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Nearey picks up the slack as Sun Valley curtails Chichester comeback

ASTON >> Dan Nearey was in gym class Tuesday morning when one of his friends walked up to him with a message.

“He told me I had to go to Coach Q’s (Chris Quintans) room,” Nearey said. “(Quintans) told me our regular starter at middle linebacker wasn’t going to play in the Thanksgiving game, so I was going to be starting at middle linebacker.

Chichester quarterback Andrew Rodriguez tries to avoid the pressure of Sun Valley lineman Dathan Poole Thursday. Rodriguez threw for 296 yards to get the Eagles back in the game, but Sun Valley held on for a 32-30 win in the 50th edition of the teams’ Thanksgiving Day rivalry. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)

“I’ve always played outside linebacker. I had to try to learn all the things a middle linebacker has to do that day.”

With 1:08 to play in the 50th Turkey Bowl contest between Sun Valley and Chichester Thursday afternoon, Nearey came up with the play that could be talked about for the next 50 years, making an interception inside the Vanguards’ 10-yard line as host Sun Valley held on to earn a 32-30 decision over the Eagles.

Nearey suffered a fractured tibia in the Vanguards’ game at Kennett Sept. 22.

“This week was my first full week of practice since I got back,” Nearey said. “I played in the JV game at Chi Monday night and had an interception in that game.

“Then the next day at practice I made an interception, and I got an interception today. Right before that play, I noticed that my gloves felt slippery, so I made sure I would be able to make a catch just in case the ball came to me.”

Two snaps after Nearey’s big play, he and many of his teammates stood on the sideline and watched as the Sun Valley senior players, cheerleaders and band members and their families made the traditional walk from goal line to goal line to mark their last time together as members of the Vanguards football program.

“That’s what makes this game so special,” Greg “Bubba” Bernhardt, Sun Valley’s first-year head coach, said. “To see a player like Caliph (Jones), who was hurt for such a long time, come back and get in the end zone …

“You know rivalry games like these are always close, and you have to give (Chichester) credit for the way they came back. It reminded me the way we came back when I was at (Monsignor) Bonner from being down 35-7 to win a playoff game.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Chichester vs. Sun Valley

Sun Valley scored midway through the first quarter on a 52-yard run by junior Julz Kelly (19 carries, 128 yards), then Jones and Kelly added scoring runs before Cody Profitt pulled in a TD pass from Andrew Rodriguez for Chichester’s first points.

A Kelly punt stuck Chi at its 1 in the last minute of the first half, and the Eagles fumbled the ball away on third down. Valley quarterback Anthony Ellis forced the ball across the goal line on the last play of the first half.

“We talked at halftime about how we gave the first half to them,” Chichester coach Ryan Smith said. “Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. We did it to ourselves.

“We said if we don’t do those things in the second half, we can rebound. That was a character check for our guys, and they never gave up. We said we had to look at this as one play at a time. If we could get one score, then we could turn it into two. We got to where we wanted to be, but we just couldn’t finish.”

What hurt the Eagles as much as anything was their first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. A short pass completion turned into six points for Sun Valley when Kelly scooped up a Chi fumble and dashed 32 yards to the end zone for what would be the last points the Vanguards would score.

Sun Valley lineman Shane Luedtke carries the Thanksgiving Day football trophy after the Vanguards defeated Chichester 32-30 in the 50th playing of their rivalry. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)

“When knew we had to come up with big plays in this game,” Kelly said. “Charlie Wendling hit their guy, and I came up with the ball. I owe that touchdown to him.

“The game’s important to me, but nothing’s more important to a senior than winning this game. That’s why we worked hard at practice so that would happen.”

Chichester started putting the ball in the air, and Rodriguez (20-for-40 passing for 296 yards and three touchdowns) marched the team into scoring position. Marquell Hudnell ran seven yards for a TD 2:56 before the third quarter ended, and Andre Dean’s run added two points on the conversion.

A Jamese Lundy-Byrd interception early in the fourth quarter gave Chichester the ball at its 20, and Rodriguez and Dean turned the next play into an 80-yard scoring reception. Rodriguez threw to Profitt on the conversion, leaving the Eagles down by nine.

Sun Valley went three and out, and Chichester took 16 plays to cover 90 yards, the final five another scoring pass from Rodriguez to Dean. Zach Taylor’s conversion kick left Chi within two points of the lead with 3:22 to play.

On Sun Valley’s next possession, Damian Thompson knocked down a third-down pass, and the Eagles were only 44 yards from the end zone after a short punt with two minutes and eight seconds to go.

Deandre Morgan pulled in a pair of passes for first downs. Dean’s catch put the ball at the 11, but the next Chi pass landed in Nearey’s arms.

“You know that Chichester doesn’t give up, so you know you have to keep going all game,” senior James Gines, who caught seven passes and played outside linebacker for Sun Valley. “I’ve played in this game all four years, and even got the chance to play a lot when I was a freshman. There’s nothing like playing in this game — and being the winner.”

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