KENNETT SQUARE >> Trailing by a point in the second half, Sun Valley scored 30 consecutive points to turn a close, defensive battle into a wide-open — and relatively comfortable — 42-21 victory at Kennett. It put the Vanguards into the win column in the Ches-Mont American and handed the Blue Demons their second straight setback.
Senior runner Caliph Jones scored a career-high four touchdowns and ran for a career-best 161 yards for Sun Valley, and he did most of the damage in the difference-making second half. But the biggest impact player may have been somebody who hardly played at all.
Kennett’s dangerous dual-threat quarterback, Jake Dilcher, was knocked out of the game very early with a right shoulder injury and Kennett ahead. The Blue Demons never seemed to recover. Dilcher’s prognosis is unknown.
“It’s big. Jake is an amazing football player and he is so smart. He adds a lot to our offense, which is a complicated offense,” said Kennett head coach Josh Kaufman.
“That was huge,” agreed Sun Valley head coach Greg Bernhardt. “(Dilcher) is a heck of a player. It definitely changed the game when he went out. I’m sure it limited them on offense.”
It took a while for the Vanguards (1-2, 3-2 overall) to capitalize on Dilcher’s absence, but once they did, the outcome wasn’t in doubt. Trailing 13-12 late in the third quarter, Sun Valley took advantage of a botched Kennett punt and an interception by Lance Stone to score four straight touchdowns.
“We just picked up the intensity and energy in the second half,” said Jones, who rolled up more than 100 rushing yards in the final two quarters.
“That might be the first time in 20 years of coaching where we didn’t have to make any offensive adjustments at the half,” Bernhardt added. “We just needed to just relax and go back out and follow the game plan — and they did. They executed and played well.
Jones scored on runs of six, one, and 42 yards during the surge, which put the Vanguards in command 42-13. Junior runner Julz Kelly chipped in with a 44-yarder on a screen pass from quarterback Anthony Ellis to round out the scoring.
“The (botched) punt was a big momentum swing, but in the end, (Sun Valley) made plays on offense and we didn’t make enough,” Kaufman said. “It’s a game of blocking and tackling, and we sure as heck didn’t do a good job of tackling tonight.”
Kelly finished with 163 yards of total offense, including 82 on the ground, which helped Sun Valley rush for 257 total yards. Without Dilcher, the Demons managed just 144 yards of offense.
“This is a tough conference, so to get a road win is huge,” said Jones, who ran for 154 in a close loss to Great Valley a week earlier.
“Momentum in high school football is important, so to get the interception and the blocked punt, those are the kinds of things that turned the game around.”
Kennett looked sharp early with Dilcher at the helm. Kennett marched 74 yards in nine plays to open the game, and scored on a 16 yard pass from Dilcher to Mitch Kosara. Dilcher accounted for 68 yards in the march, but suffered the injury in the next possession, and Kosara took over.
The Vanguards tied it up early in the second quarter on an 11-yard scoring run by Jones. Sun Valley was poised to take the lead just before the end of the half but on fourth and goal at the three yard line, Kennett’s Aiden Bowe batted down a pass by Ellis. It sabotaged a 77-yard march.
“We have to put it in there and that’s three straight weeks were we’ve been unable to capitalize inside the five yard line,” Bernhardt complained.
The Vanguards inched ahead 12-6 after Ellis capped off a series with a seven yard run, but 35 of the 51 yards covered on the drive were courtesy of Kennett, who was penalized three times, including two facemask infractions.
The Demons (0-2, 2-3) grabbed their last lead when Kosara found wideout Justin Shacknai from seven yards out, but a few minutes later a low snap was bobbled by the Kennett punter and partially blocked.
“We had very high hopes for this season and here we are 2-3, which is not where we wanted to be,” Kaufman said. “But we can still have a good season. We are going to lift weights (Sunday) for the first time and I am going to see who is tough.
“This was our worst game of the season, so I want to see who is committed to building Kennett football going forward.”
With more than 300 rushing yards in the last two outings, Jones is quickly becoming a major weapon for Sun Valley. He ran it 23 times on Friday and had six carries of at least 11 yards.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Bernhardt said. “Caliph is a heck of a back and he is getting the majority of the carries because we are missing an injured fullback. He has a great combo of quickness and he sees the hole well.”