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Springfield’s defense grounds Geiss, Great Valley

SPRINGFIELD >> One by one, members of the Springfield football team queued up near the Great Valley bench Friday night.

They’d finished their handshakes following a 24-10 win over the Patriots in the District 1 Class 5A quarterfinals. But to a man, the fearsome defenders who’d spent the previous 48 minutes chasing quarterback Rob Geiss went the extra 20 steps to personally shake the hand of the forlorn signal-caller about to be wheeled off the field, jacket on, icepack affixed to his back.

Springfield receiver Joe Kennedy tries to evade Great Valley defender Anthony Liberato during the Cougars’ 24-10 win in a District 1 Class 5A quarterfinal game Friday night. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Springfield receiver Joe Kennedy tries to evade Great Valley defender Anthony Liberato during the Cougars’ 24-10 win in a District 1 Class 5A quarterfinal game Friday night. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Such was the respect between two of the district’s most daunting units: Great Valley’s clinical possession passing offense and Springfield’s indefatigable defense. And by night’s end, the latter prevailed decisively, booking the Cougars (11-1) a spot in the District 1 semifinals against West Chester Henderson next week.

Geiss’s night came to an end late in the third quarter. He’d sustained abuse on his 12 carries, but after a routine completion on which he wasn’t touched, Geiss buckled and had to be helped off, just as his Patriots had driven to the Springfield 9, down 24-7.

The snaps following Geiss’s departure: Run for minus-6 yards after a miscommunication between Ryan Hubley and sophomore QB Jake Prevost, two false starts, a Justin Shields sack of Prevost that forced a punt, then on the next series a short run followed by a fumble from wildcat QB Damien Carter.

In short order, as Dwayne Snipes stripped Carter and Patrick Clemens pounced on the ball, any slim hope of a Great Valley comeback evaporated from a game featuring just three second-half points.

For a Springfield team notoriously difficult to break down, an opening like Geiss’ injury proved too much to overcome.

“We didn’t really think anything different of it,” Springfield defensive back Joe Kennedy said. “They were on the goal line, and we just knew that we were not letting them get through that goal line. Whether they had a first-string quarterback or a sixth-string quarterback, we knew it was the same thing.”

“When Robert goes down and a new quarterback comes in, doesn’t get one varsity snap in a game this year, we kept going back,” Great Valley wide receiver Dylan Tashjian said. “We probably should’ve done a better job of picking him up and helping out a young quarterback going in. But we never gave up.”

Even with Geiss, the Cougars were outstanding in sniffing out the Patriots’ misdirection, screens and counters. Geiss was 16-for-19 but limited to just 112 yards. Hubley, one of the Ches-Mont League’s most potent deep threats, caught four balls for a grand total of one yard.

More often than not, the ball arrived in Hubley’s hands simultaneous to a Springfield defender, like Kennedy, Anthony Divario, David Strawley or Greg Tamaccio. And as is Springfield’s defensive calling card, when the Cougars tackle you, you stay tackled.

Great Valley's Brendan O'Donnell, left, provides a shoestring stop of Springfield's Ja'Den McKenzie at the one-yard line. McKenzie would score on the next play in a 24-10 win by the Cougars. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Great Valley’s Brendan O’Donnell, left, provides a shoestring stop of Springfield’s Ja’Den McKenzie at the one-yard line. McKenzie would score on the next play in a 24-10 win by the Cougars. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

“We talked all week that we had to wrap them and keep the quarterback in contain,” said Shields, who finished with two sacks. “It was a battle all night. Their offensive line was doing a great job, but we kept fighting and fighting and good things happened.”

Despite the gusty conditions, only six of 38 pass attempts fell incomplete, including Prevost finishing 7-for-9 for 56 yards on a drive culminating with a Pat Sauer 39-yard field goal.

The flipside was Johnny Fanelli’s efficient use of the passing game, going 9-for-10 for 99 yards. He found Kennedy for a 45-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first quarter, Kennedy running through several feeble arm tackles.

The key was striking balance between run and pass. Ja’Den McKenzie was the sure thing, carrying 21 times for 117 yards and a one-yard score. Philip Shovlin picked up the baton with a 14-yard score in the second, and Jack Coary’s 30-yard field goal with three seconds left in the first half provided all the points the Cougars needed.

“Even though they had two great lockdown cornerbacks, Fanelli was doing a great job putting the ball right where it had to be,” Kennedy said. “And on top of that, Ja’Den was doing a great job of getting through the line.”

“That helps a lot, takes off the pressure from (Johnny),” McKenzie said. “We’ve just got to keep doing what we do for Johnny to be comfortable back there.”

They got a healthy assist from the Patriots, who committed 12 penalties for 86 yards. Coary missed a 35-yard field goal, but was granted a mulligan when run into by a Patriot, and converted from five yards closer.

With Hubley bottled up, Great Valley (7-5) lacked its biggest vertical threat, compressing space around the line. Mark DeRobertis, who caught 13 balls in last week’s win over Glen Mills, was held to three catches for 20 yards and 11 carries for 51. But up stepped Tashjian, who hauled in 10 passes for 103 yards.

“We look at the defense and see what we can get,” Tashjian said. “Whatever is working, we kind of stick to it. We have so many weapons.”

But Springfield’s ability to limit that group Friday means their impressive season has at least one more installment left.

“It means a lot,” McKenzie said. “We came in, we wanted to win, we wanted to go far, we didn’t want to end early. We wanted something big.”

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