‘Stoga and host Indians prevail in Unionville Tip-Off Tournament

EAST MARLBOROUGH – As season openers go, the Unionville Tip-Off Tournament was a success for the host Indians and visiting Conestoga because both prevailed on Friday despite some first-game jitters. It was, however, a struggle for the two Downingtown squads, as the East Cougars lost it early and the West Whippets dropped it late.

On day one of the two-day, four-team boys’ basketball event, ’Stoga scored nine of the game’s final 13 points to inch past Downingtown West 73-67 in the opener. And in the nightcap, Unionville used a massive 19-0 second half run to outlast Downingtown East 64-56.

“We are definitely disappointed, but it’s game one,” said East head coach John Goodman. “We started two seniors who were playing in their first varsity game. There are new guys and new roles.”

Experience certainly made a big difference for Conestoga as senior guards Zach Lezanic, Milton Robinson and Shane Scott combined to score 55 of the team’s 73.

“I thought our senior leaders did a great job, especially down the stretch. Their games are all different, but they are a terrific threesome,” said Pioneers’ head coach Mike Troy.

“It was a good first win for us,” added Lezanic, who scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter. “Having three seniors as guards really helps. We are all starters from last year so we’ve been in these situations before.”

Deadlocked at 58-all with four minutes to go, Conestoga took the lead for good on a driving bucket by Lezanic that started a critical 6-0 run that gave the Pioneers a little breathing room. ’Stoga proceeded to knock down eight free throws in a row to end it in the final minute, with Lezanic and Scott each going 4-for-4.

“The composure we showed was impressive,” Troy said. “There was a stretch where we got (defensive) stops in three of four possessions and it kind of keyed our offense. We know we can score a bit but we have to make sure we can do the work on the defensive end.”

The Pioneers had a 10-0 run to take an early lead and Robinson had seven of the points. ’Stoga led by as much as eight in the first half but the Whippets staged a surge with Sean Kasier nailing three 3-pointers in period two, and West took a 40-39 edge into the intermission.

It remained very close until the Pioneers’ late surge.

“This was not a gimme. We needed defense to secure it at the end,” said Scott, who scored 20.

“We knew we had to buckle down defensively,” Lezanic added. “We focused solely on that and we knew the offense would come.”

Naseem Robertson and Kasier each had 15 points for West and Cam McCole chipped in 13.

“It’s disappointing, but we’ve got to keep our heads high because we have a game (Saturday against Unionville),” said Whippets guard Hunter Blair.

“We stuck together and we didn’t give up. But we were rushing on offense and we needed to get some more defensive stops.”

In game two, the Indians led by a point at the half despite connecting on just five first half field goals. But it all changed with Unionville’s game-altering rally that turned a 22-22 battle into a commanding 41-22 lead late in the third quarter.

“It was really about us being tough and sticking to our principles,” Cowles explained. “As a result, it is basketball karma and we started hitting shots because of it.

“It also translated to defense. And if we get three (defensive) stops in a row, (the players) get a pizza,” he added. “That’s just a little incentive for them. I’m not sure how many pizzas I owe them.”

Logan Shanahan kick-started the surge with back-to-back 3-pointers and ended up scoring eight of his 13 points during the run. Wyatt Hockenberry added seven of his game-high 22 over the same span.

“It was kind of crazy,” Hockenberry said.

“We held them to four points in the second quarter and (Unionville) adjusted,” Goodman pointed out. “We kind of got confused and we lost their shooters. Combine that with some turnovers and it got away from us.”

To its credit, East kept playing and actually pulled to within seven with just over a minute to play thanks to full-court pressure and a bunch of missed free throws by the Indians. In the final 1:03, however, Connor Ash (14 points total) and Drew Lenkaitis (12 points) went a combined 10-for-10 from the line to close it out.

“We didn’t really execute tonight, we turned it over a good bit and we didn’t hit our foul shots,” Cowles said. “We kind of lost our minds and still were able to win, so that’s kind of a relief.”

Unionville also survived without senior all-leaguer Bo Furey-Bastian, who is out with an injured hip. He is expected to return in a couple weeks.

“We kind of like folded and didn’t make our free throws, which is a pain,” Hockenberry said. “But that’s part of the first game of the year.

“Plus, not having (Furey-Bastian) and still winning is huge.”

Frontcourt players Andrew King and Dylan Rowe scored 18 and 11 points, respectively, for the Cougars.

“After (Unionville) made their run, our guys wanted to fix it, and everybody played to the end,” Goodman said. “We made (Unionville) sweat a little bit.”

Conestoga 73, Downingtown West 67

CONESTOGA: Brace 2 0-0 4; Lezanic 6 5-6 20; Medley 1 2-2 4; Robinson 3 7-9 15; Scott 7 4-4 20; Fox 1 2-2 4; Martin 1 0-0 3; Rush 1 1-1 3. Totals 22 21-24 73.

DOWNINGTOWN WEST: Howard 2 4-6 8;  Luneberg 3 0-0 6; McCole 6 1-2 13; Robertson 4 6-10 15; Blair 12 5-6 8; Kasier 5 0-0 15; Hurley 0 2-2 2. Totals 21 18-26-67.

Conestoga                            19 20 16 17 — 73

Downingtown West          14 26 14 14 – 67

Three-point goals: Lezanic 3, Robinson 3, Martin, Scott 2, Robertson, Kasier , Blair.

