ROYERSFORD >> Before the season, Unionville head football coach Pat Clark proudly lauded his program’s history of stout defense. He allowed, however, that inexperience might cause the Indians’ offense to carry the load early this season, while the defense gets up to speed.
After Friday night, Clark was willing to give himself half credit.
Unionville’s senior-laden offense was consistent, but the young defense was the real story as the Indians avenged a season-opening defeat last year, topping Spring-Ford, 26-17.
The Indians’ attack was led by senior Joe Zubillaga, who did a little bit of everything. “Zoob” had 152 rushing yards, 39 receiving yards and seven tackles in leading the defensive effort. The Indians limited Spring-Ford senior QB TJ Pergine to 11-36 passing, constantly harassing the passer and giving him little time to throw.
“We tried to make them one-dimensional by limiting the run game,” said Clark, “and that was to our benefit against a player like Pergine. Our strength is in the secondary, and we were able to limit the (Rams’) offense as a result.”
That secondary got the Indians off to a strong start when JT Hower intercepted a Spring-Ford pass on the first possession of the game, followed by a methodical nine-play drive culminating in Zubillaga’s first of two rushing TDs.
Dominic Brathwaite added a second-quarter field goal to make it 10-0 Unionville, before senior QB Alex Gorgone creates a nifty scramble to buy himself time and loft a 26-yard TD pass to Aidan Boyle for a 17-0 lead.
“We dug ourselves a hole early on,” lamented Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker, “and every time we started to climb out of it, they’d make a play or we’d slip and make a mistake.”
Meanwhile, the Unionville defense was holding Spring-Ford to 62 first-half total yards. Stephen Brill’s 25-yard run got the Rams into Unionville territory with two minutes to play before the half, but a fumble on the ensuing play quelled the threat.
Spring-Ford, which was ranked No. 10 in the PA Prep Live preseason Top 20, got some momentum with a blocked punt after halftime, followed by a 3-yard plunge by Justin DeFrancesco to cut the lead to 17-7. After a quick Unionville three-and-out, Pergine’s legs got the Rams going offensively, as he kept the ball on several zone reads and compiled 47 rushing yards in one drive. Junior kicker Taylor Smith banked a 40-yard field goal off the left upright to cut the lead to 17-10 after three.
Just as it appeared the Rams would get their chance to tie, Zubillaga stole the show with a catch along the visiting sideline. Gorgone lofted a pass from around his own 35 into enough traffic that the Unionville coaches in the press box were already pleading for pass interference.
Then they saw the side judge’s signal. Zubillaga had made the catch to give the Indians a first down at SF’s 33. Brathwaite added a 29-yard field goal to widen the lead to 20-10.
Pergine found a wide-open Tyler Edwards for a 44-yard TD to cut it to 20-17 with just under four minutes to play for the Rams.
“Our expectation for the team is that the kids play hard the whole game, and they definitely kept coming,” added Brubaker. “The effort was there all night.”
However, Zubillaga saved his best for last, lining up at quarterback on a 2nd and 3 situation from the Unionville 26 – as he had so often on short yardage plays all night.
This time, however, he wouldn’t be stopped, rumbling 74 yards to make the score 26-17 and put a bow on the season-opening upset.
“We wanted this one bad, after last year when they took it to us,” admitted Zubillaga, referencing Spring-Ford’s 33-3 season-opening win at Unionville in 2016. “It’s a great start to the season, the best we could’ve hoped for… and all our goals are in front of us. We want to take it all the way this season. There are no limits on what we can accomplish.”
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