SPRINGFIELD >> Chris Britton didn’t rattle off a list of excuses. Nor did his players.
Springfield lost the District 1 Class 5A championship game, 35-25. There was no disputable evidence to suggest otherwise. The Cougars were outplayed by third-seeded Unionville Friday night. It happens, especially when you’re an elite team and you’re tasked with conquering other elite teams.
But it’s a stinging wound on an otherwise fantastic season.
“For a lot of us seniors, it’s our last time playing on this field and the possibility of the last time playing football at all,” senior linebacker Phil Shovlin said. “There’s nothing in the fuel tank right now, we gave it our all. Props to Unionville. Great players, great kids and I wish them the best of luck.
“It just stinks that we couldn’t get it done.”
That’s a familiar refrain for Springfield. Those words have been said, in one form another, three times in the last four years. One of the most successful programs in Delaware County since 2010, Springfield has gone winless in three District 1 championship game appearances. And the Cougars lost the Class 5A final, at home, for the second year in a row.
They were the No. 1 seed in the tournament, undefeated and at home for the most important game of their careers.
But like Great Valley and Academy Park before them, Unionville was the better team, even if it was for one night only.
However, that one disappointing outcome does not define Springfield’s journey.
“It’s tough for (the seniors), but they’ve had a great run,” said Britton, who has guided the Cougars to three Central League crowns since 2014. “They have to have the most wins in school history, I would think. We didn’t get that one game done, but it’s not their fault. I’ll own that. That’s me not finishing up in a final. They did everything I asked them to do, so I’ll put it that way.”
Unionville set an ominous tone with its aggressive defensive approach in the first quarter. On the second play, Springfield quarterback Jack Psenicska took a big hit for a sack and fumbled the ball. While the Cougars defense matched the physicality of the Indians, Unionville sent a message from the outset that it would not be intimidated.
“Their defense just played really physical,” Shovlin said. “They came out blitzing on every play and off the edge. Their outside backers were really good players. It’s like they knew what we were running. Again, props go out to them.”
Springfield’s offensive woes continued in the first quarter. Unionville’s Joe Zubillaga intercepted Psenicska and darted 20 yards for a touchdown. The Cougars didn’t answer until eight minutes into the second quarter, following a Unionville fumble. Ja’Den McKenzie ran 10 yards up the gut for the score. It was also Springfield’s initial first down of the night.
Unionville responded when quarterback Alex Gorgone, feeling the heat from All-Delco lineman Justin Shields, aired a desperation heave that somehow landed in the mitts of Zubillaga on third down. Dante Graham finished the drive with a two-yard scoring run.
Springfield went in front, 15-14, when Kyle Long caught a pass and sprinted 22 yards to the end zone to kick off the second half. The Cougars added a field goal to expand their lead to 18-14 with 3:15 left in the third quarter.
But never did the Cougars feel comfortable. Unionville seemingly had all the right answers.
“They had a great defensive plan,” Britton said. “All of their stuff, they were well-planned. They have a great coaching staff and it’s a good team over there. This is what I’m hoping what the district final is. We saw a team that was very well-prepared. I look at them and they are similar to us in a lot of ways. They are athletic all over the place, their kids are gritty. Sounds familiar. Hats off to them.”
Maybe not tomorrow, or next week, but one day the Cougars will appreciate everything they accomplished in 2017. Britton and his staff molded another strong senior class that will leave a lasting legacy.
“We never gave up,” senior lineman Dan Pennestri said, “and that’s the truth.”
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