Unionville 64, Downingtown East 56

DOWNINGTOWN EAST – Rowe 5 1-5 11; Mujica 1 1-2 4; Burton 1 0-0 3; Kalim 4 1-4 9; King 8 1-2 18; Caggiano 1 0-0 3; Owsik 2 3-3 8. Totals 22 7-16 56.

UNIONVILLE – Kucharczuk 1 0-0 3; Ash 1 12-15 14; Shanahan 4 2-2 13; Hockenberry 8 1-2 22; Lenkaitis 3 6-11 12; Neylon 0 0-1 0. Totals 17 21-31 64.

Downingtown East                        9 9 10 28 – 56

Unionville                             15 4 22 23 – 64

Three-point goals: Mujica, Burton, King, Caggiano, Kucharczuk, Shanahan 3, Hockenberry 5.




Daily Local News Girls Basketball Preview: After historic season, Henderson won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time

WEST CHESTER >> When you do all that the West Chester Henderson girls did last basketball season, the prospect of an encore can be a bit overwhelming.
Thirty wins in a row? A Ches-Mont championship followed by a District 1 crown? Advancing to the state quarterfinals?
Those are heady accomplishments for any program. At Henderson – who not long ago was racking up losing seasons – it represents seemingly unattainable milestones. Enter head coach Greta Neff, who in five seasons has transformed the Warriors from also-ran to the team to beat in the Ches-Mont league.
“We can certainly learn a lot from it, but last season is in the past,” Neff said. “It was a great group of kids and a great team, and it will forever be remembered, but we have our eyes on making 2018-19 a successful season.
“I think we have the pieces to, hopefully, get it done.”
There are some significant graduation losses to fill, of course, and the Warriors certainly won’t be sneaking up on anybody this winter. But Henderson has two stars to lean on in center Grace Ferguson and guard Erin Thompson, and a bunch of returnees who will now get their chance to take on more substantial roles.
“I know we won’t sneak up on anybody, and I do think we’ll have a lot of people saying last season was a fluke,” Neff said. “It’s really important to us to continue building the name of the program.
“Our girls take a lot of pride in being Henderson Warriors. For us to follow it up with something comparable is something we are working hard to get done.”
It certainly helps to have the reigning All-Area Co-Player of the Year (Ferguson) and the reigning team MVP (Thompson) as the foundation. The 6-foot-2 Ferguson averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game as a junior, and is poised for a lot more.
“Grace wasn’t necessarily our go-to all the time last season because we had so many scoring options,” Neff explained. “So for her to get some easy buckets close to the basket is going to be big for us. Defensively, she is a huge voice at the back of our press, our zone and our man-to-man.”
A first team All-League and All-Area pick a year ago, Thompson led the Warriors in scoring (13 per game) and free throw percentage (80) and chipped in three assists and three steals per outing.
“Erin is the Energizer Bunny,” Neff said. “The girl finishes first in every single sprint. She works harder than any person I’ve been around. I put in the hours coaching, scouting, prepping, and it’s really just to keep up with Erin.
“She is a special kid like that. She has a lot of willpower that we will be leaning on this year.”
Finding the complimentary three-through-six players is going to be the biggest challenge for Neff, but the 2017-18 Daily Local News Coach of the Year is confident that ability isn’t going to be an issue. Replacing the intangibles of versatile forward Abby Shea and fiery point guard Maddie DePrisco, however, is a taller order.
“I don’t think we replace and Abby or a Maddie, but we have some kids who are seniors who have some really unique leadership qualities in Cam Trotter and Michaella Meredith,” Neff said. “I’m excited to see what they can do.”
Neff is also intrigued by the potential of sophomore guard Molly Manion, who played varsity as a freshman.
“Once (Manion) puts all of the pieces together, she can be a really impactful player on this league,” Neff said.
According to Neff, the Ches-Mont National race is wide open. She mentioned Downingtown East, Coatesville and Bishop Shanahan as prime contenders.
“Downingtown East has (6-5 junior center) Bella Smuda and she is huge, both figuratively and literally,” Neff said. “Coatesville and Shanahan both have some pieces to the puzzle, and you can’t sleep on West Chester East or Downingtown West either.
“On the American side, (West Chester) Rustin is always a threat, Unionville has some size and Kennett has a nice player in (Andrea) Prestianne.”
Some of the personnel have changed, but don’t look for any big philosophical changes at Henderson. The Warriors will play hard, rely on a culture that stresses teamwork, and will be solid defensively.
“They are high school girls. When they are friends, they click,” Neff said. “The team last season really showed our underclassmen the way. They couldn’t have a better group of role models to follow.”
***
Elsewhere around Chester County girls basketball:
BISHOP SHANAHAN >> Under new head coach Zachary Ray, who replaced Fran Burbridge, the Eagles went 12-12 last season and exited in the first round of the districts. It was quite a drop off from three straight Ches-Mont championships (2015-17), but with a solid backcourt, Shanahan should be much improved. Returning starters include guards Sammie McCarter and Gianna Dimarco, and guard-forward Kathryn Greenhut.
WEST CHESTER RUSTIN >> The Golden Knights are coming off a 22-7 campaign that included the Ches-Mont American championship, and a run to the District 1 5A semifinals. But stars Maggie O’Hara (19 points per game) and Erin Gallagher (12 ppg) have graduated. Forwards Grace Palona and Dikaya Daniels, and point guard Bec Magrone, are all returning starters, and will have to improve on their combined scoring average of 19 points per game. “The concern is replacing Maggie and Erin’s scoring,” head coach Jim Powers confirmed.
