By Bill Rudick
WEST CHESTER—The 12th seeded Vanguards started marching off a drive on its first possession looking like they came to do battle with the No. 5 Warriors, mixing runs and passes to pick up three first downs and moving into Henderson territory.
On a second down and long, Sun Valley QB Gabe Boccealla looked towards his sideline, and threw a screen pass towards Ishy Ahmad. Ahmad got his hands on it, but it came loose and into the hands of Henderson’s Nick Mascetti, who cradled it tightly and sprinted 73-yards to the house for the game’s first score.
The Vanguards never really recovered, as Henderson put the Mercy rule in effect by halftime, and moved on to the District 1, 5A quarterfinals with a 42-16 victory.
“We had those two turnovers early, and it really hurt us,” said Sun Valley coach Ray Gionta. “We were hoping to get a quick score and an early lead, but it didn’t work out. Henderson took advantage of our mistakes, and we just couldn’t work back in it.”
Mascetti and Joe Saulino each had picks in the first period, with Saulino’s INT setting up the Warriors next touchdown, which came on the first play of the second period.
“They were throwing the screen early on, so we were looking for it,” said Mascetti. I think the receiver actually caught the ball, but just lost it. Once I had it in my hands, I knew I was going to take it all the way back.”
It was a big turning point, as Boccella never seemed quite comfortable the rest of the way.
“Nick’s interception was definitely a big turning point,” said Henderson coach Steve Mitten. “Here we were halfway through the period, and we still hadn’t seen the ball because they were moving it on us. The ball took a funny bounce, and with Nick’s speed, he took it in. Huge shift in momentum.”
With the defense doing its job, the Warriors turned to their workhorse on offense, running back CJ Preston. Preston had a monster night, rushing for 166 yards on 15 carries, while scoring three touchdowns.
Preston’s first touchdown came with 5:32 in the half when the offensive line created a gap big enough to drive a truck through. Preston hit the hole and then covered the remaining green for a 58-yard score.
“Our offensive line has been playing so well lately,” said Preston. “I’m so proud of the way they’ve been playing. Along with this whole team. We knew we had to come out firing tonight, and we did. Feels great to get a district win.”
For the evening, Henderson piled up 254 yards on the ground. In addition to Preston’s scores, the Warriors got one through the air when Saulino connected with Ian Tracy for a ten yard TD, and Saulino ran one in from six.
Sun Valley’s scores all came in the fourth, on a 20 yard run from Quentin West, a safety and a 10 yard scamper from Julion Kelly.
“We’re not done with our season yet,” said Gionta. “We still have our big rivalry game against Chichester on Thanksgiving, which has a playoff atmosphere regardless of records. This has been a great season. We broke a dry spell of ten years to get back to the playoffs. Our younger guys are going to want this again.”
Henderson moves on for a match-up with Upper Dublin.
“The name of the game is to survive and advance,” said Mitten. “The kids executed well, and we were fortunate to get that big early lead. We challenged them to play a complete game, and they worked hard all week for this win.”