CONCORD >> Garnet Valley has fully embraced underdog role.
That almost sounds strange to say. After all, the Jaguars are the gold standard of Delaware County football and a perennial Central League favorite.
“We like that role, too,” senior linebacker Charlie Coslett said.
You bet the 10th-seeded Jags are loving this trip to the District 1 Class 6A semifinals. After two consecutive road wins over No. 7 Central Bucks South and No. 3 Neshaminy, the Jags (10-2) meet their greatest foe to date Friday night at second-seeded Perkiomen Valley (12-0). Garnet Valley is making its first appearance in a district semifinal since 2011.
“It doesn’t affect us too much,” said Coslett, who’s having a monster season as he leads the club with 62 tackles. “We like to say that each place we go to is another pitstop on the road to states.”
They are cool with being the road warriors.
“We feel like it’s us against the world,” said Denny Nealon, a senior defensive back.
It’s funny how high school football works. Not long ago, there was concern as to whether the Jaguars would even qualify for the district playoffs. They had lost two of their first six games, heartbreakers to Ridley and Haverford, which essentially knocked them out of the Central League title picture. But since the Sept. 30 setback to Haverford, the Jags have reeled off six straight victories and are playing their best football of the year.
“I don’t think there was any doubt. Our losses in the past were a case of us just beating ourselves,” said senior quarterback Nick Juliano, who has earned rave reviews for his management of the Jags’ complex triple-option attack. “The unique threat of our offense, I think, is key. It can be a problem for some of those teams we’ve faced that are so used to seeing the spread or a pro-style offense.”
Over the course of their winning streak, the Jags have outscored the opposition, 203-76, while their offense is averaging 305 yards per game. The driving force has been the ground game, led by Jacob Buttermore, Matthew Lassik, Danny Guy, Austin Patton and Juliano.
“Growing up you learn that this is the offense at Garnet Valley, this is how it’s done here,” Juliano said. “So when I came into the job I knew I would pretty much be another running back and a quarterback if we need it.”
Buttermore is arguably the most dangerous player in Delaware County. He set the school’s single-season scoring record and leads the team with 875 yards rushing. He has 17 total touchdowns, including 12 via the run and three by kick or punt return.
Buttermore, though, isn’t at all concerned with his personal accomplishments.
“We have three pretty good backs in me, Guy and Lassik. We just rotate in and out pretty well,” he said. “Now that teams are keying on me, the other guys are stepping up. Lassik and Guy and Patton have done an amazing job in the two playoff games. So if defenses key on me, I know we have those guys, so we should be fine.”
On defense the Jags have improved steadily. Their biggest weak spot at the start of the year is now a strength.
“From the secondary the growth has been tremendous. In the beginning of the season it was a weakness on our team,” said Nealon, who has three sacks and an interception. “(Sam) Rudolph, this is his first year at safety, (Nick) Westburg is a sophomore, (Matt) Parker it’s his first year playing a lot and Woody (Dave Wood), it’s also his first year playing a lot. So we had a lot of new guys. In the beginning of the season it really showed, but now we’re clicking and it’s a good time to start clicking.”
No kidding. Friday night the Jags will find out just how special Perkiomen Valley quarterback Stephen Sturm really is. The senior broke the state record for most career passing yards in last week’s 44-21 win over Downingtown East.
His 8,290 yards moved him ahead of Downingtown East great Pat Devlin, who threw for 8,162 yards from 2002-05. With 92 touchdowns, Sturm is two away from tying Manheim Township’s Pat Bostick, who had 94 TDs from 2003-06. This season alone Sturm has thrown for 3,174 yards and 40 touchdowns.
“We know he’s a great quarterback, he’s broken some state records,” Coslett said. “He’s got a great receiver in No. 25 (Justin Jaworski). We just have to key on getting a big pass rush and keeping containment. Our secondary has been doing well lately, so we’re just going to continue playing good coverage.”
The Jaguars handed Neshaminy its first loss a week ago. They realize Perk Valley is a different beast, but are more than ready for the challenge.
“The guys on this team knew we could make it this far,” Buttermore said. “We’re not surprised that we beat Neshaminy and we understand that we can make it to the district championship. We’ve been talking about it since day one of the summer, we just now have to play our best game this week.”