KENNETT >> Having to replace three lost starters from a team that went 9-11 a year ago, the Blue Demons have some work to do to move up the Ches-Mont pecking order. Senior Andrea Prestianne and junior Gina Lusvardi return as starters, and although both will have to make strides, they will need some help. “I want this team to play hard and be good teammates,” said Kennett head coach Vince Cattano.
UNIONVILLE >> Head coach Fred Ellzy is looking to bounce back from a 9-13 record a year ago. And with returning senior starters Sam Ciccarelli and Olivia Cresta in the backcourt – along with forward Erin Towler – Unionville could be better. Juniors Anna Iacocca and Lyndsey Barrett will fill out the top rotation.
“We are a defensive-oriented team with a talented young group of players which will add to our depth,” Ellzy said.
WEST CHESTER EAST >> The Vikings boast one of the area’s top backcourts, but may be a year or two away in the frontcourt. Marissa McDonald was a second team All-Ches-Mont pick as a junior and has committed to Division I New Jersey Tech. Mackenzie Richardson is headed to Immaculata and forward Lauren Klieber also returns. “I’m looking forward to the experience of McDonald and Richardson leading a young group of talented sophomores to an improved season,” head coach Erin Listrani said. East was 8-14 in 2017-18.
AVON GROVE >> First-year head coach Bart O’Connor acknowledges that 2018-19 is going to be a building season for the Red Devils, coming off a 5-17 campaign. But he does have an athletic bunch, led by senior guard Amanda Smida, who has already signed to play at Penn State-Harrisburg. Juniors Rachel Donten, Caroline Malone and Jamie Perkins are all in the mix. “My concern is how quickly can we become a team and play to our strengths,” O’Connor said.
OXFORD >> The Hornets have a new head coach and longtime standout Miranda Porretta has graduated. But rookie coach Jason Wisneski has returnees in Anna Hampshire and Jaime Herrin from a team that went 7-3 in the Ches-Mont American. Add in sophomores Cristina Fernandez and Julia Alesi, and senior Gianna Coyle, and Oxford has a nice core to work with. “I’m confident with what I’ve seen so far that we’ll put a competitive group on the floor each night,” Wisneski said. “We don’t have a lot of size, but our guards are quick.”
DOWNINGTOWN WEST >> The Whippets bottomed out a season ago, going 3-18. But veteran head coach Dave Johnson will have more to work with this winter with two returning starting guards Grace Wenner and Julia Marrone, who combined to average over 11 points per game. Add in guard-forward Jess Wills and her 7.3 scoring average, and West should be much improved. “We continue to work hard and grow as a team,” Johnson said.
COATESVILLE >> New head coach Scott Barker inherits a squad that could challenge for the Ches-Mont National title. It all starts with senior point guard Sarah Huston (14 ppg) and 6-foot sophomore forward Neveyah Chester (16 ppg, team-high 27 3-pointers). Guard Shyne Boggs is also a returning starter. The Raiders are young, however, with three freshmen and three sophomores in the playing rotation.
DOWNINGTOWN EAST >> The Cougars return starting center Bella Smuda and starting guard Caroline Brennan, and four other letterwinners from a team that went 18-10. A junior, the 6-foot-5 Smuda averaged 14.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg and over seven blocks as a sophomore. East was 9-3 in the Ches-Mont National and is a sure-fire contender this winter. “We would like to build on last season’s record and work to make the 6A district playoffs again,” said head coach Tom Schurtz.
GREAT VALLEY >> Alex Venarchik has some concerns, but the Patriots’ head coach believes his team can complete in the Ches-Mont American race and return to the District 1 and PIAA playoffs. Great Valley was 15-10 a year ago, and boasts an array of returning letterwinners including senior guards Annalise Porreca, Katie Peduto and Amanda Heins, and forwards Mia DeRobertis and Tessa Liberatoscioli. “Lack of size could be an issue if we do not box out and rebound every game, but this team plays unselfishly and competes on both ends of the floor,” Venarchik said.
CONESTOGA >> A.J. Thompson takes over for Chris Jefferies as head coach, and the Pioneers are a bit inexperienced. Three starters have moved on, including Central League Player of the Year Katie Mayock, but guards Emily Lortz and Hailey Klinger return. So does 6-foot-1 forward Katharine Gay. “Our biggest challenge is our lack of varsity experience,” Thompson said. “We have a lot of girls that are new to the varsity level and it’s going to take some time for them to adjust to the level of play in the Central League and get comfortable out on the floor.”
VILLA MARIA >> The Hurricanes won’t have starter Morgan Warley, who suffered a season-ending injury, but still should be in the mix for the AACA and District 1 races just as they were last season. Junior forward Paige Lauder (14.9 ppg; 8.5 rpg) is a genuine star, and fellow 6-footer Abby Walheim (11.2 ppg; 5.2 rpg) is another quality post player. Point guard Julia Samar anchors the backcourt. “Our overall strength will be our experience with four out of five starters returning. We are also an athletic, long team who should be difficult to guard,” said longtime Villa head coach Kathy McCartney.
WESTTOWN >> Head coach Carrie Timmons has the deepest team in her 11-year reign. Coming off a 14-9 record a year ago, Westtown returns all five starters, including first-team All-Friends School League point guard Halle Brown. The 2017-18 squad won a PAISSA Tournament game for the first time in a decade and are looking for more milestones this winter.




