WEST GOSHEN >> When West Chester East head coach Dave Gueriera takes his team to Marple Newtown Friday evening for the quarterfinals of the District 1 5A football tournament, it will be a homecoming for the third-year mentor.
Gueriera who was born in Marple Township, was childhood friends with Marple Newtown head coach Chris Gicking — they lived only three blocks apart — and both were running backs for the Marple Junior Football Tigers. Gueriera went on to play high school football for Cardinal O’Hara, while Gicking became a record-setting quarterback for Marple Newtown.
“Coming back here to Marple is like a homecoming,” said Gueriera, who lived in Marple Township until he was 26.
“We used to walk to each other’s houses (as kids).” Gueriera said. “We still talk to each other, but not as much as we should, what with jobs, wives and kids.”
Like Gicking, Gueriera has coached some pretty good offenses. He was the quarterback coach at Malvern Prep (2009, 2010), offensive coordinator at Harriton in 2011 (during Central League record-setting quarterback Pat Moriarity’s junior year), and offensive coordinator at Episcopal Academy in 2012 and 2013 (EA was 10-0 in 2012).
But at West Chester East this season, the defense has been paramount.
“Our defense has been the backbone of the team,” said Gueriera, now in his third year as East head coach. “It’s been the play of our defense that got us here. It’s not overly huge, but physical, and full of players who have a great motors and great attitudes.”
The Vikings’ defense stood tall in the 10-7 first-round victory against Unionville last Friday, East’s first playoff win in a decade. The sixth-seeded Indians had entered the contest with a five-game winning streak.
During the regular season, West Chester East’s defense was particularly tough at times — the Vikings shut out Sun Valley 28-0 on Oct. 14 and blanked Radnor 23-0 on Sept. 2.
The Vikings’ defense is particularly strong (and deep) at linebacker, with inside linebackers Matt Erfle and Jack Phelan, and outside linebackers Chris Cassidy and Devin Williams.
“Chris and Devin have been playing outstanding,” said Gueriera. “And Matt Erfle has been making 15-20 tackles per game for us.”
Williams, a 5-9, 170-pounder, made a key second-half interception against Unionville that Erfle thinks turned the game around in the Vikings’ favor.
“In the second half (against Unionville), we made sure our outside linebackers were covering the flats, because (Unionville) was hitting on the flats in the first half,” said Erfle. “And then Jack Phelan and I started pressuring their quarterback, and Devin made his interception in the flat, which I think was the turning point of the game.”
Up front, the Vikings’ defense is tough, too, featuring nose guard/defensive tackle Tom Silva, defensive tackle Chuck Jacobs, defensive end JD Carroll (“an absolute monster” according to Gueriera) and defensive end Steve Hocker. In the backfield, the Vikings are solid with free safety Mike Salloum and defensive backs Anthony Gray and Zach Hirsch.
The Vikings’ offense has struggled at times this season, and against Unionville, it managed only one first down and 31 yards of total offense in the first half. West Chester East went to the locker room at halftime trailing 7-0.
“We gave our offensive line some tough love at halftime,” said Gueriera.
Silva, who also plays offensive left tackle for the Vikings, said, “Our offensive line made adjustments at halftime, and we got together and told each other, ‘This will be our last game (if we lose).’ The thought of playing in the second round of the playoffs pumped us up for the second half.”
Just after halftime, the Vikings’ biggest offensive threat, junior running back Jared Cooper, scored on a 35-yard run to tie the score. With the score tied 7-7 and eight minutes left to play, the Vikings went on a 17-play, 70-yard drive that culminated in senior Jake Bonnett’s 27-yard field goal with 9.1 seconds left.
Silva said, “We (offensive line) call ourselves ‘The Fist’ – five fingers on one hand, making one unit. On that long (17 plays, 70 yards) drive in the second half, we were just pounding away (on Unionville), little by little.”
Gueriera said, “In the second half against Unionville, our guys were challenged, their backs were against the wall. Our guys like that type of situation.”
The Vikings will be challenged against No. 2 seed Marple Newtown (10-1), co-champions of the Central League. Marple features quarterback Anthony Paoletti, who has thrown for 2,376 yards this season, which broke Gicking’s single-season school record.
“We have to play good defense against Marple,” said Gueriera. “Their quarterback has a rocket arm, they’ve got ends who can catch the ball, and they’ve got a dangerous running back (sophomore Marlon Weathers, who ran for three touchdowns in the Tigers’ 35-7 first-round win against Upper Moreland).”
Erfle said, “Marple is probably the heaviest passing team we’ve played – we know we have a good run defense, and we’ll need a good pass defense against Marple.”
Gueriera said, “On offense, we need to be disciplined, avoid mistakes – turnovers and penalties.”
The biggest weapon the Vikings have on offense is Cooper, who has ran for more than 1,000 yards and scored a dozen touchdowns.
Gicking said, “West Chester East likes to run the football and control the line of scrimmage. Dave does a great job of preparing them. On defense, they like to blitz. They’re big, strong, fast….I think we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The 11th-seeded Vikings (5-6) have 29 seniors on their roster, none of whom are eager to see the season end against Marple.
Silva said, “Going against Marple, I like the challenge of being the underdog.”