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Glen Mills done in by penalties, bungled kickoffs in loss to Great Valley

EAST WHITELAND >> The play design for Owen Banavitch was simple.

The Great Valley defensive back positioned himself out wide in the kickoff formation, and when the call of “pop left” came, he ran.

Twice Friday night, Banavitch’s 50-yard sprint ended with the ball in his hands. And that pair of fumble recoveries went a long way toward helping his Patriots nab a playoff victory.

Banavitch pounced on fumbled kickoffs by No. 9 seed Glen Mills on their opening possessions of the first and third quarters, among four turnovers caused by the No. 8 Patriots in a 34-14 win in the District 1 Class 5A first round.

“Our kicker (Pat Sauer) just pops it over, tries to get it the second line of (receivers),” Banavitch said. “So I’m just running down, I just have to go and grab it. It’s pretty much it.”

Rudimentary by design, Banavitch’s effort was a microcosm for Great Valley’s triumph, which earns them a date with top-seeded Springfield next week. Glen Mills (5-6) offered slight openings on which Great Valley capitalized time and again.

After Banavitch grabbed the opening kickoff, Rob Geiss cashed in a one-yard TD run to put the Patriots up, 7-0. Sauer hit a 31-yard field goal on the opening series of the second half, but missed a 29-yarder after the pop kick worked. Despite that, though, the Patriots (7-4) controlled most of the third period, not taking their first snap from their own territory in the second half until midway through the fourth.

Much of the clock control was exercised by Geiss’s passing game. The senior completed 26 of 34 throws for 290 yards, the biggest chunk covered by running back Mark DeRobertis, who caught 13 balls for 78 yards in an extension of the running game. Though mostly shovels, screens and dump-offs, DeRobertis hauled in the ball all 13 times he was targeted, a remarkably sure-handed evening.

“It’s incredible,” Geiss said. “It’s always good to have a sure-handed running back like that.”

DeRobertis, who rushed 11 times for 22 yards, capped the scoring with a seven-yard TD run.

Geiss threw scoring strikes of 31 and 45 yards to Damien Carter and Ryan Hubley, respectively. The latter, on a play where Hubley batted the ball up and away from a Glen Mills’ defender, took a pair of quick steps under to collect it, then outran another tackler for the score.

Even after the game, Geiss was struggling to get his mind around it.

“Wow, that was incredible,” he said of Hubley, who caught eight balls for 129 yards. “I saw him deep, so I knew I had to throw the ball. I threw it as I got hit and just lobbed it up. Spectacular, that was one of the best football plays I’ve seen in a game ever. Awesome, incredible.”

Banavitch wasn’t the only impact defender. Brendan O’Donnell intercepted Glen Mills quarterback Roberto Falu in the second quarter and broke up three passes at safety. Captain Nick Ryan produced 3.5 tackles for loss after halftime, and Cade Reat recovered a fumbled screen pass by Keon Rantin in the fourth quarter to seal the game.

The Battlin’ Bulls didn’t help themselves much, either, whistled for 14 flags for 114 yards. An offside on fourth-and-3 extended the Patriots’ first drive, while a roughing the passer hastened Carter’s score.

But more damaging were infractions that nullified positive offensive plays. Jahnoni Hickerson, who burst free for a momentum-sparking 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter, dashed 26 yards on a fake punt on fourth-and-10 early in the third quarter … which was wiped out by an illegal procedure call. An illegal shift nixed an 81-yard would-be scoring connection between Falu and Rantin.

“When the touchdown gets called back, it’s hurtful,” Falu said. “We were down, and touchdowns were getting called back.”

Falu had his moments in the passing game, completing 13 of 27 attempts for 170 yards, including five for 63 yards to Hickerson. Falu ran for a one-yard score after finding Charles Lawson for 30 yards on fourth-and-long in the fourth.
While Glen Mills hung around, the sluggish start to the second half proved too deep of a hole to escape. They can thank Banavitch for that.

“First play of the game, if we recover it, that’s totally killing their morale,” he said. “Second half, we get it back, killing the morale, and that’s a huge reason why we got so much momentum.”

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