MARPLE >> When Delco coaches formed a consensus that the format of the Hero Bowl required tweaking, several veterans in the coaching fraternity decided to experiment.
Instead of traditional high school timing, the 41st edition Thursday night at Cardinal O’Hara was played with 15-minute quarters and running clock, except for the final four minutes of each half.
Initial results were promising.
“I think it seemed OK,” said Jason Vosheski, coach of the East team that won 27-7. “As far as the pace of the game, I don’t think there was an issue. I think the coaches liked it, at least on our side. I think the players liked it.”
The game, which began at 7:30, ended by 10 p.m., a significant concern as stoppages had dragged out recent games. Longer quarters mitigated the running-clock effect, and the result was what seemed like a roughly equivalent amount of playing time with less wasted to stoppages. The teams combined for 92 snaps from scrimmage, 54 for the West.
Vosheski, Radnor’s Tom Ryan and Haverford School’s Mike Murphy were among the coaches spearheading implementation.
“I think they did a really good job of that,” said Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci, who served as a rules spotter. “I love the running clock. The first half was over in just under an hour. I know they wanted to keep it moving and not get people out of here too late. I think they accomplished their goal and it worked really well.”
The brisk pace may have also lessened the extracurricular shenanigans that had blighted recent installments. The teams combined for 119 penalty yards, mostly on pre-snap whistles and “Hero Bowl infractions” governing who can rush the quarterback, kickers, etc. There was one ejection, to Haverford’s Kareem Bernard, for a third-quarter scuffle with Bonner & Prendergast’s Tom Millison, but animosity was largely kept under control.
“I thought kids got plenty of chances to play,” Ricci said. “I think the coaching staffs on both sides did a good job of getting kids into the game and that’s what an all-star game’s supposed to be, it’s supposed to be fun. I thought the atmosphere at O’Hara here was fantastic, and I thought it was a great night for football and a great night to support the Hero Bowl fund.”
Chester compiled a 2-8 record in 2016, going winless in the Del Val. You wouldn’t know it Thursday.
Two of the East’s four scores were receiving touchdowns by the Chester contingent – a 31-yard bomb by Tommy O’Hara placed delicately into the hands Davouge Hopkins in the second quarter, and a fourth-quarter screen from Interboro’s Nate Murtha with which Jamir Green bolted 44 yards to paydirt. (It could’ve been three had Braheem Bishop not dropped a 42-yard score that Murtha deposited right on the money for his only incompletion in four attempts covering 112 yards.)
“It feels good representing Chester,” Green said. “All the bad stuff you hear about, it feels good to come out here and show otherwise.”
Hopkins’ score was a perfect pitch-and-catch on a deep post. Green’s was surprising, not just because he momentarily blanked on the play call in the huddle. Once he got the ball, though, he turned it upfield and left defenders grasping at air.
“At first when he called it in the huddle, I forgot it,” Green said. “But once I got the ball, I saw the hole and I took off.”
Green spent his senior season under center for the Clippers, which came as a surprise to the O’Hara quarterback O’Hara once he started tossing to him at practice this week.
“They are really fast,” O’Hara said of the three Chester wideouts. “They get open really easily. (Green) played quarterback for them, so it’s just a shame he didn’t get put in a better position to play wide receiver in high school, because he could’ve done some damage.”
Speaking of O’Hara, he was robbed of a second touchdown when an illegal formation penalty nullified a 35-yard connection with Bonner & Prendergast’s Joseph Hartley-Vittoria on a picture-perfect corner route in the fourth.
O’Hara’s final game on home turf was yet another win, something the signal-caller got accustomed to in rolling up a 10-1 record and a Catholic League Class 4A title last fall.
“It was fun,” he said. “It was a good last memory, got another win. It’s good to go out with another W on your home field.”
His very last throw wasn’t quite as scrapbook-worthy, an interception by Ridley’s Malik Young on a deep ball on the last play of the game where he threw it up for grabs.
“At least I got down there and made a tackle,” O’Hara said with a smile. “One of the few this year.”
Cade Stratton’s senior season at Ridley was defined by a transition to a run-first offense under first-year coach Dave Wood. So naturally Thursday, Stratton aired it out 13 times as part of 27 passing attempts between he and Upper Darby’s Nate Rimel.
Stratton completed eight passes, though he was picked off twice. He connected with Haverford’s Chris Trainor for the West’s only score, a 22-yarder, in the third.
PHOTO GALLERY: 41st annual Hero Bowl
“We came out, we made some adjustments at halftime, put in a couple of new combinations and they started to click,” Stratton said. “We realized we had some good matchups inside. We took advantage of the slots; (Springfield’s Joe) Kennedy and Trainor playing receiver, it’s a different aspect for me getting to throw the ball to some top wide receivers in the county.”
Trainor impressed, catching six balls for 122 yards and finishing as the unofficial runner-up to Stratton for the honor of West offensive MVP.
“He goes and gets it,” Stratton said of Trainor. “That’s why he gets the ball. He’s got great hands, runs solid routes and he always finds a way to get open. He deserves the ball.”
NOTES >> With the typical all-star game confusion in the second quarter, the West trotted out only nine players to receive a punt. No matter: Delco Christian’s Jacob Gutowski burst around left end and blocked Murtha’s kick. Haverford’s Jack Farrell also blocked an extra point. … Ridley’s Brock Anderson punted four times, averaging 35.0 yards per. He also returned three kickoffs for 81 yards, nearly breaking two for scores. … Academy Park’s Teddy Wright and Penn Wood’s Ed Fields III hauled in interceptions, but the joke on the East sidelines was that it could’ve had a half-dozen picks. O’Hara’s Bobby Gibson got his hands on several passes, credited with three pass breakups. … A candidate for play of the game, beside the 78-yard dash by Interboro’s Chris Thomas on the East’s first play: Hartley-Vittoria in the first quarter dashed for 59 yards on third-and-32 at the East 9.