EAST MARLBOROUGH – Truly special football seasons are often punctuated by an unlikely win. If Unionville goes on to have big-time success this fall, it will look back on Friday’s wild 23-20 victory over visiting Academy Park as the one that somehow, someway, didn’t get away.
In a classic defensive battle between Class 5A foes, the Indians scored two touchdowns in the final 1 minute, 49 seconds to stage a dramatic comeback and stun the Knights. Ranked 17th in the latest Pa. PrepLive top-20, Unionville improves to 2-0 and hands Academy Park its second setback in two outings.
“I am still in shock,” said wideout Joe Zubillaga, who hauled in both of the late scores, including the game-winner from senior quarterback Alex Gorgone. “I really don’t know how it all went down, but I do know that Alex played a heck of a game.”
Zubillaga and Gorgone were huge in the closing minutes, but it’s doubtful that Unionville wound have been able to pull it out without a huge defensive play by cornerback Dante Graham, who stripped the football from Knights’ quarterback Skylor Fillis. There was less than a minute on the clock, Academy Park was clinging to a five-point lead and in Unionville territory when it happened.
“We needed that turnover,” said Indians’ head coach Pat Clark. “There is always hope until the end, but (Fillis) had the first down when we stripped it. If he goes out of bounds … ”
With new life, Gorgone made the most of it by connecting with Zubillaga for a 31-yard score. And when Zubillaga hauled in a pass for the two-point conversion, Unionville had a 23-20 lead with 23.1 seconds remaining.
“This just shows that our team doesn’t give up,” Zubillaga said. “We fight until the end. We were down two scores with time running out, but we stuck together and stayed strong.
“If we continue to have faith in each other, we can go a long way.”
After staging an epic 13-play, 77-yard scoring drive with just under three minutes to play, the Knights were seemingly in command, 20-9. Fillis ran it three times for 47 yards in the march, including the eight-yard scoring run. And Academy Park got a break when punter Kareem Burton turned a low punt snap into an impromptu first down run near midfield, setting up the score.
“(Fillis) played great,” said Knights’ head coach Jason Vosheski. “For 47 minutes of the game he was awesome.”
But on the ensuing possession, Unionville’s struggling offense suddenly perked up. Gorgone found Jack Adams for 22 yards and J.T. Hower for another26. That set the stage for a six-yard TD toss to Zubillaga, which cut the deficit to 20-15 with 1:49 left.
“We got our guys in space and Alex (Gorgone) made some great throws at the end of the game,” Clark said.
“All of those two-minute drills in practice paid off, and Alex was really clutch,” Zubillaga added. “He had faith in himself and in his receivers.”
Academy Park’s Billy Martin pounced on the Indians’ onside kick, but moments later Graham plied the ball from Fillis. The Knights were also whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct, which moved the ball into Academy Park territory, and set up the finish.
“No one likes losing, but I am the most disappointed in our behavior and our attitude late in the game and after the game,” Vosheski said.
“Our kids obviously played with tremendous resiliency and heart,” Clark pointed out. “Our kids just kind of willed it tonight. There were times that weren’t pretty, but our kids dug down. I really appreciated the way they played until the end.”
Gorgone 19-for-32 for 232 yards with three touchdowns, and completed his last five attempts for 98 yards and two TDs. Zubillaga was limited on the ground, but led all receivers with seven catches for 107 yards.
“We are leaning on our skill guys and for two weeks they’ve carried us,” Clark said.
“(Zubillaga) made the biggest plays at the biggest times. He certainly made his share when it counted.”
Fillis gained 85 of his 85 yards on the ground in the second half, but was limited to just 23 yards through the air.
“(Unionville’s) best players made plays when they had to make them,” Vosheski said. “We didn’t. Our big time players need to start playing big-time.
“We weren’t mentally tough at the end of the game when we needed to be.”
Adams opened the scoring for Unionville by hauling in a 13-yard pass from Gorgone in the first quarter, but the PAT was blocked. The Knights came right back to tie it on a 40-yard run by Nate Holmes, and the conversion from Fillis to Rob Long put Academy Park in front.
The Indians inched ahead 10-9 following a 26-yard field goal by Azeez Badmus, and it looked like they would take it into the intermission, but Adams coughed up the football and the Knights’ Elijah Berryman recovered deep in Unionville territory. On the next play, Fillis found Kyle Rogers for a 13-yard scoring strike. The two-point conversion failed, and Academy Park left for the locker room in front, 14-9.