GEOGHEGAN: Coatesville defense stands out, alongside powerhouse offense

PERKASIE >> It’s easy to be seduced while watching Coatesville’s ultra-explosive offense. Let’s be honest, it’s intoxicating to see the Red Raiders roll up the points with seeming impunity.

It’s like marveling at the ever-increasing U.S. National Debt Clock in real time, or monitoring the scoreboard of the all-offense Denver Nuggets of the mid-1980s.

But on Friday, early in the District 1 6A title game, the offense needed a big assist, and Coatesville’s unsung defense was more than up to the challenge. You wouldn’t know it by the final score — 42-13 — but the defense kept the Raiders in it until the offense came around in the second half.

And North Penn’s final score came against the backups, meaning the Coatesville starting unit allowed just six points all night.

“A lot of people don’t know about us, but all I can say is that we like to hit and we play hard,” said senior defender Jimmy Limper.

Coatesville’s Tione Holmes and Jimmy Limper combine for a sack. (Nate Heckenberger – For Digital First Media)

“That whole defense is a group that believes,” added Coatesville head coach Matt Ortega. “(An opponent) may make a drive here there, but somebody is going to make a big play. Limper and Tione Holmes were just monsters tonight.”

With those two defensive ends leading the way, the second-seeded Raiders sacked No. 1 North Penn seven times, allowed just one score, and captured the programs second district crown in a row, and third since 2012.

“What’s scary is that (Coatesville) is so good on defense and nobody knows it because of how good they are on offense,” said Avon Grove head coach Harry O’Neill. “They have no holes. The defensive line and linebackers control the box and they can play man-to-man against anyone.”

In four postseason games so far, the Raiders’ top unit has allowed a combined 42 points, which is a tad over 10 points per game. And against some of the best offenses that District 1 can muster, Coatesville is allowing a respectable 252 yards per game, and the defense has forced a total of three fumbles and picked off six passes in four outings.

Coatesville gang tackles. (Nate Heckenberger – For Digital First Media)

“(North Penn) only had six points,” Ortega said. “They drove the field here and there, and we knew they were going to do that. But at the end of the day we kept them out of the end zone and that’s the name of the game.

“The big thing we talk about it being physical. The last two weeks on defense we’ve owned the line of scrimmage. We know we have our playmakers, but owning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is the difference this year from teams of the past.”

The defense made a statement right from the start on Friday at Pennridge’s Helman Field, helping overcome a slow start by the aforementioned high-octane Raider attack. And Tione Holmes set the tone, thwarting the first two North Penn possessions with a sack, followed by a tackle for loss.

Fellow defensive end Jimmy Limper then halted the Knights’ next march, into the red zone, with a clutch sack on fourth down. Three plays later, the Raiders opened the scoring and never trailed.

“We kind of go unnoticed,” Holmes acknowledged. “People kind of underrate us. But we are just our here trying to win. We are just fighting for our brothers.

“Early in the game we just kept telling the offense to keep their heads up and we’ll get them the ball back.”

And even when the defense faltered with two penalties that kept a drive alive for North Penn early in the second half of a still-competitive contest, the Raiders regrouped to force a turnover. With the Knights inside the Coatesville 10, junior defensive back Shamaur Hall pounced on a loose ball.

The Raiders’ offense then marched 95 yards to make it 28-6 heading into the final period, effectively ending any upset bid.

“At the half, I told our guys that it was as clear as day: throw out the schemes. What is going to matter in the second half is who wants it more,” Ortega said.

Coatesville’s Tione Holmes (Nate Heckenberger – For Digital First Media)

Only one postseason opponent so far – Ches-Mont foe Downingtown East – has managed to score more than 10 points against the Coatesville defense. And that certainly doesn’t surprise anybody in the Ches-Mont – like Bishop Shanahan head coach Paul Meyers.

“No matter how much you game-plan, no matter how much film you watch or how well you think you practiced that week, you cannot get prepared for what is going to hit you,” he said when asked about the Raiders. “They just overpower you in every aspect of the game.

“The defense is big and athletic.”

North Penn’s star runner Shamar Edwards had 120 yards in the ground Friday, but a week earlier he rolled up 313 against Downingtown West in the district semifinals.

And, once again, he never sniffed the end zone.

The win was the fourth District 1 Championship for Coatesville dating back to 1992. The last three, in the span of seven years, have all been under Ortega. When asked where his current defense ranks, Ortega said that he thinks the 2018 group is as god as the squad he had in 2012.

“That 2012 unit was special, and it’s close between those two,” he said. “We’ll have to see what happens in the next two weeks before we can fully judge that.”

It was a reference, of course, to the fact that the Raiders have never won a state title in football. That 2012 team got the closest, advancing all the way to the state final before bowing out.

With two more victories — starting next week in the state semifinals against a Harrisburg team it has already beaten — Coatesville will be able to climb that last hill. And to get it done, you can be sure the undervalued Raiders’ defense will be called upon in a tough situation once again.

Neil Geoghegan is a staff writer for the Daily Local News and Pa. Prep Live. You can reach him at ngeoghegan@21st-centurymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NeilMGeoghegan.




GEOGHEGAN: Believe it or not, Coatesville’s Young is an unsung superstar

CALN >> Only on a team loaded with college-level talent, spread out all over the field, could a football player of Aaron Young’s caliber actually fly under the radar.

That’s not to suggest that Young is underappreciated by his teammates, his coaches or even opposing teams. On Friday in the District 1 Class 6A semifinal against previously unbeaten Garnet Valley, Young could not be ignored. He led the way as Coatesville steamrolled the visiting Jaguars, 42-7.

