EAST MARLBOROUGH — On the first third down of the season Unionville’s JT Hower tracked a Spring-Ford receiver from the far sideline to the near hash mark, leaped and plucked an interception out of the sky.
It was the perfect tone to set for Unionville’s pass defense, and as the Indians head into the District 1-5A semifinals, Friday night, Hower and the secondary have proved it was no fluke.
Out of 12 games this season, No. 3 Unionville (11-1) has surrendered more than 100 through the air just three times.The Indians give up an area-best average of 72.5 passing yards per game.
Unionville’s strength will be put to the test as Delaware County’s all-time leading passer, and University of Delaware commit, Anthony Paoletti Jr., comes to town with No. 7 Marple Newtown.
“Best loves going against the best,” Hower said. “We love going out and playing a good quarterback and showing what a good secondary looks like.”
Hower is one-fourth of a secondary that returned everyone. Opposite cornerback of Hower is fellow senior Dante Graham and seniors Aidan Boyle and Theron Schilling fill the safety slots. Sophomore Connor Schilling has also been a big contributor at cornerback.
The chemistry and trust from starting 20-plus games together has allowed a less-experienced front seven to catch up and round into form.
As a result the Indians’ defense is second in the area in points against, allowing 15.1 per game.
“We’re pretty close friends and we work together pretty well,” Theron Schilling said. “Every week we set goals of getting two picks and giving up no passing touchdowns. We try to live up to that every single week.”
Unionville has given up a total of 37 passing yards the first two rounds against run-dominant teams, Glen Mills and Strath Haven.
The ante is being upped big time in the semis with Paoletti and his 1,000-yard receiver Dash Dulgerian. Making things even more challenging, Marple’s Marlon Weathers has rushed for over 600 yards the last three weeks, meaning Unionville’s secondary will need to be steady in man-to-man coverage.
“I think the guys want to embrace the challenge as a unit and Marple’s quarterback is obviously very talented, but this group has done a lot of damage, too,” Unionville coach Pat Clark said. “We trust these guys a lot. Theron and Aidan are really good at seeing formations and setting the coverage for us. A lot of times they set the coverage for us Friday nights.”
Hower is tied with four other locals for second with three interceptions, improving on his pair as a junior.
Doubling as a lacrosse player but with expectations of playing football in college, Hower was voted by the coaches the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Ches-Mont American Division this fall.
“I take pride in it, but I couldn’t do it without the defensive line and linebackers putting pressure on the quarterback to make him make quick decisions,” Hower said. “When he does that, we’re able to make plays on the ball.”
The second round win over Strath Haven marked the first time Unionville earned two victories in a postseason and Clark will look to go to 2-0 against a Marple team he coached from 1998-2002.
The Indians knocked off the Tigers, 21-19, in the first round of the 2006 Class 3A playoffs and are aiming to play for their first district title since 1994.
First, though, the Indians will have to stop a Marple team that averages 28.7 points per game, and they just may have the right four guys in the back to do so.
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