West Grove – For the Homecoming crowd, Avon Grove showcased its best-known weapon, hard-nosed senior running back Kevin Francis, in the first half of its 31-21 Ches-Mont National win against visiting Bishop Shanahan Saturday afternoon.
The Red Devils (4-3, 3-0) controlled the ball in the first half, giving the pigskin 27 times to Francis, and the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder responded with 107 yards and two touchdowns as the hosts built a comfortable 31-7 halftime lead.
Avon Grove’s second touchdown drive consisted solely of 11 consecutive running plays by Francis, who kept battering the line for small, but solid gains.
“Kevin is super physical – he’s only 195 pounds, but he plays like he’s 220,” said Avon Grove head coach Harry O’Neill. “All he does is get us first downs.”
Francis finished the game with 153 yards on 37 carries. Eight days earlier, he carried the ball 50 times for 390 yards (second-most in Ches-Mont League history) and five touchdowns in a 38-17 win against Downingtown West.
For the season, Francis now has an eye-popping 1,463 yards on 220 carries and 20 touchdowns.
“Our offensive line played their butts off today,” said Francis. “They did a great job opening up holes for me. Our line is amazing.”
Leading the Avon Grove offensive charge up front Saturday was left guard Joel Mogaka, the only senior on the Red Devils’ offensive line.
“Mogaka has an attitude, an edge, he’s been with us for three years, and his attitude has carried over to the younger offensive linemen,” said O’Neill.
Francis said, “[Mogaka] is definitely the leader of the offensive line, and opened some big holes today, even though he was going against a [big] guy. But our whole offensive line did well, the guards, tackles and center.”
The Red Devils’ defense forced five turnovers by Shanahan (5-2, 2-2) Saturday, including three interceptions by Avon Grove senior defensive back Dylan Lapham and one pick by sophomore Wyatt Kirby.
“We came out on fire today,” said Avon Grove head coach Harry O’Neill. “I’m really, really proud of my guys. This was a good win for our program, Shanahan came in at 5-1 and they didn’t quit in the second half. We’ve been improving each game this year. Defensively, we were really, really good today in the first half with those turnovers.”
Avon Grove scored on its first two possessions. The first drive was capped by a 41 yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Shane Wolford to junior wide receiver Jordan Paone. The second was the 11-play, 63-yard TD drive by Francis.
Late in the first quarter, Lapham made his first interception at the Shanahan 15 yard line and returned it for a touchdown to give the hosts a 21-0 lead. The Eagles only ran six offensive plays in the first quarter.
Even though Bishop Shanahan didn’t get a first down the entire first half, the Eagles flew for a quick touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter when senior back Andrew Smyth broke into the open on a long route and senior back Dan DiBeneditto hit him perfectly in stride for a 79-yard touchdown to make the score 21-7.
Avon Grove came right back with a 13-play drive (all of them runs, 10 of them by Francis) to the Shanahan 5 yard line. The Eagles’ defense stiffened and senior kicker Kevin Sheehan came out to kick a 22-yard field goal to give the Red Devils a 24-7 lead with 3:02 to go before halftime.
Two plays later, the Red Devils recovered a fumble at the Shanahan 22 yard line. Wolford hit Lapham for a 21-yard gain down to the 1 yard line (Lapham broke several tackles to get there), then Francis bolted into the end zone for his second TD of the day.
Francis said, “Joel Magaka made a great block and opened up a huge hole, and [senior fullback] Dillon Estes made a good lead block. I was able to just about walk into the end zone.”
Avon Grove went into the locker room with a 31-7 lead, and O’Neill praised the man at the helm of the Red Devils’ offense, Wolford.
“Wolford threw the ball with uncanny accuracy, made good decisions and commanded the offense really well,” said O’Neill.
In the second half, Bishop Shanahan began to move the ball, as the combination of Smyth to senior running back Steve Sweeney connected for a number of solid gains. The Red Devils were going with a three-man defensive front, and dropping eight defenders back, to avoid a repeat of the 79-yard DiBeneditto-to-Smyth bomb in the second quarter. After not getting a first down in the first half, the Eagles earned 14 first downs in the second half.
“We really worked on our pass blocking all week,” said Sweeney, who caught 10 passes for 111 yards in the second half. “We knew that Avon Grove had a big defensive line.”
Shanahan head coach Paul Meyers said, “Sweeney made some good catches in the second half. He’s also a cornerback, but he’s a good athlete, and we use him in our hurry-up offense. Smyth gave us a spark at quarterback in the second half – he’s a good athlete who we move around on offense, depending on where we need him.
“We started off so slow, so lethargic in the first half, and we shot ourselves in the foot with those early turnovers. You can’t fall behind like that against a good team like Avon Grove and hope to win. Give Avon Grove credit, their running back [Francis] is really something. But we didn’t quit.”
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Avon Grove ran three plays and punted. The Red Devils did not touch the ball on offense again until the final two plays of the game, as Shanahan scored two touchdowns and recovered both subsequent onside kicks.
Shanahan put together a nine-play, 70-yard drive for a touchdown to make it 31-14 with 7:14 left, recovered an onside kick and drove 47 yards in eight plays to make it 31-21 with 4:48. On the second touchdown drive, Smyth hit Sweeney on four consecutive passes totaling 37 yards.
The Eagles then recovered an onside kick at the Shanahan 44, and Smyth hit three passes to give the visitors a first down at the Avon Grove 13 yard line.
On second-and-10 at the 13, Avon Grove junior middle linebacker Scott O’Neill broke through for a quarterback sack, giving the visitors a third-and-18 at the Red Devils’ 21 yard line.
“That sack was huge,” said Harry O’Neill.
A holding penalty then moved the Eagles back to the 36 yard line. An incomplete pass was followed by a completed throw on fourth down that was 21 yards short of the first down. The Red Devils took over on downs, and two kneel-downs later, the game was over.
Avon Grove 31, Bishop Shanahan 21
Bishop Shanahan 0 7 0 14-21
Avon Grove 21 10 0 0-31
AG-Paone 41 pass from Wolford (Sheehan kick)
AG-Francis 3 run (Sheehan kick)
AG-Lapham 15 interception return (Sheehan kick)
BS-Smyth 79 pass from DiBeneditto (Bailey kick)
AG-Sheehan 22 FG
AG-Francis 1 run (Sheehan kick)
BS-Smyth 3 run (Bailey kick)
BS-Smyth 4 run (Bailey kick)
First downs 14 13
Yards rushing 25-102 45-191
Yards passing 223 83
Total yards 325 274
Passing 18-32-4 4-9-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Punts-avg. 1-21.0 2-39.5
Penalties-yds 6-67 8-70
Rushing: Bishop Shanahan: DiBeneditto 8-16, Smyth 13-65, 2 TDs, Whalen 1-minus 3, Sweeney 1-7, Schaeffer 1-8, Dearing 1-9. Avon Grove: Francis 37-153, 2 TDs, Wolford 6-33, Boyd 1-2, Arhontakis 1-3.
Passing: Bishop Shanahan: DiBeneditto 6-12-4, 107 yards, TD; Smyth 12-20, 116 yards. Avon Grove: Wolford 4-9-1, 83 yards, TD.
Receiving: Bishop Shanahan: DiBeneditto 1-1, Smyth 2-74 TD, Sweeney 10-111, Schaeffer 1-0, Waite 1-5, Monroe 2-23, Prieto 1-9. Avon Grove: Boyd 1-8, Paone 1-41 TD, Lapham 2-34.
Interceptions: Bishop Shanahan: Robinson. Avon Grove: Lapham 3, Kirby.