“I have to give all the credit to the O-Line,” the soft-spoken Young said. “I want to do whatever I can for the team. Tonight, the running game was open.”

Young gashed the Jaguars for a season-high 20 carries for 227 yards, and he scored touchdowns on runs of 14-, 70- and 43-yards.

“I learned from Tim Rumpfel, the old Cumberland Valley head coach, who used to say that the big-time players are the ones that play at a highest level in the playoffs,” said Red Raiders’ head coach Matt Ortega.

The Coatesville senior is the top-ranked running back in the state and a prized Division I recruit with an impeccable football pedigree. And yet the generously listed 5-foot-11, 190-pounder gets overshadowed, at times, by talented teammates like quarterback Ricky Ortega and wideout Dapree Bryant.

“Aaron’s been wanting to do more all season, but his biggest goal is winning the state final,” said his father Anthony, who is a coach on Ortega’s staff. “He is fresh and healthy and ready.”

In addition to having to share the football with other stars, Young rarely plays deep into the second half because the unbeaten Raiders have been so dominant in 2018. His numbers are excellent, of course, but a bit skewed because he just doesn’t see the football nearly as much as just about every other elite back.

Heading into Friday, Young ranked 15th in rushing in Southeastern Pennsylvania, but had just 123 total carries, which is 75 fewer than the average of the 14 runners ahead of him.

“As long as we’re winning, I am fine with it,” Young said.

“Honestly, the way the regular season went, we rested him,” Ortega acknowledged. “We didn’t need him. But this is why.

“Some people think we didn’t run Aaron enough, but at the end of the day, in the back of my mind, I wanted him to be a well-rested machine, and right now he is that. That was part of the plan.”

Designated a three-star recruit, Young received nearly 30 scholarship offers, including very early interest from Rutgers, who successfully recruited his brother Avery a year ago. He eventually narrowed his wish list to five this summer, including the Scarlet Knights, Penn State, Michigan State, Arkansas and Northwestern.

Young then visited Happy Valley for the ‘White-Out’ showdown with Ohio State on Sept. 29th. But on Oct. 21st, he surprised more than a few by verbally committing to the Spartans on Twitter, calling it one of the hardest decisions in his life.

“I tried to go with my gut feeling,” Young said.

“When he decided on Michigan State, Avery was a little upset,” his father admitted. “He thought Aaron was coming to help him. But at the end of the day he realized that it’s Aaron’s decision.”

Avery is a freshman at Rutgers and is a starting cornerback. His oldest brother, Jordan, is a two-year starting linebacker at FCS Old Dominion. And Young’s dad is a Temple football hall of famer who was drafted in 1985 by the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and started a dozen games before a neck injury forced his retirement.

Not long after Ortega took the head job at Coatesville in the summer of 2008, he met the Young family, and even at the tender age of eight, Aaron made an impression.

“We had just moved in and we were having a cookout, and we were on the deck of my house,” Ortega recalled. “The Young boys were the same age as mine and they were out back playing pickup football. (Aaron) was just eight years old, and I said to his dad, ‘that kid is going to be a Big 33 running back.’

“He has a different motor and skill-set. And the biggest thing is that he is aggressive.”

When told of the story, Aaron said: “It’s just crazy to think about how far we’ve all come since then.”

Anthony Young also remembers that day. And along the way, he saw other incidences that bolstered Ortega’s prediction.

“I had Aaron play flag football for three years, and every time they took his flag, he was mad. And I mean mad,” he said. “So, Aaron always had drive. And he has two older brothers, and he always played up.”

Ortega, calls Young a “throw-back” type of player. And it’s not just because he has accepted the role of being a two-way player for the first time in his high school career. On Friday, he started as the boundary cornerback and had six tackles, including three that drew some oohs and aahs from the crowd.

“He’s just a special kid,” his dad said. “He is multidimensional. He can catch it better than any receiver I know. And if he was being recruited as a corner, he’d be one of the top corners in the state.”

Brian Dohn of 247Sports says that Young “can change direction at a high rate of speed, possesses good vision and is a patient runner. Once he sees the play, he is quick to accelerate and get through the hole. He knows how to set up a player in the open field and make a move.”

The only negative you hear from recruiters is that Young doesn’t possess great size and needs to add some bulk to become an even more powerful runner. But everybody raves about his versatility. How he can line up in the slot and play in the secondary on defense, and still be a difference maker carrying the football.

“I feel like I can do anything that the coaches want me to do,” Young said without a hint of bravado.

Heading into the district final, Young has rushed for 1,458 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. But perhaps more impressively, he is averaging 9.8 yards per carry.

“When you are only playing a half and still have the numbers he has, that speaks volumes about how talented he is,” Ortega said.

Plus he is a team captain, a member of the National Honor Society and the 2018 Homecoming King.

“I am so proud of Aaron,” Anthony Young said. “He’s done everything I’ve asked of him and more. And the best thing is that Aaron is humble and respectful.”

Neil Geoghegan is a staff writer for the Daily Local News and Pa. Prep Live. You can reach him at ngeoghegan@21st-centurymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NeilMGeoghegan.




Pelegrin helps Unionville defense make great strides

EAST MARLBOROUGH >> Defense has been the cornerstone of Unionville football since head coach Pat Clark came on the scene 14 years ago.

Heavy graduation losses, injuries and position changes severely tested that side of the ball this fall, but the Indians have steadily evolved into what Oxford coach Mike Means calls “a typical Unionville defense.

