CALN … DOWNINGTOWN … EAST MARLBOROUGH >> As I was driving all around Chester County, Friday evening, I realized something.
This is what life was like before Twitter.
I made it to four different District 1 playoff games in two hours. Well, technically, I missed the end of the West Chester East-Unionville game after it concluded just before 9 pm. Mix in a pass or two, Gueriera, come on.
My night started in Coatesville and my trip was a much more productive one than Abington’s. On the Red Raiders’ first drive, they ran a run-pass option right toward me, with quarterback Ricky Ortega, running back Aaron Young and a receiver out wide. All I could think was, I’m glad I’m not responsible for figuring out who to tackle, or better yet, who to try and stop.
That is what makes Coatesville so scary this time of year. They’re so young, but so skilled. Who do you stop? And if you stop one, does that even solve anything?
Ortega is the top-rated quarterback in the league, but coordinator Jim Cantafio got the freshman comfortable on his feet first, resulting in a long first-quarter touchdown run and nearly 100 yards for the night.
Young had a pedestrian night, by his standards, running for 80 yards on 13 carries for two TDs, but Dapree Bryant tallied five catches for 144 yards and two scores to break out.
I don’t know how far Coatesville’s youth can carry it this postseason, but if the 2012 team proved anything, if you have an abundance of speed and solid line play, you have a shot. Between the explosive offense and shutdown defense, I think the Red Raiders should get by Ridley and set up a matchup against a North Penn team that will be, and should be, favored to win the district. That experience wouldn’t be a bad one, win or lose, with Coatesville bringing back so much next year.
From Coatesville, I made my way to Kottmeyer Stadium just in time to hear the Souderton crowd roar after taking a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. I couldn’t help but wonder if once again Downingtown East would fall to a Suburban One League team on its home turf.
It may have taken too long to figure out, but East finally discovered that Jeremy Jennings being its best athlete equates to offensive production, as well. The Temple commit, who for most of the season played mostly defense, had eight touches for 116 yards and three touchdowns to propel the Cougars to a 33-21 win in a game that was tied at 14 heading into the fourth.
East has not typically used its top athlete at the running back position since the days of Drew Harris, relying on more of the physical, workhorse types. But Jennings may be changing that philosophy. Over the past four games he has 32 carries for 404 yards and seven TDs, adding 12 receptions for 262 yards and three scores. That’s good for 15.1 yards a touch and a touchdown in almost one in every four touches.
The Cougars will have a greater challenge at Perkiomen Valley on Friday, in a rematch of the 2014 playoff opener, won by East, 27-24. The core of that 2014 Perk Valley team is still around, and is reminiscent of the Upper Dublin senior class last year, which ended up winning the district title over North Penn.
Down the road from Kottmeyer, Bishop Shanahan was busy ending West Chester Rustin’s nightmarish season.
The Eagles had no trouble discarding the Golden Knights, who finished below .500 for the first time since their inaugural season. Nick Skulski played error-free football, and when the senior QB does that, Shanahan is hard to beat. He missed only three passes, racking up 202 yards and two TDs, with another on the ground, to book a trip to Academy Park, which has won two of the last three district titles in the former Class AAA.
I only stayed one drive, in hopes of catching the end of the West Chester East game, but I saw all I needed to. Shanahan has a good mix of speed, with receiver Brendan Dearing, experience with Skulski, and size up front, starting with center Jake Colby.
The Eagles didn’t allow an offensive touchdown and looked a lot like the unit of the first half of the season against other Class 5A teams.
It’s sometimes hard to gauge Delaware County teams because the Central and Del-Val leagues aren’t always the deepest in the region. But Delco has been better as a whole in the former 3A, and has three of the remaining eight teams in 5A, while the Ches-Mont has four.
Academy Park has a bit of home-field advantage down by the airport, but if Shanahan plays smart football, it has the potential to keep its season going.
So, after weaving my way through the back roads of Downingtown to Unionville, I felt like a salmon running into a stadium with fans pouring out.
I made it just in time to see West Chester East celebrate with its fans and hug its emotional coach, Dave Gueriera. It had been a long 10 years since the Vikings had sniffed the postseason, let alone win a game in it. So all the excess celebration and tears for a first-round win were a long time coming.
In a game dominated by defense, where the offenses didn’t even combine for a typical output by Coatesville, of course it was a 17-play, 70-yard drive that chewed up the final eight minutes to set up a game-winning field goal for the Vikings.
The Vikes will have to bring their defense to Marple-Newtown Friday, as the Tigers have a bit more potent offense. Of the eight 5A teams to make the playoffs despite being .500 or lower, West Chester East was the lone survivor, and will try to get to 6-6, Friday.
The Ches-Mont, as a whole, went 6-2, with the two losses friendly fire. Coatesville is the only local team that will host a second round game, welcoming Central League champ, Ridley.
The new format with six classifications certainly got more teams the playoff experience, and more cash to the PIAA, of course, but also led to plenty more non-competitive football. In 6A, the eight winners won by an average margin of 25.4 points. In 5A, it was 23.8 points. Only two road teams — West Chester East and Garnet Valley — pulled upsets out of 16 games.
The more appropriate eight-team brackets should lead to more compelling football this weekend.
Nate Heckenberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nheckenberger.
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