SPRINGFIELD — Dipping into its desperation bag of tricks in the fourth quarter, West Chester Henderson ran a flea flicker off a reverse, and fittingly, it was intercepted.
If the No. 5 Warriors were going to come into Springfield and knock off the top-seeded Cougars, they were going to do it the way they have all year, and frankly, always done it.
Breaking away from the typical downhill running attack, whether it be by trick play or a more aerial philosophy, was not in Henderson’s game plan, and Friday, the Warriors’ season ended with a thud of continually running into a brick wall, otherwise known as the Springfield (Delco) defense.
The Cougars (12-1) held Henderson (9-4) to 71 total yards on offense, shutting down the Warriors’ one path to victory, the running game. Springfield won, 21-0, in the District 1 Class 5A semifinals, while Henderson heads to the offseason.
“(Springfield) was able to shut us down playing pretty much straight defense,” Henderson coach Steve Mitten said. “You have to give them even more credit. They didn’t have to do what teams normally have to do, and they were able to play pretty basic defense.”
The matchup was billed as a defensive showdown, and both teams were up for the challenge. Henderson held the Cougars to 74 rush yards on 40 carries, so with neither team able to move the ball on the ground, whoever could gain control of the passing game had the best shot.
While the Warriors completed just three of 12 passes for 23 yards, Springfield quarterback Johnny Fanelli connected with receiver Joe Kennedy for 10 of his 11 completions, resulting in two back-breaking second-half touchdowns.
“It’s good to be balanced,” Springfield coach Chris Britton said. “Sometimes it’s our run, sometimes it’s our pass. We don’t do anything great, but when we have balance, that makes us dangerous.”
Henderson boasted the rushing yard champ in the Ches-Mont League this fall, in CJ Preston. The junior could only muster 13 yards on 13 carries, with seven totes going for zero or negative yards.
“Sometimes that happens,” Henderson quarterback Joe Saulino said of the running game getting stuffed. “CJ Preston is a fantastic back and he killed it all year, but sometimes it happens. We tried everything, but they’re just a really solid D.”
Only West Chester Rustin and Unionville threw the ball less than Henderson in the Ches-Mont this season, and in the previous five games, Saulino attempted just 22 passes.
Loosening up Springfield’s dominant defense through the air was simply not in Henderson’s repertoire.
“We keyed on the run the whole time,” Springfield defensive tackle Derek Strain said. “We knew they couldn’t really pass too well, so we just keyed on the run, and once we shut the run down, there was really nothing they could do about it. “
Henderson was 0-for-8 on third down, averaging eight yards to go in those situations. Springfield, meanwhile converted a third-and-11, a third-and-19, a fourth-and-three and a third-and-four through the air, the latter a 44-yard nail in the coffin by Kennedy from Fanelli.
“Springfield is an excellent football team and their defense rivals Downingtown East and Coatesville’s,” Mitten said. “We couldn’t get anything going against them. Our defense played well, but getting as little as we did offensively, it’s hard on our defense to be on the field that long.”
While the loss stings for sure, Henderson did take pride in rebounding from a 1-9 season the year before.
“I told the kids, our accomplishments are many and our accomplishments are not diminished by this loss,” Mitten said. “That’s the nature of the playoffs. Everybody except the state champ loses the last game, so as hard as it is not completing our mission, it doesn’t diminish the accomplishment that this season has been.”