“Overall it is a really fundamentally sound, well-coached unit,” he added.

It’s the primary reason why the Indians are still alive in the quest to successfully repeat as the District 1 5A champions. Despite having a sub-.500 regular season record, 11th seeded Unionville blanked No. 6 Springfield (Delco) 9-0 to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal against another Central League favorite: No. 3 Radnor.

“Unionville’s always been known for a hard-nosed defense. We just have a bunch of kids who’ve stepped up this season and have developed,” said standout senior outside linebacker Alex Pelegrin.

“If your opponent can’t score, they are going to have a hard time winning the game,” Clark added. “I really believe we are always going to be in games because we defend. That is a part of our program philosophically.”

But it’s taken some time to get to that point. The Indians (5-6 overall) dropped their first three contests and clearly struggled to deal with a brutal schedule. In fact, four of Unionville’s losses this season came to teams still alive in the playoffs (Garnet Valley, Academy Park, West Chester Rustin and Downingtown East).

“Offense gets a lot of the glory but everybody who is still around are good programs that have a good tradition of playing defense,” Clark pointed out.

The Indians’ setbacks have come against opponents with a combined 51-14 record, but they are 5-3 since the shaky start. And when Unionville’s had success, the defense has been dominant, allowing an average of eight points in the five victories.

“Our kids just played really fast (at Springfield),” Clark said. “They take a great amount of pride in it. We still talk about having a zero-point mentality.

“Unfortunately, in this day and age of football, teams just want to get stops and get the ball back to their offense. We are not in the mood to give up any points.”

While many defenses seem content to give up yardage in the short passing game – which more and more offenses use as a replacement for a running attack — the Indians do not. They play tight, press-coverage on the outside, which allows Pelegrin and the rest of the linebacker corps to stuff the run and get after the passer.

“Our play has really taken off because everybody has a sense of urgency,” said Pelegrin, who leads the team in tackles. “Our coaches are constantly saying that we need to be firing on all cylinders, and that the little things are important. Some little things killed us in the regular season.”

The defense will have to be good once again in order to give the Indians a shot at Radnor. The Red Raiders are 9-2 overall, coming off the program’s first playoff win, and have a potent attack led by quarterback Sean Mullarkey and runner Matt Cohen.

“Their quarterback and halfback makes (Radnor) go,” Clark said. “They really make you defend the whole field. They have kids who can take it to the house every time they touch it. We’ve got our hands full. If we can’t get off the field on defense, we’ll be in for a long night.”

It presents a big challenge for Pelegrin and fellow linebackers Joe Fariello, Matt Julier and Gabe McLaughlin. A starting running back, Fariello is now filling in at the other outside linebacker spot for teammate Sam Schriver, who is out with a broken collar bone. Against Springfield, Pellergrin and Fariello each had an interception.

“It shows the difference between the regular season and postseason,” Pelegrin said. “We realize that we have to go full speed. There is no room for error. So to shutout a strong team like Springfield was a fantastic feeling.”

Clearly the leader of the defense, Pelegrin was an inside backer as a junior, but has seamlessly transitioned to the outside. Clark says that Pelegrin “lives in the weight room,” and apparently the work has paid off.

“We are not the biggest on defense, so everyone went hard in the weight room,” Pelegrin said. “We take it very seriously at Unionville. I believe weight training is the key to football because it translates to the field.”

By lifting weights for up to two hours a day, every day (except game days), the 6-foot, 194-pound Pelegrin is now better equipped to set the edge, and track down elusive ball carriers.

“At the end of last season, I weighed in at 205, but I had fat on me, and I was a lot slower,” he acknowledged. “In the off-season, I slimmed down but also bulked up muscle-wise. I have a lot more muscle than fat now. It’s helped with my speed, especially playing on the outside now.”

Also a starting outfielder for the Unionville baseball squad, Pelegrin is starting to get some interest from college recruiters, mostly at the NCAA Division II and III levels. And he is getting more and more snaps on offense as a fullback. Against Springfield, Pelegrin hauled in a pass for 10 yards and had four rushing attempts for 18 yards, including a clutch third down conversion in the fourth quarter.

But all season, he’s turned heads as a defender.

“This year, Pelegrin makes the whole thing go for Unionville,” Means said. “He does a phenomenal job of setting the edge and allows everyone else to play free and run to the football.

“He is a handful both in terms of his physicality and speed.”




Ephrata shocks Conestoga in first round of states

WEST GOSHEN >> Just prior to the start of Tuesday’s PIAA 4A Girls’ Soccer first round playoff match, the rain had stopped but then the fog rolled in like a cheesy scary movie.

And what happened after that for Conestoga was straight out of a horror flick.

“That’s a good way to put it,” said Pioneers head coach Ben Wilson.

Just three days after the euphoria of capturing the District 1 championship, the Pioneers dropped a frightful 2-1 decision to Ephrata, the third seed from District 3. Conestoga’s season, that also included a Central League crown, is suddenly over at 19-2-2 overall.

“We took some good steps forward this year,” Wilson said. “The big emphasis was on performing in games that matter. It looked like we were doing that through districts where we marched right through against some really good teams.

“I guess we kind of ran out of steam. Maybe having gone through all those district games might have been part of it.”

It wasn’t that ’Stoga was knocked out in the first round, but more about how it happened. The Pioneers had a 1-0 lead and then in the span of seven minutes surrendered a goal on a questionable penalty kick, followed by a very soft goal on what appeared to be a routine play.

