REIFFTON >> It had been a rough three weeks for the Exeter Eagles.
Head coach Matt Bauer’s crew had lost three consecutive football games by a combined 121-42 margin, dating to Sept. 15. The worst of the sequence was a 41-point loss to Berks League Section 2 powerhouse Berks Catholic last Friday, in which All-League senior running back Nick Sarangoulis was lost for what is effectively the season with a broken clavicle.
That last event forced the Eagles to re-think the offense. It didn’t take long to see what Bauer and his coaching staff cooked up to overcome Sarangoulis’s absence.
The Eagles unveiled a more up-tempo attack, heavily featuring quarterback Brandon Unterkoefler passing from the pocket. The results were impressive.
Exeter (3-3, 1-1 Berks 1) rolled up 448 net yards of offense — and more importantly, looked crisp doing it all night long — in a 38-17 victory over Berks Section 1 rival Muhlenberg at Don Thomas Stadium.
The host Eagles were dinged for -27 yards on the game’s final three snaps running out the clock, else a truer total would have approached 500 yards.
“You can’t replace a Nick Sarangoulis,” Bauer said. “He’s definitely our toughest kids and one of our leaders. I’m really proud of the way our kids stepped up tonight. Our receivers came through, Brandon made great decisions and our lines controlled the lines of scrimmage.
“We’ve been through three weeks of hell and to take a step forward again is a nice thing. It’s been a long road. Hopefully this is sign of things to come.”
Unterkoefler was 16 of 22 for 271 and two touchdowns passing (with one late pick, game already in hand) and a third rushing, to lead the Eagles to their first section win of the campaign. The up-tempo pace, run consistently out of a shotgun spread, seemed to spark the offense and its signal-caller into a rhythm that handsomely paid dividends against the Muhls.
“We had to do something different,” Bauer said with a pleased — and relieved — countenance. “Spread them out, let Brandon make quick decisions, and he did a great job. He commanded the field all night and made great decisions with the ball.
Good bet we’ll see it again?
“I certainly can’t complain tonight,” Bauer replied.
The Eagles took it for a test spin on the first series of the game and drove 75 yards on 12 plays in a tidy 3:54 to dent the end zone and grab an early 7-0 lead. Gage Moran finished it off with a 6-yard run; Unterkoefler was 5 of 6 on the drive for 39 yards.
After Muhlenberg’s Taylor Kauffman nailed a 31-yard field goal early in the second quarter to cut Exeter’s lead to 7-3, Unterkoefler found emerging wide out Alex Javier on a hook, sitting down in zone coverage, about 12 yards beyond the line of scrimmage at midfield. Javier did the rest, turning on the jets to blow by Muhlenberg’s secondary for a 62-yard score and a 14-3 edge with 9:47 left in the half.
Later, a short five-play, 40-yard foray set up by a recovered fumble at midfield led to a 29-yard field goal by Josh Cupitt and a 17-3 lead.
The Muhls closed to within 17-10 late in the half, when quarterback Dreyton Kipp found Troy Talley on a 15-yard scoring strike to cap an 11-play, 74-yard drive in 4:30.
But the Eagles closed out the first half by crafting a seven-play, 80-yard response in a swift 1:35. Unterkoefler caught Javier on a seam for 25 yards and pay dirt and a 24-10 lead at the break.
Moran picked up his second rushing touchdown of the night on the opening drive of the second half, a 1-yard plunge. The 80-yard march featured Sarangoulis’s replacement rumbling for chunks of 26 and 10 yards.
Moran rushed for 72 yards on 10 totes. Javier caught six balls for 117 yards; stablemate Jack Fiucci hauled in five darts worth 94 yards and had a touchdown reception called back on a penalty.
Unterkoefler stretched it to 38-10 with his 18-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Muhlenberg kicked back with a 17-play, 78-yard campaign early in the final stanza for the final margin.
Exeter’s strong defensive effort held Muhlenberg feature back Matthew Duffault to 66 yards on 22 mostly frustrating carries — 23 of those yards came on one second half carry. His 1-yard tote into the end zone was the capper on that late, long drive.
Exeter 38, Muhlenberg 17
Muhlenberg – 0 10 0 7 — 17
Exeter – 7 17 14 0 — 38
E – Gage Moran 6 run (Josh Cupitt kick), 8:06
M – Taylor Kauffman 31 FG, 10:31
E – Alex Javier 62 pass from Brandon Unterkoefler (Cupitt kick), 9:47
E – Cupitt 29 FG, 7:09
M – Troy Talley 15 pass from Dreyton Kipp (Kauffman kick), 2:30
E – Javier 25 pass from Unterkoefler (Cupitt kick), :55
E – Moran 1 run (Cupitt kick), 9:23
E – Unterkoefler 18 run (Cupitt kick), 5:33
M – Matthew Duffault 1 run (Kauffman kick), 11:27