Malvern >> A few minutes after their 52-21 victory against Springside Chestnut Hill that clinched Malvern Prep’s first outright Inter-Ac football title in six years, the Friar players were wandering around the Quigley Field turf, hugging teammates and congratulating each other on their new status – king of the Inter-Ac mountain.
“There’s no way to [completely] describe this feeling,” said Malvern senior defensive lineman Domenic Massimo, who was all over the field making plays Saturday. “My family is here, my teammates are here – I feel so blessed right now.”
Malvern junior defensive back Tygee Leach, who made a dozen tackles Saturday, said, “I’m so happy for our seniors and for Coach [Dave] Gueriera.”
“This is surreal,” said Malvern junior wide receiver/linebacker Keith Maguire, whose 58-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown early in the third quarter helped put the game away. “We won this game for the seniors.”
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Malvern junior wide receiver Quincy Watson, who scored a couple of TDs on long pass receptions, said, “I’m happy for the seniors, but a little sad too. I’m connected to a lot of them, they’re like brothers, and it is a little heartbreaking to see them leave.”
Joy was the order of the afternoon Saturday for Malvern Prep (6-4, 5-0), although Springside Chestnut Hill proved to be a stubborn challenge in the first half, moving the ball on a slow and steady pace for a couple of long touchdown drives. At halftime, the Friars held a slim 17-14 lead against the Blue Devils (6-5, 2-3).
The Friars dominated the first six minutes of the second half, getting two long touchdown passes from junior quarterback Drew Gunther – a 48-yard TD strike to Watson, and a 58-yard touchdown reception by Maguire – and built a 38-14 lead by the end of the third quarter. The Malvern defense also picked up its pace after halftime.
“We kind of settled down on defense in the second half,” said Gueriera, cradling a game ball the Malvern players gave to him after the contest. “And scoring on our first drive after halftime [the 48-yard touchdown pass from Gunther to Watson] was a huge boost.”
In the first four minutes of Saturday’s game, it looked like Malvern would breeze to an easy one-sided victory. The Friars’ first two offensive plays (both after Springside Chestnut Hill turnovers) resulted in touchdowns, and the hosts led 14-0 with 8:45 left to play in the first quarter.
On the fourth play of the game, Massimo and Malvern linebacker Danny Garrity teamed up to force (and recover) a Blue Devil fumble at the SCHA 25 yard line. On the next play, Malvern senior running back O’Shaan Allison rumbled up the middle for a 25-yard touchdown.
Six plays later, Malvern junior defensive back Ryan Iacone intercepted a Blue Devil pass and returned it to the SCHA 43 yard line. On the next play, Gunther hit Watson for a short pass, and the Malvern receiver weaved in and out of traffic all the way to the end zone to make it 14-0.
Springside then rebounded for a 90-yard, 17-play touchdown drive in which the Blue Devils picked up five first downs (all but one of them gained on a third down play). The drive was capped by a 16-yard scoring strike from SCHA senior quarterback Jack Elliott to his brother, junior end Pat Elliott.
Malvern senior kicker Garrett Reilly booted a 29-yard field goal to give the Friars a 17-7 lead with 8:46 to go before halftime, but the Blue Devils countered with a 14-play, 73-yard drive for a touchdown to make it 17-14. Helped in large part by the running and short passing of Jack Elliott (who completed seven of his first eight pass attempts), by halftime the Blue Devils picked up eight consecutive first downs on third-down plays.
“We wanted to come out at the beginning of the game strong, and we did,” said Massimo. “But then I think we let up a little, got a little cocky [with the 14-0 lead]. Coach Gueriera gave us a good talk at halftime, where he said to the seniors, ‘You’ve got one half of football left – let’s go out and take it.”
“We weren’t communicating as well as we could have in the first half,” said Leach. “We made some defensive adjustments at halftime, used more zone defense in the second half, and I think that shut [Springside] down.”
“In the locker room at halftime, Coach Gueriera got us fired up, and the seniors got riled up,” said Malvern senior wide receiver Quinn McCahon, who scored on a TD pass in the second half. “We scored right away after halftime, and we were on our way.”
The Friars took the second half kickoff and launched a seven-play, 73-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 48-yard catch-and-run by Watson. The junior receiver caught Gunther’s short pass, then broke several tackles down the left sideline en route to the end zone.
Following a three-and-out by the Blue Devils, the Friars struck quickly, on a 58-yard touchdown pass play from Gunther to Maguire. The Malvern quarterback hit an open Maguire with a screen pass in the middle of the field, then Maguire took it the rest of the way, helped by some fine blocking, and the Friars suddenly had a 31-14 lead.
“It was a great play to watch, and it’s the play I remember the most,” said Gunther, who threw four touchdown passes Saturday. “When he caught that ball, it was as if the Red Sea had parted, all the way to the end zone.
“At halftime, Coach Gueriera reminded us what was at stake. We really started scoring in the second half – Coach Gueriera was calling great plays.”
A few minutes later, it was the defense’s turn to stand up for Malvern. Friar senior linebacker Cole McCabe intercepted an Elliott pass and ran it back for what appeared to be a 57-yard touchdown, but the score was nullified by a Malvern holding penalty after the interception. But the Friars eventually scored anyway, getting some solid rushing gains from Allison (who finished with 127 rushing yards Saturday), and when McCahon gathered in a 3-yard touchdown pass on a slant pattern from Gunther, the hosts led 38-14.
By the end of the third quarter, Allison had passed 1,000 rushing yards for the season. It was another milestone on a happy afternoon for Malvern.
“O’Shaan’s had a great season, a great second half of the year,” said Gueriera. “He’s been a real workhorse runner for us.”
“O’Shaan’s running was opening up holes for us [receivers] today,” said McCahon.
Gueriera also praised the fine work of the Friars’ stalwart offensive line Saturday – performed by tackles Joe Basiura and Jake Hornibrook, center Brendan Flynn and guards Harry Stinger and Buck Walsh.
Springside got its lone score in the second half on the ensuing drive, covering 65 yards in six plays and highlighted by a 31-yard pass from Jack Elliott to Pat Elliott (who completed the game with nine catches for 116 yards). Nick Logue’s 2-yard TD reception made it 38-21 with 10:38 left.
Five plays later, McCabe picked off another SCHA pass at the Blue Devils’ 20, and with nothing but daylight in front of him raced into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown to give the Friars a 45-21 lead.
“I read their quarterback’s eyes, and once I got the ball, I had to get that touchdown, after [my] first touchdown was called back,” said McCabe with a laugh. “We came out in the second half fired up – Coach Geueriera told us at halftime that the only team that could beat us was ourselves.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, freshman Lonnie White took over at quarterback for Malvern. With White at the helm, the Friars called six consecutive running plays, for a six-play, 54-yard touchdown drive. White had one burst of 25 yards, while Allison churned out several good gains and scored the final touchdown, a 5-yard run, standing up.