LONDON GROVE – Avon Grove head coach Harry O’Neill told his team before the regular season finale that its district football playoff hopes were already unattainable. And with winless West Chester Henderson coming to town, Friday’s Senior Night contest was a prime spot for a letdown.
But the Red Devils refused to take the bait. Avon Grove rolled up more than 300 yards on the ground and averaged 48 yards per touchdown en route to a 35-6 Ches-Mont National victory over the hard-luck Warriors.
“We’re nobody to take anybody lightly,” O’Neill said.
“Knowing that we aren’t going to make playoffs, this was our last shot to put it all out there and we wanted to leave with no regrets,” added senior runner Dino Arhontakis, who finished with a career-high 162 yards on a ground and two long TDs.
And after it was over, O’Neill ran through a list of historic milestones his program had just achieved.
“We were efficient,” he said. “We ran the ball well and J.T. (MacDonald) threw the ball well. I’m proud of the kids – the seniors go out with a win and that’s a big deal. The senior class goes out at 19-23 and that’s the most wins that any class has had.”
In addition, with a 5-5 overall mark, the Devils now have back-to-back non-losing seasons for the first time since the program was reinstated in 2004.
“We are taking baby steps,” O’Neill said. “The culture’s changed and we should be able to win more games than we lose moving forward.”
And perhaps even more significantly, Avon Grove (3-3 in C-M National) has a winning record against division foes (7-5) over a two-season period, which has never happened before. And that’s significant in such a brutal league.
“It was a fun game and it means a lot because this was Senior Night,” said wideout Tyre Stead, who scored three times. “We wanted to go out with a bang.”
For Henderson, and first-year head coach Stefan Adams, it was the final disappointment in a troubling season. The Warriors finish at 0-10 overall, and were outscored a combined 263-60 by the rest of the division.
“It hurts. Losing is never fun,” Adams said. “We don’t like it, and unfortunately we don’t get to go back to practice tomorrow. But what we did this season is going to look different in a year or two. I guarantee that.
“It’s like with any challenge, it’s a process. We didn’t take over the program that just made the playoffs, but a team that was 1-9. There were a lot of bad habits we had to fix.”
The Devils notched all five of their TDs in the first half, and every score came on a big play. Stead registered scoring runs of 33- and 56-yards, and added a 45-yard strike from quarterback J.T. MacDonald. And Arhontakis added a pair of touchdowns runs, with each covering 54 yards.
“As long as we don’t get behind the sticks and the whole playbook is open to us, we can pop it from anywhere on the field,” O’Neill said.
Henderson’s only first half points – on a 37-yard field goal by Joe Shur – came after the Warriors’ Nick Vitucci blocked an Avon Grove punt late in the second quarter. Shur added a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring.
The speedy Stead opened the scoring on a lateral where he went left and then reversed field and found the end zone untouched.
“I was trying to get to the sidelines and a defender grabbed my hand-warmers and spun me around,” explained Stead, who also ended the half with a 56-yard run on a called reverse. “When he let go, I saw a hole and I took it – and it just happened to be across the field.”
The only turnover of the game, and interception by the Devils’ Wyatt Kirby, led to Arhontakis’ first 54-yard jaunt up the middle.
“I saw the linebacker blitz into the wrong hole so I took off up the middle,” he explained.
Stead had 90 rushing yards on just three attempts and finished with 135 yards of total offense. MacDonald was 4-for-8 for 130 yards through the air. And overall, Avon Grove had a 432-100 edge in total offense.
“Our guys knew going in that if everything broke right, the best we could get to was 17th (in the District 1 6A power rankings),” said O’Neill, acknowledging that the top 16 earn a playoff berth. “But they didn’t pout. They played hard.”
A bright spot for Henderson was the play of running back Robert Thomas. He gained 76 yards on 16 carries before leaving the field with an injury in the third quarter.
“I think toward the end of the season we kind of found our identity a bit,” Adams said.
But defensively, the Warriors allowed 8.2 yards per rushing attempt, which featured four runs of at least 33 yards.
“There is no sugarcoating it: as a program we are not physically where we need to be to make some of those plays when we have a chance,” Adams said. “We missed a lot of tackles and that can demoralize a young program. It’s unfortunate because we did some good things and just let big plays happen.”
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