PHILADELPHIA >> As soon as Unionville head coach Pat Clark finished shaking hands with the Archbishop Wood staff following their state semifinal game, Friday, he turned to the nearest assistant he could find and delivered one succinct message.
“Now we gotta figure out how to beat them,” Clark said. “That’s the next step.”
Things didn’t end the way Clark had hoped against Wood, as his Indians fell, 49-28, but this was the season Clark has been fighting for since he took over Unionville in 2004.
After getting so close numerous times in his career, Clark finally earned his first District 1 title in his 10th postseason. But as he repeated to his team just moments after capping one of Unionville’s greatest seasons, there is still work to be done.
“Overall, we got everything we wanted out of this team,” Clark said. “My hope is this becomes the new normal.”
It’s hard to say Clark has had bad luck in the postseason, as one often makes their own luck in November. But, in his nine previous trips, Clark lost to the eventual district champ five times, with two of those teams going all the way to the state final (Garnet Valley, 2007 and Coatesville, 2012).
Finally, this year Unionville had that special group of seniors and talented underclassmen to get the Indians to the stage where they were playing to get to Hershey.
“The kind of kid we’ve had has never changed,” Clark said. “We’ve always had the kid who’s hungry for success and that’s the biggest asset I’ve had to work with. The kids work hard and care and it’s been a natural progression. One of the things I haven’t done enough is say thank you to a lot of people who have helped us get here. Thank yous are what I want to get out to the guys. Everyone who’s been a part of this program is part of where it is today.”
There is a lot that can be said about how Unionville finished its game against Wood.
Unionville was down 28-7 at halftime and gave up a touchdown on a fumble on its first drive of the second half. It would have been easy for the Indians to pack it in and watch the Vikings roll their way back into the state finals.
But if there’s anything true about any Unionville team Clark has coached it’s that excellence is expected and effort is demanded.
This senior class, led by Joe Zubillaga and JT Hower and Alex Gorgone and Dante Graham and Joe Hagen and all the others, were fully programmed to not quit.
“We didn’t give up,” Hower said. “This team has fought for everything we’ve gotten. This program is always overlooked but this group, we weren’t going to just give up.”
Wood was never in jeopardy of surrendering its lead in the second half, but it says a lot about the character of a team when the outcome has been decided and the effort remains the same.
Unionville had been through too much and had accomplished too much just to let its name be on the list of another Wood blowout in the state playoffs.
Hower returned a kick for a touchdown.
Gorgone scrambled for a touchdown.
Joe Fariello found pay dirt on a run.
Nick Schnaars scooped up a fumble and sprinted for a touchdown with under a minute to play.
It wasn’t about winning or losing anymore, it was about finishing what this group had started at a level that Clark has demanded for over a decade.
“He’s a great coach,” Hower said of Clark. “He’s the best coach in the area and he’s taken this program to a new level.”
While Clark immediately refocused himself onto the future, no doubt anyone who looks back on his growing legacy will see a large group of young men better suited to succeed in this world.
Nate Heckenberger covers high school football for the Daily Local News and Pa. Prep Live. You can follow him on Twitter @nheckenberger.