KENNETT SQUARE >> On 4th and 8, early in the first quarter of the Route 82 rivalry between Kennett and Unionville Friday night, the Blue Demons called out the punt team.
What began as a routine special teams play resulted in a common theme and punter’s worst nightmare.
Kennett punter Drake McNamara received the snap, took his routine steps, but mishit the kick. The ball only went five yards and the Indians began their drive on Kennett’s 35-yard line. It was one example of Unionville capitalizing on some sloppy special teams Friday night, as the Indians held off the Blue Demons for a 50-36 decision in the Ches-Mont League American Division opener.
Unionville, which entered the game ranked 16th in the Pa. Prep Live Top 20, picked up a touchdown and two safeties directly off Kennett punts, and started in strong field position all night.
“You have to play all three phases,” said Unionville coach Pat Clark. “There were points where we were really good on defense, I thought the offense was pretty good all night and you know, special team plays really changed momentum as much as anything and they can really take the life out of a team. We worked really hard at those.
“These neighborhood rivalry games are great for the entire community,” Clark said. “We were fortunate to get up and get some points on the board. Their quarterback played a great game and kept a lot of stuff alive. He kept them in the game to the end.”
As the game began, Kennett quickly established that Unionville would have to come out and play if it was going to remain undefeated and pick up a fourth win.
Kennett’s Jake Dilcher connected with running back Garrett Cox on a 34-yard touchdown pass to end their eight-play, 75-yard opening drive. Unionville would quickly get on the scoreboard as captain Joe Zubillaga would lead the team down the field and punch in his first touchdown from five yards out.
Unionville’s defense would step up and force a three-and-out to bring the punting unit on the field on the ensuing drive. The mishit punt put Unionville on Kennett’s 35-yard line, and before Kennett could bounce back, Zubillaga was back in the end zone for his second touchdown of the night.
“I have to give the credit to my line and to all my blockers,” Zubillaga said. “Those holes were huge today. I could jog in the end zone on some of these plays. It was great. I was happy that I just got the touches down by the goal line, but I couldn’t be more thankful for what my team provided me today.”
The Indians began taking over at the start of the second half. Dante Graham would find the end zone for his lone touchdown of the night and Unionville’s defense would continue to smother Kennett’s offense. Another three-and-out by the defense would force Kennett to punt again, but a high snap would soar over McNamara’s head. Tackled in the end zone, two more points were added to Unionville’s lead.
With less than a minute left in the half, Kennett showed some life. Dilcher found Mitch Kosara 20 yards out downfield. An acrobatic catch and pure speed would turn his catch into a 94-yard gain. Tripped up that one, Garrett Cox would punch it in to give his team a little momentum heading into the half.
“They were good, they were really good,” said Unionville’s Connor Schilling “It was a good game all the way through. They fought hard. There was a lot of trash talking and it was very physical, but it was fun.”
Schilling was also one of the reasons why Kennett, at times, just seemed outmanned. Schilling rushed for a total of 150 yards and kept Unionville in position to capitalize on Kennett’s mistakes.
On the first drive, after Schilling, Graham and James Hower pounded the rock and continued to gush out first downs, Zubillaga found the end zone once again on a 24-yard quarterback keeper.
Shortly after, Unionville would strike again, however, this time it would not be the offense. On 4th and eight deep in Kennett territory, the Blue Demons sent out the punting unit again, only to have the kick blocked and recovered in the end zone, giving Unionville a 36-12 lead.
Unionville would score again on the next drive with a run by Howe, and by then it looked like the game was over.
However, after struggling all game, McNamara caught the ensuing kickoff at the 15-yard line hit the hole and burst down the sideline for an 85-yard kick return touchdown
The momentum was back.
Kennett then recovered a loose ball to create a real chance for a comeback. Dilcher would hit Chris Brooks for 56-yards, and the momentum was building. If Kennett could stop Unionville one more time, a comeback would be possible.
Zubillaga would put an end to all of the hope when he rushed in for his fourth touchdown of the night. Kennett would go on to score once more, but Unionville would run the clock out as they get its first win in Ches-Mont league play.
“It was great. This is my senior season and this is a great end to it,” Zubillaga said. “It could have been better, but I couldn’t be more happy with a win and any more happy than my teammates performance today.”
“I was really pleased that the offense was able to win the game for us today,” Clark said. “I think we just have to be sharper mentally. We can’t take any plays off and when you do, something bad usually happens. Whether it’s turning the ball over or it’s them getting a big play. So, we have to work on our consistency and being tough.”
“Joe is a great player,” coach Clark continued “He’s a three-year varsity starter for us. He made some big runs for us. I thought the difference was Hower. On the perimeter, he ripped off a lot of big runs. We went in on trying to get him more touches and it paid off for us tonight.”