“In soccer, if you don’t take your chances early and you don’t control the game, then it can get away from you,” Wilson said. “That’s what happened (Tuesday) night.”

Wilson declined to allow any of his players to be interviewed, and initially balked at commenting himself. But it was understandable as ’Stoga’s first loss since Sept. 4th came against an upstart opponent that couldn’t get out of the quarterfinals of the Lancaster-Lebanon League Playoffs.

“Our girls have been resilient lately,” said Ephrata head coach Wes Deininger. “We dug out a win in the third place game District 3, and I think some of that energy really carried over. This is a great win for us because District 1 is traditionally as strong as anyone.

“It was a tightly-played match. I thought we did a good job of neutralizing some of the things (Conestoga) wanted to do. And if you don’t give up a lot of goals, you always have a chance.”

Despite the spooky conditions, the Pioneers scored on their first shot on goal. Just 12 minutes in, senior Nia Scott corralled a header from teammate Emily Wertz, settled the ball, spun and booted it into the back of the net.

But about four minutes later, the Mountaineers (20-2-1 overall) were awarded a penalty kick that seemed to surprise just about everybody. Ephrata’s Madison Root tied it up with a low shot just inside the far post.

“To be honest, on the penalty kick, I was so surprised it was even given,” Wilson acknowledged. “I questioned if it was even a penalty. There was no explanation from the refs, and there was no hand-ball. The refs closest to me didn’t even seem to know what was happening.

“But in soccer it happens. And it was our fault for not taking our chances when we had them.”

And then things got worse at the 17:27 mark when Ephrata’s Kristen Homan was awarded a lengthy free kick. And even though the shot was right at ’Stoga keeper Sarah Nselel, but the eye-level shot simply bounced off her hands and into the goal. And it wound up being the game winner.

“Our keeper, Sarah, is a very high-level goalie and she’s played great all season,” Wilson said. “The ball being wet and with the fog and all, stuff just happens in games.

“The fact is that we shouldn’t have ever given up that free kick in that area.”

The Pioneers picked up the pace in the second half, but were unable to get the equalizer, although junior forward Caitlin Donovan had two of ’Stoga’s best chances. Midway through the half, she sliced through the defense, but her shot sailed over the crossbar. And then in the final two minutes of regulation, Donovan had a free kick from just outside the 10 yard line, but the save was made by Ephrata goaltender Jocelyn Umana.

“(Ephrata was) able to get a penalty kick and a free kick, and all of the sudden we were trailing,” Wilson said.

“We’ve come back in some games this season, but you can’t bank on that.”

Overall, the Pioneers had a 9-5 shots on goal edge, and only surrendered two corner kicks, but it wasn’t enough.

Ephrata 2, Conestoga 1

Ephrata                     2 0 – 2

Conestoga                1 0 – 1

Ephrata goals: Root, Homan.

Conestoga goal: Scott.

Goalie saves: Umana (E) 8; Nselel (C) 3.




Merion Mercy upsets uncharacteristically quiet Great Valley in district semis

EAST WHITELAND >> In the aftermath of a home loss against a lower ranked opponent, things were pretty subdued for the Great Valley field hockey squad following a 2-0 loss to Merion Mercy on Tuesday. But it wasn’t any different than during the action.

And that was the problem.

With the sound of the coaching staff constantly urging the Patriots to start communicating, Great Valley came up short in its bid to make it to the District 1 2A final in large part because of the silence.

“I was disappointed,” said Pats’ head coach Maddie Craig. “I don’t know the team that was out there today.”

Normally an outgoing bunch, for some reason the team went into a shell at the worst moment possible. The only positive aspect is that fourth-seeded Great Valley’s season is not over. The Patriots (15-6 overall) will play at No. 3 Mount St. Josephs on Friday in the battle for third place. And either way, Great Valley is going to receive a berth in the PIAA Tournament.

“We’ve been really clicking and that starts with communicating,” Craig said. “Maybe there was some fear and we were hesitant.”

As a result, the eighth-seeded Golden Bears advance to Saturday’s district final to take on AACA rival Villa Maria. Merion Mercy (13-7-1 overall) finished fourth in the AACA, a couple spots lower than Mount St. Joe’s.

“It will not get any easier. We need to learn from this game,” Craig predicted.

The district semifinal was also a bit unlucky for the Pats, and particularly Aiden Drabick. The sophomore had a pair of prime scoring chances, but both missed the mark by about an inch.

“It was just really unlucky. I don’t know what happened today,” she said.

Despite having a clear edge in both shots on goal (5-1) and corners (6-2) in the first half, Great Valley found itself trailing 1-0 when Merion Mercy’s Emily Hauck scored off a penalty corner with 1:21 on the clock.

“We took a lot of wide shots. We just didn’t capitalize on our scoring opportunities,” Craig pointed out.

Drabick had a chance to give the Patriots the first goal, but with 13:21 on the clock, her penalty stroke bounced off the cage.

“I was just unlucky,” Drabick said. “I always go to the left and it hit the post.”

With momentum on their side, the Bears picked up the pace in the second half, and about nine minutes into the second half added another goal off another penalty corner. Victoria Arra took the pass from Tori Natale and buried it. It was Natale’s second assist of the day.

With about 80 seconds left in regulation, it looked like Drabick finally was going to get off the snide when she took a pass from teammate Mackenzie Hilditch, but her blast clanged off the crossbar.

