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Football Notebook: Garnet Valley has proven it won’t easily be counted out

And then there were three.

The evidence is clear: the top-three teams in Delaware County are Garnet Valley (11-2), Springfield (12-1) and Academy Park (12-1). That’s how they are ranked in this week’s Daily Times Super 7, but you can debate among yourselves which is the best.

The Jaguars are most deserving of the No. 1 spot, considering the havoc they’ve wreaked in the District 1 Class 6A playoffs. A 10th seed, the Jags have been road warriors, with shocking wins over No. 7 Central Bucks South, No. 3 Neshaminy and No. 2 Perkiomen Valley. The latter two teams were no longer undefeated after the Jaguars got through with them.

Garnet Valley running back Matt Lassik runs through a tackle in the second half of the Jaguars' 44-27 win over Perkiomen Valley Friday. (Digital First Media/Sam Stewart)

Garnet Valley running back Matt Lassik runs through a tackle in the second half of the Jaguars’ 44-27 win over Perkiomen Valley Friday. (Digital First Media/Sam Stewart)

The Jags rolled Perk Valley and kept quarterback Stephen Sturm in check in last week’s semifinal. Sturm broke the state record for most career passing yards earlier in the playoffs.

“Our game plan was to control the ball on offense and keep it out of (Sturm’s) hands because he’s spectacular,” coach Mike Ricci said after the Jags’ 44-27 triumph.

Now it’s onto No. 1 North Penn. If you can’t envision a scenario where Garnet Valley goes into hostile territory and wins its third district title (and first since 2007), you haven’t been paying attention. The Jags’ entire modus operandi has been doing exactly that.

“Playing on the road this whole time, we really like the challenge,” all-purpose senior Jacob Buttermore said last week at practice. “We go in and nobody expects us to win, except for us.”

Academy Park and Springfield clash for the District 1 Class 5A championship. It’s a rematch of last season’s district quarterfinal in the old 3A tournament, which saw the AP eke out a 14-7 victory at Knight Park. This time the second-seeded Knights travel to No. 1 Springfield for all the marbles.

The Cougars (12-1) and Knights (12-1) are an intriguing matchup. Their only losses this year? Springfield fell to Garnet Valley, which is still going strong, while AP dropped a heartbreaker to Interboro, a finalist in Class 4A.

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There’s the usual full plate of Delco football games on Thanksgiving this year.

Interboro (10-2) hosts Ridley (10-2), Chichester (3-7) travels to Sun Valley (6-5) and Haverford (6-5) goes to Upper Darby (5-6). It’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago when the Fords and Royals battled for the Central League title. Daily Times Player of the Year Jack Donaghy’s touchdown run in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter gave Haverford the victory in what was arguably the greatest Thanksgiving game in county history.

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Academy Park’s Teddy Wright, here scoring last weekend against Marple Newtown, is just one Knights weapon as they prepare to take on Springfield for the Class 5A district title. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Academy Park’s Teddy Wright, here scoring last weekend against Marple Newtown, is just one Knights weapon as they prepare to take on Springfield for the Class 5A district title. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Rick Stroup resigned from his post as Penncrest’s head football coach last week. Stroup began coaching the Lions in 2011. His best season at the helm was in 2013 when he led them to a 7-3 record.

Before joining Penncrest, Stroup was the defensive coordinator at Garnet Valley for several seasons. He was also head coach at Sun Valley from 1994-97 and had stops at Kutztown and West Chester University.
Stroup had coached at the high school and collegiate levels for more than 20 years.

Penncrest athletic director Chip Olinger lauded Stroup for the job he did in building the program.

“When he got here, we had a booster club, despite their best efforts, that had trouble raising funds to support the program. We basically had a handful of players lifting in the offseason,” Oligner said. “(Stroup) organized the boosters, brought great fundraising ideas, pulled the parents and players together for various events, team community service efforts and built up a very successful offseason weightlifting program. We now have a program.

“Our goal is continue what he started, try to increase the participation numbers and maintain a consistently competitive program.”

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Academy Park’s Chris Thomas started his 50th game two weeks ago, which was the most in team history. The senior lineman has been a mainstay on varsity since his freshman year.

It’s very unusual for players to have the chance to play in one district final, let alone three. But Thomas will have that opportunity to start in his third district championship game Friday night at Springfield. He was a member of the Knights’ 2013 and 2015 district title squads.

“We’re going in there and we just know we have to stick together,” Thomas said after last week’s victory over Marple Newtown. “We don’t worry about (who they’re facing), we know we’re a family.”

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Cardinal O’Hara’s amazing season under second-year boss BJ Hogan ended with a whimper last Saturday night at Benjamin Johnston Memorial Stadium in Northwest Philadelphia. Facing reigning Class 3A state champions Imhotep Charter, the Lions (10-1) suffered their first loss of the year, 36-6, in the District 12 4A final.

The Lions had no reason to hang their heads, though. After a one-win campaign a year ago, O’Hara improved dramatically, winning its first 10 games and claiming the Catholic League Blue Division championship.

It was the dedication of the senior class that accelerated the quick turnaround.

“They’re good kids,” Hogan said. “When you first get here and you’re trying to change the culture, they don’t know what the heck is going on. But after 16 months, they say, ‘You know what, Coach might have a clue what he’s talking about,’ and they buy in. I just thank those guys for being a part of the program and getting this thing back on the right track.”

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MOVING THE CHAINS >> All district finals will be played at the site of the highest seed. There are no neutral sites this year. … Upper Darby quarterback Nate Rimel is in striking distance of setting the school’s single-season passing mark. Rimel sits at 2,163 yards, 140 yards shy of surpassing Bob McLaughlin’s 1991 record of 2,302.

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