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Garnet Valley embraces underdog role in shocking fashion

MIDDLETOWN TWP. >> Garnet Valley players took a knee near the goal line, settling in to listen to Mike Ricci. A smile crept across Ricci’s face, and the usually reserved head coach couldn’t help but share in the celebration.

Garnet Valley, only moments earlier, had posted an improbable 42-14 victory over Neshaminy Friday in a District 1 Class 6A quarterfinal. The 10th-seeded Jaguars bussed to Bucks County and knocked off an undefeated team in dominating fashion.

“This is unbelievable,” said defensive end Rob Monachello.

The Jaguars got two touchdowns each from Nick Juliano and Danny Guy to pace the offense. Monachello’s six tackles for loss, including three sacks, led the defense. Not to be outdone, safety Sam Randolph returned a fumble recovery 60 yards for a second-quarter score.

“All around,” said Neshaminy coach Steve Wilmot, “they just played a great game.”

Garnet Valley (10-2) faces third-seeded Perkiomen Valley in next week’s semifinal round. Again, the Jaguars will be the underdog. That’s a role, Ricci said, that he can live with.

“I always love being the underdog. Give me that any day,” he said.

The Jaguars took control of this one with its play on the defensive line. Routinely, they navigated past second-seeded Neshaminy’s front five and into the Redskins’ backfield. The Suburban One League National Division champions managed only 52 yards on 30 rushing attempts.

Monachello had a lot to do with that.

On one particular third-quarter series, he single-handedly ended a Neshaminy drive. On first down, Monachello brought down running back Will Dogba for a loss. On second down, the senior sacked Neshaminy quarterback Mason Jones. On fourth down, Jones couldn’t escape another Monachello sack.

“That was our defensive end and linebacker who took the tackle and guard out for me, and left me unblocked, pretty much,” Monachello said. “I think we have one of the best D-lines in the league, and I think we’re capable of doing that all throughout the playoffs.”

Said Wilmot: “We made a lot of mistakes in this game, but their defense didn’t do us any favors. Their defensive front is one of the best we’ve seen all year. They were able to get in our backfield over and over.”

After surrendering a Neshaminy touchdown on the game-opening drive, Garnet Valley found its footing. Juliano led a 62-yard drive that took only 1:04 off the clock, and capped it with a 14-yard rushing touchdown. On the Jaguars’ next drive, it was Matt Lassik (16 carries, 136 yards) who found the end zone.

The Jaguars took a 21-7 lead into halftime, aided by Randolph’s fumble recovery and subsequent return for a touchdown.

They didn’t lose any momentum in the intermission, either. Denny Nealon took the second-half kickoff, flipped it to Jacob Buttermore on an end-around, and Buttermore went 70 yards to set up another touchdown drive.
Ricci credited his skill-position players for setting the tone.

“We have a good stable of backs and we rotate them through, keep them fresh,” the coach said. “The line blocked well, the backs ran hard, Juliano made great reads. Couldn’t ask for more.”

Monachello can … even if the Jaguars are the so-called underdogs.

“We were actually talking about that in the locker room, that everyone else considers us the underdogs,” he said. “We went in knowing this is just another football team, another group of 18-year-olds, and whoever played the hardest was going to win this football game.

“We want to keep this going as long as possible.”

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