BUCKINGHAM >> Evan O’Donnell turned a broken play into seven points, much the same way he and his Central Bucks East teammates transformed a day of missed opportunities into a 10-7 victory over Souderton Thursday afternoon.
“I just took off, tried to make the best of it,” O’Donnell said of his seven-yard touchdown scramble in the third quarter, which produced the winning points. “I had great blocking by my line — they’ve done a great job all year. I couldn’t do it without them.
“(At halftime) in the locker room, we said we had to play harder. We were kind of flat in the first half. We came out, worked hard. It was ugly, but it was a win.”
The Patriots overcame a 7-0 halftime deficit and pushed ahead in a third quarter in which they held Big Red without a first down. East left sunny Patriot Stadium with a key Suburban One League Continental Conference victory, raising its record to 3-3 (2-1 conference).
“I’m proud of our guys,” East coach John Donnelly said. “This is a gritty win because we’ve lost three really close games this year so it’s great to be on the other side of it.”
The Patriots scored on both of their third-quarter possessions to take control.
With Chad Guzzi finding holes and churning out gains of 19, 23 and 10, East pushed into Souderton’s end of the field and would march all the way to the seven.
There, Big Red’s defense, anchored by linebacker Ethan Smerecki, came up with a stop. The Patriots salvaged three points, a 24-yard field goal by Michael Smigley cutting the margin to 7-3.
East’s defense forced a second straight three-and-out by Souderton, with East getting the ball back around midfield. The Patriots moved it 47 yards in five plays, the key burst coming on a 32-yard gain by Jake Ventresca off a shovel pass.
Facing 2nd-and-Goal at the seven, O’Donnell rolled right, couldn’t find an open man, then pulled it down and raced into the end zone, nudging the ball over the goal line for a 10-7 Patriot lead.
— Kev Hunter (@khunter10) September 28, 2017
“You gotta cash in,” Donnelly said. “In the first half, I thought we had three great drives — we get to the 10-yard line and start going backwards.”
With the wind at its back for for the fourth quarter, Big Red got going.
Souderton crossed midfield on its first possession of the fourth and started moving it again on its second series, but a sack by Trent Petro forced a Big Red punt.
After two clock-consuming possessions by the Patriots, Souderton had one last chance with 2 minutes, 52 seconds left. The Indians, taking over at their own 23, had something going with Xarminto Lubuelo.
“Souderton always has a great game plan ready and they execute. They’re gonna run sweep and they’re gonna run belly and you better stop it,” Donnelly said. “(Lubuelo) still ripped off a bunch of runs for them. He’s very good.”
Lubuelo gained 22 of his 125 yards from scrimmage on what was a potential go-ahead drive for Souderton. Tre Samuels went up and grabbed a quick slant from quarterback Dean DiPisa, good for 14 yards and a first down at the East 40.
Souderton spiked the ball and then two incompletions brought it to fourth down. DiPisa eluded a sack, rolled left and threw deep, but Daniel Pineda couldn’t quite hang onto what would have been a tough catch, turning the ball over on downs with under a minute to play.
Two kneel downs by O’Donnell ended it.
“We tried to tempo ‘em,” said O’Donnell, whose team dominated time of possession in that pivotal third quarter. “That was our game plan and we definitely did that. We made some mistakes — I know I made some, and we had to perfect the little things and we got a little bit better at that in the second half.”
East began the game with a drive all the way down to the Souderton nine, but a fumble by O’Donnell turned the ball over to Big Red.
Souderton (1-5, 0-3 conference) reached the end zone on its second possession of the contest, with Nick Guthre catching a 17-yard pass from DiPisa, stretching the ball over the goal line to put the visitors in front, 7-0.
— Kev Hunter (@khunter10) September 28, 2017
“We executed some things really well — on a couple drives,” Indians coach Ed Gallagher said. “We were stopped on downs (at the East 24) on another drive (in the second quarter) so we did move the ball pretty well offensively.”
Lubuelo gained 114 yards on the ground and DiPisa found five different receivers for 11 completions and 126 yards.
East threatened early in the second quarter but back-to-back sacks by Smerecki led to a missed 46-yard field goal by Smigley, preserving Souderton’s 7-0 lead at the break.
“Two weeks in a row the defense has played really well,” Gallagher said. “We still have to get the offense going. The offense was a little better today but it still needs to step up a notch.”
Souderton fell behind in the third but battled deep into the fourth, crossing midfield with a chance to go ahead. A team dressing just six seniors fell just short.
“We’re playing a ton of young kids so I’m really proud of the effort that our kids gave,” Gallagher said. “That’s all we can do. We gotta keep working and hope that that work’s gonna pay off next week.”
Guzzi gained 96 yards rushing for East, Jake Ventresca added 42, and O’Donnell completed 11-of-18 passes for 148 yards. Typical of his team’s day O’Donnell — battling a tough Souderton pass rush — had negative 19 yards on his seven carries, but one of them was the seven-yard, winning score.
“We’re a good team. We just have to play as a team, play as a family,” O’Donnell said. “This is the closest group of guys I’ve ever seen.”