosse commit vividly recalled traveling to Springfield in Week 7, both teams unbeaten in the Central League, and enduring the heartbreak of a 7-0 loss on an 87-yard Brian Allen touchdown pass to Brett Sheeran.

That slight was in part rectified Friday.

“Two years ago, we were on this field, they took away our chance at the title,” Nealon said. “And we were like, we’ve got to do it for the older guys that came before it. We needed it for these guys. And now it’s a little tougher for them to win the title.”

Correspondent Patrick Crossan contributed to this report.

Comments

comments

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent News

More in Central League