TOWAMENCIN >> It was not the speech that Mike Ricci wanted to give.
The Garnet Valley head coach wanted one message to resonate with his players following Friday night’s 48-38 defeat to top-seeded North Penn in the District 1 Class 6A final: celebrate what you did.
The Jaguars (11-3) advanced as far as they did when many people weren’t giving a 10th seed from the Central League much of a chance. And that makes what they accomplished so special.
The Jags won three games and played for a title in the highest classification in District 1. That is, until the 2016 Jaguars came along.
“It’s a high school football game and you can’t win every game. We’re big on controlling what we can control,” said Ricci, the coach at GV since 1986, except for one season. “We control our attitude, we control our attitude and we control how we play together. We did a phenomenal job with that throughout the year. Are we disappointed we didn’t win the game? Absolutely, but we’re going to choose to celebrate all the great things we did throughout the season because this team — and this season — deserves to be celebrated.”
The Jags didn’t claim a Central League title, but in many ways what they achieved in the postseason is more satisfying than winning a league title. They hit the road and they conquered.
“Making it this far, seeing all the alumni coming out and showing their support, it means a lot,” said senior Jacob Buttermore, who ended his spectacular year with more than 1,000 yards rushing and the school’s single-season scoring record. Buttermore had a rushing and a receiving touchdown and also kicked a 33-yard field. “It means more than winning a Central League title because of who we beat. We’re road warriors.”
The Jags set many records, both team and individual. They scored more points in a season (528) than ever before.
“We can appreciate what we did,” Buttermore said, “but it might just take a little while.”
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) November 26, 2016
Not only was Garnet Valley vying for its fourth straight win away from home, it was looking to spoil yet another undefeated season. First it was No. 3 Neshaminy, and then it was No. 2 Perkiomen Valley. Two monsters down, but still one to go.
North Penn was simply too talented.
Quarterback Reece Udinski set the record for most yards in a season by a District 1 quarterback. He torched the Jaguars on 23 of 27 passing for 448 yards and five touchdowns. He ended the year with 3,850 yards, or more than a 1,000 more yards than Marple Newtown’s Anthony Paoletti, who broke the Delco record this year with 2,793 yards.
“He got the ball out really quick,” said defensive lineman Joe Thomas, who intercepted one of Udinski’s passes at the line of scrimmage and returned it 45 yards for touchdown with 3 minutes, 52 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a great quarterback. He found the open guys and it was just a good job from him.”
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) November 26, 2016
Udinski often hooked up with West Virginia-bound receiver Ricky Johns, who had eight catches for 215 yards. The Knights (14-0) had multi-talented skill players all over the field that made life difficult for a Garnet Valley secondary that had been playing very well during the postseason.
“Their quarterback is exceptional, No. 8 (Johns) is exceptional. They have talented players all over the field,” Ricci said. “He gets rid of the ball really quickly. We got to him a couple times, but he did a masterful job. We made some mistakes during the course of the game that we can’t afford to make in a game like that.”
Garnet Valley trailed 21-0 in the first quarter. The Knights needed just five plays to score their first two touchdowns, spanning 148 yards. Running back Nick Dillon’s 65-yard touchdown catch, after a Garnet Valley defensive back stumbled in his tracks, was the first big play for the North Penn offense. Johns followed on the next possession with an 83-yard scoring reception.
The Jaguars pressured Udinski, but oftentimes he was able to throw on the run and hit one of many targets.
“They were giving us the longball and we really looked at that,” Udinski said. “Ricky has been a deep threat all year for us, so seeing him get behind the defense is big for us. He just made some tremendous plays.”
Garnet Valley limited North Penn’s ground attack to 75 yards, but that didn’t matter. Udinski and the North Penn receivers overwhelmed the Jags with their athleticism.
“They’re a great team and they proved it tonight. For a district championship, they came to play, no doubt,” Udinski said of the Jags. “Their defense really stepped up big against our run game and I think that kind of opened up our pass game. It was kind of a perfect night for passing, there’s no wind and it was a good temperature. That really helped us tremendously.”
Ricci was proud of the fight the Jags showed after falling behind three touchdowns. Buttermore’s field goal at the end of the second quarter made it an 11-point game. But every time the Jags scored, North Penn answered.
“That is the kind of team we’ve had all year,” Ricci said. “Our kids never quit, they stick together and they play with pride. I couldn’t be prouder of this group.”
North Penn, which claimed its seventh district title and first since 2011, plays the winner of Saturday’s game between St Joseph’s Prep-Parkland in the state semifinals next week.