KENNETT SQUARE – Some would like to forget their head coaching debuts, but you can be sure that Kennett’s Josh Kaufman will never forget his as long as he lives.
That’s because his Blue Demons opened the 2017 football season on Friday with a memorable 25-23 victory over visiting Avon Grove that featured an unforgettably wild finish. With no time left on the clock, senior kicker James Tuley booted a career-long 32-yard field goal to give Kennett the win and saddle the Red Devils with a heartbreaking setback.
“I don’t think anybody could have envisioned this,” said Kaufman, 37, who was previously the offensive coordinator at Archbishop Carroll. “We were very fortunate to come out on top of this one.”
The fact that Tuley’s game-winning boot came on an untimed down was strange enough. But the final 63 seconds of regulation were absolutely crazy, with the two southern Chester Country rivals combining to score 16 points, highlighted by a quick-strike 51-yard touchdown on an Avon Grove flea-flicker.
But it still wasn’t enough.
“Hats off to Kennett — they out-played us,” said Devils’ head coach Harry O’Neill. “Little things hurt us and we’re not good enough to overcome those types of things.”
Deadlocked at 16-16 and time running out, the Demons marched 81 yards in nine plays to pull ahead 22-16 on a 14-yard touchdown run by sophomore Garrett Cox. But on the next play from scrimmage, Avon Grove quarterback Shane Wolford completed a pass to Dylan Lapham, and he lateralled the ball to streaking teammate Kevin Francis, who completed the play that put Avon Grove in front, 23-22.
“What a great call by (O’Neill) with the hook-and-lateral,” Kaufman said.
“We had trouble executing it in practice, but we got the defensive look we wanted, and it worked exactly the way it was supposed to,” O’Neill added. “The only negative thing about it was we left 45.8 seconds left on the clock.”
With cagey quarterback Jake Dilcher in control, Kennett proceeded to move the ball 60 yards to set up Tuley’s heroics. First there was a 34-yard pass to Mitch Kosara, and then an 11-yarder to Justin Shacknail. Still out of field goal range, the Demons threw it into the end zone on the final play of the game, and iyt was incomplete — but Avon Grove was whistled for pass interference.
“I’ve never played in a game like this,” said Dilcher, who amassed 297 yards of total offense. “When we took the lead with a minute left, I thought that was the game. After the lateral, I was thinking, ‘jeez, come on.’ But we still had two timeouts left, so it wasn’t over.
“We just never gave up.”
A game cannot end on a defensive penalty, so Kennett still had life — and the 15-yards put Tuley into range.
“That was a big-time kick,” Kaufman said.
“It was my first kick of the year,” added Tuley. “I knew this was make-or-break so I had to be ready. I knew it was going in the second I touched it.”
The finish overshadowed an amazing evening for the Devils’ Francis, who scored both of Avon Grove’s offensive TDs and rolled up 188 rushing yards in 24 carries. Add in the hook-and-lateral, and the senior runner gained a total of 239 yards.
“People underestimate Kevin because we had Nate Jones for so many years,” O’Neill explained. “He is a warrior. There are a lot of good running back in the county, but I put him up there with just about anybody.”
At one point in the third quarter, Francis ran the ball on 12 straight plays over two possessions and gained 131 yards. He gain all 71 yards on a drive that put the Red Devils got on the scoreboard early in the second half. And moments later, when a Kennett snap flew over the punter’s head, and was recovered in the end zone by Thomas D’Antonio, Avon Grove had its first lead, 13-8.
The Blue Demons regained the lead 16-13 when Dilcher scored on a keeper to cap an 80-yard march, but the Devils tied it up midway through the fourth quarter on a 24-yard field goal by Kevin Sheehan.
Dilcher also opened the scoring when he hit Kosara for a 10-yard TD on the season’s opening drive, and then the 6-foot, 170-pounder ran it in for the two-point conversion. He finished with 220 passing yards and chipped in with 77 on the ground.
“Jake has always been a great player. He is really dangerous and he gives our offense a lot of different capabilities,” Kaufman said.
“We were worried about (Dilcher) all week leading up this game, trying to contain his athletic ability,” O’Neill said.
Kosara finished with four catches for 69 yards, and the junior wideout was the target in the end zone on the final play from scrimmage.
“I told our guys in that huddle during the final drive to believe. I knew we could do it,” Dilcher said. “This is a huge win for us.
“Kosara was huge at the end. He caught a huge vertical pass and then drew the pass interference in the end zone.”
Avon Grove 0 0 13 10 — 23
Kennett 8 0 0 17 — 25
K – Kosara 10 pass from Dilcher (Dilcher run)
AG – Francis 1 run (kick failed)
AG – D’Antonio recovers errant punt snap in end zone (Sheehan kick)
K – Dilcher 11 run (Mancini pass from Dilcher)
AG – Sheehan 24 FG
K – Cox 14 run (run failed)
AG – Francis 51 pass from Wolford (Sheehan kick)
K – Tuley 32 FG
First downs 14 18
Rushes-yards 28-175 38-173
Passing 9-17-1-0 15-23-0-1
Passing yards 162 220
Total yards 337 393
Punts 2-31 3-36.3
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 5-55 5-40
Rushing — AG: Francis 24-188, TD; Wolford 4- (-13). K: Cox 22-79, TD; Dilcher 12-77, TD; Wessel 3-9; Kosara 1-8.
Passing — AG: Wolford 9-17-1, 162 yards. K: Dilcher 15-23-0, TD.
Receiving — AG: Arhontakis 1-6; Rossiter 1-3; Boyd 2-36; Lapham 3-52; Paone 1-4; Francis 1-51, TD. K: Cox 3-13; C. Brooks 5-74; Kosara 4-69, TD; Ploener 1-27; Mancini 1-7; Shacknai 1-11.
Interceptions — AG: D’Antonio. K: Kosara.
Sacks — K: Hall 2.5; Bowe 1.5.