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Tired of waiting, Springfield wants to get its banner against Unionville

SPRINGFIELD >> Springfield doesn’t care about the past.

The Cougars have qualified for the District 1 playoffs every season since 2010. They have reached the championship game three times, including Friday night when they host No. 3 Unionville for the Class 5A title.

This is Springfield’s third appearance in the district final since 2014. No one needs to refresh their memories. The seniors especially know entirely too well what disappointment feels like.

“I was talking to a lacrosse coach and he said, ‘Do you know about the banners?’ I said, ‘No, unfortunately I don’t know about the banners. It would be special to get one,’” All-Delco lineman Justin Shields said. “It’s kind of cool to see. I know the lacrosse team, with this little kid over here (pointing to wide receiver/defensive back Kyle Long), they have multiple banners.”

The football team wants to leave behind the same legacy as the two-time defending PIAA champion lacrosse squad. Their time is now.

“Here at Springfield, winning the Central League is great. You get a nice little year up there on the wall,” said Long, a highly-touted lacrosse recruit who guided the Cougars to district and state gold last spring. “But if you win a district or state title, you get your own banner up there. And that’s not ever coming down.”

Perfect at 13-0, this could be the best Springfield football team in history. Even when they stumbled at times and didn’t play their best game, as was the case in last week’s 17-6 victory over Upper Dublin, the Cougars have always found a way, week after week.

That’s a hallmark of a great team.

Unionville (12-1), led by all-purpose star Joe Zubillaga, picked apart Marple Newtown’s defense in the semifinal round last Friday, 36-21. Zubillaga scored four touchdowns and amassed 153 yards of offense. On the year, Zubillaga has 794 yards rushing and 650 receiving while totaling 13 touchdowns.

Springfield’s defense believes it can handle anything thrown in its direction. It’s hard to dispute the excellence of a unit that has posted 38 takeaways and has held teams to eight or fewer points in 10 of its 13 contests. It has allowed 8.7 points and 213.7 yards per game.

“I believe we have the best athletes, every spot on the defense,” senior linebacker Phil Shovlin said. “We all believe that, too. We know what we can do. We just rely on our defensive line because if they have a good night, everybody has a good night. They’ve had a good night the past 13 weeks. We’re just trying to keep it rolling.”

JT Hower (39 receptions, 764 yards, six TDs) is a quick-footed athlete at wide receiver. Dante Graham (766 yards, 11 TDs) is a power running back. Quarterback Alex Gorgone has thrown for 1,732 yards and 21 scores.

“For us, we think we’re always going up against the best players, the best teams on the schedule. That’s how we look at it,” Shields said. “It’s another game on the schedule. It’s obviously the championship game, but we have to approach it like any other game. Hopefully it turns out on our side. That’s what we’ve been doing all year.

“If they’re the best, well … they’re going up against the best, too.”

Defensively, Unionville is allowing 15.5 points and 255 yards per game with 19 takeaways. The question is whether they can contain Springfield’s offense, which is averaging 32.7 points and 319 yards per contest. Ja’Den McKenzie is among the leading rushers in the county with 1,218 yards and 17 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Jack Psenicska has completed a county-best 65.7 percent of his passing attempts for 1,886 yards and 21 touchdowns. Long is the top target in the receiving game. He has 57 receptions for 813 yards and 10 TDs.

Statistics are fun to analyze, but Springfield knows that none of them matter. It’s about one game, and that’s it. They’ve been here twice before without finishing the job.

No more deja vu.

“A lot of us are two-year players with varsity and we’ve been in that big game before,” Shovlin said. “We want this win bad. That’s all that we’ve been working toward since January. This is it. We want to go and get it.”

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