Clutch defense keeps Garnet Valley afloat

CONCORD >> As Garnet Valley comes down the home stretch of its regular season, the Jaguars have undoubtedly benefitted from a rigorous Central League schedule.

Friday night’s face-off with Conestoga was just the latest test for Garnet Valley and the Jaguars again showed their mettle with a hard-fought 14-7 victory, their third straight victory.

“Every week has been a grind,” Jaguars head coach Mike Ricci said. “We love playing in the Central League because every week is a great game and tonight’s game was certainly no exception. Conestoga came out and I thought they physically dominated us in the first half tonight. They were really aggressive on defense, they were poundin’ the ball on offense, but I was so pleased with our resiliency.”

Conestoga used 6-1, 210-pound running back Corey Manning (166 rushing yards) to batter the Jaguars defense early and often. Manning finished the first half with 115 yards on 14 carries, including a 26-yard scoring run that gave the Pioneers a 7-0 lead. The ball control scheme served two purposes as Conestoga not only put the Garnet Valley defense on its heels, but also kept the high-powered Jaguars offense on the sidelines.

“We just stuck together as a team and all knew we had each other’s back,” said Jaguars’ defensive lineman Joseph Thomas. “Conestoga is a very good team and on that first drive when they really moved the ball it threw us a little off, but after that we came together and started rolling.”

Yet the Pioneers stifled the Garnet Valley offense and held the Jaguars to 89 total yards in the first half.

“I am extremely proud of these kids,” said Conestoga coach John Vogan, whose team dropped to 4-5. “We came off an extremely tough loss last week against Springfield where we didn’t play our best. Gary Philips has done a great job with our defense. They kept us in this game and they’ve done it all year.”

The Jaguars’ defense would make adjustments, too.

“The main thing we did was we kept believing,” said Garnet Valley defensive lineman Brendan Granahan. “We knew the second half was going to be a dog fight and we got off to a rough start, but we knew we had each other’s back.”

Quarterback Matt Hamby and running back Derrick West (101 rushing yards) each had second half touchdowns for the Jaguars, who were sparked by several clutch plays from Jake Buttermore, who finished with 54 yards rushing and 41 yards receiving. Hamby’s touchdown tied the game at 7-7 and capped off an impressive 91-yard drive that gave the Jaguars momentum.

In the end, though, it came down to the Garnet Valley defense needing to make a play and defensive lineman Rob Monachello took on the role of closer. The Pioneers were driving, but a low shotgun snap hit the ground and Monachello burst through the line for the recovery.

“We came out a little flat at the beginning,” Monachello said, “but we came out fired up after halftime and when my boy Timmy (Tim Bradley) went down, we knew we had to do it for him.”

Bradley, a true menace on the defensive front for Garnet Valley, left the game with an injury in the fourth quarter. That only seemed to inflate the Jaguars’ defensive will.

“My kids played their hearts out,” Vogan said. “They play with heart and passion. We did the two things that we thought we had to do and that was make plays and be physical. For a while there, it was working.”

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