Unbeaten Unionville slugs its way to win over Avon Grove

EAST MARLBOROUGH – Unionville’s bruising, hard-fought 14-6 decision Friday against winless Avon Grove certainly wasn’t a satisfying victory, but with three wins in three outings this season, Unionville head coach Pat Clark doesn’t want a satisfied football team.

“We continue to build, and building from victories is better much that from defeats,” Clark pointed out.

Ranked 16th in the latest Pa. PrepLive Top-20, the Indians failed to score a point in the second half and had their hands full trying to slow down the Red Devils’ powerful runner, Kevin Francis. But heading into next Friday’s Ches-Mont American opener against rival Kennett, Unionville is still undefeated and still the odds-on favorite to capture the program’s third straight division crown.

“We weren’t expecting that,” admitted Indians’ runner Dante Graham. “(Avon Grove) gave their all, they were just as physical as we were, and I respect them as an opponent. But we hung in there, stayed true to our roots and managed to get the win.”

It was, admittedly, an old-fashioned clash that we’ve come to associate with Unionville: a defensive battle with the offenses trying to pound the opposition into submission on the ground. Francis accounted for more than half of Avon Grove’s 206 yards of total offense, and Graham led the way for the Indians, setting up both touchdowns with long runs and finishing with 117 yards on the ground on 15 carries.

“We got (Avon Grove’s) best shot,” Clark said. “They are well coached, very physical and their kids play with a lot of pride. You look at the history of this game and there haven’t been blowouts.

“(Graham) made some guys miss, which was huge because (Avon Grove) was giving us fits up front. His strength is when he gets his shoulders squared up and is able to run downhill because he is a load to tackle.”

For the Red Devils (0-3), it was a respectable outing that ended in frustration yet again. The Avon Grove passing attack – which was expected to be much more of a factor this fall – was largely ineffective, but the defense was solid.

“We couldn’t throw the ball well, so we tried to grinded it out,” said Devils’ head coach Harry O’Neill. “Our defense kept us in it. We were really good on that side of the ball.”

The two teams exchanged early interceptions, but it was the Indians who turned theirs into points. Alex Pelegrin picked off Shane Wolford, and a 43-yard run by Graham set up the score, an 11-yard pass from Alex Gorgone to J.T. Hower.

Unionville later made it 14-0 at the half after capitalizing on another Avon Grove turnover – this time an unsuccessful fake punt in its own territory, late in the first half. Soon thereafter, Joe Zugillaga grabbed a wide receiver screen from Gorgone and covered the final 21 yards.

On its first possession in the second half, the Indians ramped up its running game and marched 73 yards down the field, but Gorgone was picked off for the second time by Avon Grove’s Tyler Boyd. Just when it looked like Unionville was about to take control, the Devils swiped away the momentum.

“In a one- or two-score game, any turnover is going to shift momentum, but I thought our kids played through it,” Clark said.

“We have to focus on an attention to details,” Graham added. “There will be more difficult opponents where we will have to finish those kinds of drives.”

Before the end of the third quarter, Wolford’s 50-yard scrambled and score put Avon Grove on the board, but a low snap sabotaged the PAT. The Devils did get to the Indians’ 32 yard line early in the final period but turned it over on downs.

“Until today I thought we were OK throwing the ball,” O’Neill said. “We struggled, but that’s not all on Shane.

“We are young and inexperienced, and Unionville’s been in the district playoffs a number of times. That’s where we are trying to get. I am proud of our effort, I’m not mad our guys. The previous two weeks I was a little disappointed, but not this week.”

Francis wound up with 115 rushing yards on 27 carries, but the Indians’ defense made him earn them all. Seven of his runs went for no gain or negative yardage.

“Kevin doesn’t go down on the first hit,” O’Neill said. “He is a tough kid and he wants the ball. He’s our guy and everybody knows he’s our guy.

“He is our whole offense. (Wideout Tyler) Boyd is a little banged up, so we are having some issues getting the ball on the perimeter.”

Zubillaga had 85 yards of total offense and gained 44 of his 53 rushing yards in the second half.

“We know we have to step it up on offense to help out our defense,” Graham said.

“This was a motivation game. We know we could have played better, so that will motivate us next week in practice.”

NOTE: During Friday’s festivities, Avon Grove and Unionville partnered to raise funds for Hardin-Jefferson School District near Beaumont, Texas, which was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey.

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