“I guess in the second half we backed off a little bit,” Craig said.

“This is not a quiet team – we are very outgoing,” Drabick added. “But we were silent the whole game – no talking whatsoever. Most games we’ve been good with it, but some games we’ve been off. This was an off day.”

Even though Merion Mercy closed the gap, Great Valley ended the game with an edge in both shots (9-8) and corners (10-6).

“We weren’t really connecting today,” Drabick said.

“The field was silent,” Craig added. “I was just shocked to watch a game like this.

“It was very out of character. Maybe it was because of the high pressure, but it definitely took a toll on us.”

 




Bishop Shanahan sweeps Downingtown West to advance to district final

DOWNINGTOWN – Downingtown West volleyball coach Dave Parrish knew that if his team had trouble returning serves against top-seeded Bishop Shanahan, that Tuesday’s District 1 4A Semifinal would not go well. And, boy, was he ever correct.

The host Eagles wound up registering 13 aces, but just as important was 21 other serves that could not be returned by the Whippets. It all added up to a dominant 3-0 victory that propels Bishop Shanahan into the district final.

“We work every day in practice on the serve,” said Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman. “It’s the one skill in this sport that you control 100 percent. A lot of coaches take it lightly, but you can control the game from the service line. It’s a primary skill, we treat it that way, and it shows.”

Think about it: the Eagles won 25-15, 25-11, 25-13, and of their 75 points, 44 came before the ball was ever returned.

“Against a team like (Shanahan) you have to get past serve receive,” Parrish said. “If you if don’t, you are in for a long night. That’s exactly what happened.

“(Shanahan) has some very good servers. They move the ball around at different speeds and different locations, and we just didn’t pass well.”

Now 19-1 overall, Shanahan will face third-seeded Garnet Valley in the final on Thursday at Harriton. The Eagles are the three-time defending District 1 champs, and all that stands between them and number four is the Jaguars, a team that Shanahan topped 3-0 earlier this month.

“I’d like to say it’s unprecedented, but a few years back Merion Mercy (won four straight) at the 2A level,” Ashman said. “We want to be the ones to do it at the highest level. Before last year, nobody’s ever won more than two in a row. So we were the first to do it three in a row at the highest level of play.

“We are in unchartered territory. We want to be the first.”

Downingtown West falls to 15-6 overall, but has already earned a spot in the PIAA Tournament. The 12th-seeded Whippets will travel to No. 2 Upper Merion for third place on Thursday. His team just ran into a buzzsaw on Tuesday.

“(Shanahan has) won the districts and, certainly, Ches-Monts for many, many years,” Parrish said. “They are the top of the totem pole and they are the ones that everybody is trying to go out and match up against.

“But that’s difficult because they have a lot of talent.”

Leading the way is All-Stater Cara Shultz, who scored 15 points from the service line. Employing one of the state’s most devastating top-spin jump serves, the junior broke open each of the first two sets.

“We’ve always been taught to serve aggressively,” said Shultz, who added six aces, six kills and nine digs. “To get on good serving runs like that is very important.”

The first set was tied four times early, but the Eagles went on a 6-0 run with Shultz serving, which turned a 5-5 deadlock to an 11-5 lead. Similarly, in set two, the lead ballooned from 8-5 to 17-5 after Shultz went on a 9-0 run that included four serves that were not returned.

“The opponent doesn’t know where it is going, but half the time, I don’t know either,” said senior libero Julie Gallagher. “But it’s something special that our team has that I don’t think any other team has.”

It is so special, that the Shanahan student section is now routinely yelling ‘Boom!’ every time Shultz serves.

“It’s fun and it’s funny. Sometimes, I’m trying not to laugh. But I really enjoy it,” Shultz said.

“Cara works hard on it every day and wants to get feedback,” Ashman added. “She is willing to make the changes she needs to make, like working on contact, placement on the court — those kinds of things.

“She just wants to be the best at everything she does.”

It looked like the Whippets were poised to go deep into the third set, and it was 9-8 midway. But that’s when senior setter Alexa Burns stepped to the service line and reeled off nine straight points to end the drama, including three aces.

“They had some 7-8 point runs and once you get that separation it’s difficult to recover,” Parrish said.

In addition to the serving, the Eagles also fared well at the net, with 6-foot-1 senior Alysa Wright and 6-1 Michaela Devlin leading the way.   

“Our blocking was really good tonight,” Ashman said. “Alysa Wright and Michaela Devlin were both really good. Their form was great. Those two kind of separate our team from others. Not too many teams have two 6-foot right side players.

“With the strong serving, we can kind of dictate where the ball is going, and with that we know where to set the block. That plays into our strengths.”

Gallagher finished with 17 digs, Bridgette Kelly added three blocks and Julia Thomas chipped in five blocks. Ally Reardon paced West with seven kills and 10 digs.

Shanahan has now topped Ches-Mont rivals Great Valley, West Chester Rustin and West so far in district action. But Garnet Valley is a Central League power that won the state title a couple years ago.

“When we saw the bracket, we said it’s the Ches-Mont championship,” Ashman said. “Every team we’ve played so far has been from the Ches-Mont. It’s good and bad. The good is we played them all and beat them all. The bad is that they all know what they are up against.”

The Jaguars are also pretty familiar with the Eagles. But that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

“Four is our new number now,” Gallagher said.

 

 




Avon Grove tops winless Henderson to improve to 5-5

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.”

 




Avon Grove tops winless Henderson to improve to 5-5

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.”