EAST MARLBOROUGH >> When Unionville head coach Pat Clark saw the name ‘Gorgone’ on a list of freshman players back in 2014, he knew instantly that the Indians’ football program was going to have a tough, gritty player for the next four years.
Clark grew up in a blue collar area of Ridley, in the same neighborhood as Nick Gorgone, who is the father of Alex, now Unionville’s senior quarterback.
“I’ve known Nick for 30 years,” Clark said. “Alex has some old-school Ridley blood in him. Anytime you can get that kind of toughness in your program, it’s a good thing.”
It was on clear display Friday as Alex help orchestrate a dominating 39-8 triumph over Strath Haven in the quarterfinals of the District 1 5A Playoffs. Seeded third, the Indians (11-1 overall) now advance to the semis to play host to No. 7 Marple Newtown next Friday.
Listed at 5-foot-11, 175-pounds, Gorgone is not a physically overwhelming. But he was ultra-efficient on Friday, just as he has been all season. Against an accomplished Panthers’ pass defense, Gorgone completed 10 of 14 attempts for 201 yards and a touchdown.
“Alex is not that big, but that kid has heart,” said Unionville star receiver Joe Zubillaga. “He’s from Delco, so he is all about hard work paying off.”
When opposing defenses identify the Indians’ offensive playmakers, Zubillaga is first, with fellow wideout J.T. Hower and runner Dante Graham also in the mix. But everything goes through Gorgone.
“I wouldn’t trade that kid for anybody,” Clark said. “There is not another quarterback I’d pick.”
In the regular season, Gorgone completed 71 percent of his throws for nearly 1,300 yards and 17 TDs. On Friday, he accounted for 11 first downs against Strath Haven.
“Things went just as we planned it. We just came out and executed – it’s really as simple as that,” said Gorgone, a team captain.
“Alex takes what the defense gives him,” Clark added. “He was able to keep plays alive and when he had to make throws, he made some really good ones because (Strath Haven) is very solid in zone defense.”
As a junior in 2016, Gorgone missed six games with an injury to his throwing shoulder. It forced Zubillaga to move to quarterback, and even though the Indians went 7-4 and won the second of three straight Ches-Mont American crowns, the offense was plodding and one-dimensional.
“(Zubillaga) settled in at quarterback when Alex went out, and during the offseason, it was a question of how would things work out between those two,” Clark acknowledged.
“Well, Alex has really helped that situation so much this season because his pocket presence is very good. He knows when to step up and be patient, and that it’s not always the best thing to run to the outside and try to make plays.”
Unionville no longer has a purely run-based attack, and Gorgone is the guy charged with distributing the ball to one of the more impressive array of skilled players in the Ches Mont. On Friday, he targeted four different receivers, including Zubillaga five times (for 112 yards) and Hower four times (for 57 yards).
“I couldn’t have any better weapons,” Gorgone said. “I have two of the best wideouts and two great running backs. Add in an awesome offensive line and I really couldn’t ask for more.”
By the time Gorgone threw his first incomplete pass, the Indians had already built a two touchdown lead. At the half, he had accounted for eight of Unionville’s 10 first downs, and had a hand in 71 percent of the Indians’ total offense.
“Alex puts in the hard work and he has faith in all of us,” Zubillaga pointed out. “His job is to get us the ball and he’s really improved this season. He is comfortable, and when he’s comfortable, he’s a heck of a player.”
On Unionville’s first possession, Gorgone ran for a first down, hit Zubillaga for 12-yards for another, and then set up the game’s initial score with a 38-yarder to J.T. Hower. On the next series, Gorgone went 3-for-3 through the air for another 55 yards, including a pass to Dante Graham that converted a third-and-21, en route to a 12-play, 71-yard scoring march.
“Alex has grown so much,” Clark said. “The kid cares so much. His enthusiasm and desire is infectious. He carries out team in a lot of ways. If you watch after every big play, he is the first kid downfield. He’s actually made a completion and then got downfield to block.
“He’s tough, he’s gritty and he’s talented.”
In the third quarter, Gorgone found Zubillaga for a 38-yard strike that set up another scoring drive. And before sitting out the fourth quarter, he connected with Zubillaga on a 37-yard TD to open a 33-0 lead.
Even when he wasn’t throwing or running the football, Gorgone was helping his teammates by carrying out play-fakes. It may be a lost art, but it was something Clark has noticed all season.
“With what we do on offense, it holds defenders and it lets us see what complimentary plays are there or aren’t there,” he said. “It’s just another part of his maturity.”
After every game, Gorgone talks over strategy with his Dad, who played high school ball at Ridley.
“My Dad’s always been there for me,” Alex said. “He’s been telling me since I was little to do those little things like carrying out those fakes because you can take a defender the other way.
“He’ll help me out, but mostly he just lets me play.”
Neil Geoghegan is a staff writer for Digital First Media and Pa. Prep Live. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NeilMGeoghegan.
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