SPRINGFIELD >> A few minutes after Unionville’s 35-25 victory against top-seeded Springfield in the District 1 Class 5A championship final, senior Joe Zubillaga reflected on the meaning of his team’s win.
“Everyone talked about what a great defense Springfield had, but we have a great defense — just look at the scoreboard,” said Zubillaga, who made two first-quarter interceptions, scoring a touchdown on the first pick. “Before the season, we knew we had the talent to win a district title.”
True to their ambitions, the Indians held Springfield to a single first down in the first half en route to a 14-9 lead, then survived a roller-coaster second half which featured several lead changes. Unionville held a slender 28-25 lead with two minutes to go when junior linebacker Alijah Woodall’s quarterback sack and fumble recovery in the Springfield end zone for a touchdown finally wrapped up the win.
With the victory, Unionville (13-1) takes its district title and advances to the PIAA Class 5A state semifinal against either Archbishop Wood or Wyoming Valley West.
For Springfield, it was another district final disappointment. But the Cougars didn’t go down easily.
“Our kids really played lights out tonight,” Unionville head coach Pat Clark said. “We made some turnovers (three fumbles), but we got some turnovers, too. Our guys were resilient and tough.”
“Winning this district title is a crazy, unbelievable feeling,” added Unionville senior wide receiver James Hower. “At the end of the game, all I could think of was that ‘We finally did it.’ I thought of all the work we put in this season.”
Springfield (13-1) lost its third since final since 2014. Coming into the game, the Cougars’ defense had allowed only 8.7 points per game and 213.7 yard per contest.
“Losing just sucks; there’s no way to sugarcoat it,” senior wide receiver Kyle Long said. “We worked so hard this season, we didn’t miss a workout all year. I wouldn’t trade a moment of time I spent with my teammates this fall.”
Unionville drew first blood Friday when Zubillaga intercepted a Springfield pass on third-and-2 at the 20-yard line and raced into the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 2:45 left in the first quarter. Five plays later, Zubillaga intercepted his second pass at the Springfield 35. But the Cougars forced Unionville to relinquish the ball after four downs.
Midway through the second quarter, Unionville gave Springfield a solid opportunity to score when the Indians fumbled a punt return at their own 40 yard line. But the Cougars couldn’t capitalize.
Three plays later, the Indians gave the ball back on a fumble at own 18, which linebacker Ja’Den McKenzie recovered. Moments later, McKenzie
put the Cougars on the board with a 10-yard scoring run.
Unionville answered by driving 63 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. The key plays were a 35-yard pass from quarterback Alex Gorgone to Zubillaga, On fourth-and-goal, Dante Graham crashed over from the two-yard line for a touchdown 37 seconds before halftime.
Kyle Long returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to the Unionville 10. With six seconds left, Springfield kicker Jack Coary coolly booted a 29-yard field goal through the uprights to cut the Springfield deficit to five points at halftime.
Unionville fumbled the second half kickoff, and the Cougars’ Zachary Broomall recovered at the Indians 28. Three plays later, Springfield junior quarterback Jack Psenicska escaped a strong Unionville rush, hit an open Long down the middle and the Cougars’ wide receiver did the rest, scoring from 22 yards out to give the hosts their first lead of the night, 15-14.
Springfield forced Unionvile into a three-and-out, and after gaining only one first down the entire first half, the Cougars then put together a long drive that included four first downs and ended with another field goal, this one from 27 yards out, to give the hosts an 18-14 lead with 3:15 to play in the third quarter.
Then, it was the Unionville offense’s turn to warm up. From the 50-yard line, Gorgone hit JT Hower down the middle, and the senior wide receiver broke three tackles en route to the end zone and a 21-18 lead with 1:36 to play in the third quarter.
“Our defense saved us today, but we were able to make some plays on offense, thanks to our offensive line, who had to deal with and handle Springfield’s tough defensive line,” Gorgone said.
Unionville’s chances were looking even better five plays later when the Indians partially blocked a Springfield punt and took over possession on the Cougars’ 25. With a fourth-and-goal at the Springfield 1, the multi-talented Zubillaga crashed over the packed line for a touchdown and a 28-18 lead with 9:46 left.
Springfield didn’t give up. Psenicska hit three quick passes to Long, Phil Shovlin and Liam DiFonzo, the final one a five-yard touchdown to make it 28-25 with 7:59 left.
Unionville punched out a semi-long drive that died at the Springfield 39-yard line, and a well-placed punt rolled dead at the Cougars’ 1. On Springfield’s third play of the ensuing drive, Woodall hit Psenicska, forcing a fumble, and the junior linebacker pounced on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown to make it 35-25 with 1:54 left.
“After I hit him, I saw the ball on the ground, and picked it up,” said a smiling Woodall. “Scoring a touchdown, and winning the district title tonight … it’s just unreal.”
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