ASTON >> When coach Greg Bernhardt told his team to create a huddle at the 50-yard line at halftime, the Sun Valley players were a little skittish.
“Uh oh,” one said from the sideline. “This can’t be good.”
And it wasn’t.
After three consecutive possessions with turnovers, one that led to a Great Valley touchdown, Bernhardt didn’t have the patience to wait to get to the locker room to undress his team.
Instead, he did it in front of a packed stadium. The message was sent.
The result was a thrilling second half that was eye candy for those in attendance. Back and forth the two teams went with one big play after another until it came down to one final Vanguards drive.
In the end, Mark Neri intercepted Anthony Ellis with 31 seconds to play and the Patriots defeated Sun Valley 26-22 in the Ches-Mont League opener, but it was a big step forward for the Vanguards.
“I don’t think we’ve ever played Great Valley close,” said Vanguards wide receiver James Gines, who had five catches for 47 yards. “So we know we’re right there and we know how good they are in this league. It’s says a lot about where we are as a team, but I’m not going to lie, it hurts right now.”
After all, Sun Valley (2-2, 0-1) led twice in the fourth quarter. They had a chance in the first half with first and goal from the one and came up empty. Penalties and four turnovers ultimately cost them.
But, for once they are not far from one of the Ches-Mont’s perennial top teams.
“This game will be remembered as the turning point for Sun Valley football for years to come,” said Caliph Jones, who filled in for a hobbled Charlie Wendling and amassed 154 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. “I know we didn’t win, but for us players, we know we can win in this league now. We took one of the league’s best teams down to the wire.
“The Ches-Mont is there for the taking, and we’re going to take it.”
Bernhardt was good with that.
“I want it to hurt,” he said. “I want them to know what it feels like to be this close to beating a team like Great Valley. We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half or else we might be having a different conversation right now — and I want them to remember what that feels like.”
Despite getting an early lead when Julz Kelly ran the opening kickoff back 85 yards for a touchdown, Sun Valley couldn’t cash in again until the start of the fourth quarter, missing several opportunities along the way.
Yet, their defense did a nice job in the red zone. The Patriots (2-2, 1-0) had two 100-yard rushers in Alex Crouse (103 yards) and William Hunt (113 yards), but most of that came between the 20s.
Jones gave Sun Valley the lead on a 41-yard touchdown scamper on the first play of the fourth quarter and after a nine play, 60-yard drive by Great Valley to regain the lead, Jones ran the ball six times for 45 yards on the next drive, including a 5-yard touchdown to put the Vanguards back up 22-20.
The key play on that drive was a brazen fake punt by Sun Valley on 4th and 6 from their own 34. Wendling took a direct snap and rumbled 26 yards for a first down.
But Great Valley answered with their one big passing play — a 50-yard touchdown toss from Jake Prevost to Josh Burgess.
The Vanguards had one final chance and got into Great Valley territory, but Neri’s interception sealed it.
“We’ll learn from this and be ready next week [against Kennett],” Jones said. “I guarantee that.”