By Bill Rudick
@brudick55 on Twitter
EAST MARLBOROUGH >> The Unionville High School football team’s offense, with triple threat Joe Zubillaga and running back Dante Graham, along with the quietly efficient Alex Gorgone at quarterback, gets most of the attention with good reason, the Indians can put up points in a hurry when needed.
But they have been getting the job done on the other side of the ball as well.
In Unionville’s first two District 1 Class 5A games, neither Glen Mills nor Strath Haven was able to get on the board until the final minute, long after the Mercy Rule had gone into effect, and had forced a fumble and picked off a pass in each victory.
“We have a lot of playmakers in defense,” said defensive back JT Hower. “We trust each other to do our jobs, so we can blitz and play man, and know our linebackers and DBs are going to make plays out there.”
Things didn’t get off to a great start this past Friday in their semifinal against Marple-Newtown. The Tigers, with backup Alden Mathes subbing for injured All-Delco QB Anthony Paoletti throwing a pair of touchdown passes, jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead. Hower was instrumental in the game-tying score, setting off on an 87-yard kickoff return. Gorgone found Zubillaga in the back corner of the end zone to make it 21-21 at the break.
“Our kids have a lot of pride,” said head coach Pat Clark. “We talked at halftime and part of the problem was we had six guys playing and five guys off every play. But we got everyone on the same page, tweaked some things and really turned it up defensively in the second half. I thought it was really important that we got a stop to start the second half when they got the ball first.”
The Indians then ruled the second half. Marple managed just two first downs until before picking up a couple more on the final possession of the game. Mathes, who had a solid first half, completing 5 of 7 for 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns, was picked off three times in the second half, twice by Hower and once by Zubillaga.
“Those early second-half stops were huge for us,” said Hower. “I think we were a little thrown off by the different quarterback early on because we didn’t prepare for him. But, once we made some adjustments and started trusting our DBs in man, we started making stops. It really gave us back the momentum.”
Hower had a huge night all-around. In addition to the pivotal kickoff return and two picks, Hower caught six balls for 93 yards. In three postseason games, Hower has 12 catches for 177 yards and a touchdown, along with three interceptions.
“JT Hower is a stud,” said Clark. “He is the best skill player in our league, bar none. The things he can do in space are impressive. On top of it all, he’s a tremendous competitor. He hates to lose at anything. You need the best out of your best kids in big games, and JT always gives you that.”
Despite how well the Indians have played all season, reaching new program standards for both overall wins and post season wins, Clark knows there is no room for error when they line up against top-seeded and unbeaten Springfield (Delco) for the district title Friday night at Springfield.
A shaky start could mean the end of the season for Unionville.
“It would be really hard for us if we got down early against a team like Springfield, there’s no doubt about that,” said Clark. “We’ve got to have a great week of practice. Our kids know what’s at stake, and we all look forward to the opportunity to play against a really good football team next week.”