WILDWOOD, N.J. >> On a wet, windy evening at Wildwood High School’s Warrior Stadium, Malvern Prep needed a few minutes to find their sea legs before settling down to a 49-17 win against Roman Catholic Friday.
After an error-plagued first quarter, playing against a 20 mph wind, Malvern Prep found itself trailing 10-0.
But in the second quarter, thanks to a couple of perfectly-placed 50-yard passes by quarterback Drew Gunther, and a 25-yard interception return by Keith Maguire for a touchdown, Malvern Prep scored 28 points to take a 28-10 lead into halftime.
“What I loved about this game, is that after we came out a little sloppy, we worked out the nerves, we worked out the kinks, and played pretty good for the last three quarters,” said Malvern Prep head coach Dave Gueriera. “In the second quarter, we stopped shooting ourselves in the foot, and once we were able to execute and put a couple of plays together, we showed we could move the ball.”
In the first quarter, Malvern got off to a rocky start. A long kickoff return by Roman Catholic on the opening play put the ball into Malvern territory, and the Friars were battling from their own territory much of the first stanza. Following a 31-yard field goal by the Cahillites’ Ryan Flahrety, Malvern went three-and-out, and with the wind at their back, Roman Catholic converted a 33-yard, five-play drive into a touchdown that was capped by Brian Burton’s 18-yard jaunt up the middle into the end zone.
Trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter, Malvern Prep struck back. Friar senior quarterback Drew Gunther hit junior wide receiver Ryan Maguire with a 50-yard pass down to the Roman Catholic 1-yard line, then Gunther then snuck over for a touchdown to cut the Cahillites’ lead to 10-7.
Three plays later, Malvern Prep senior linebacker Keith Maguire put the Friars ahead for good when he picked off sophomore quarterback Rhyme Robinson’s pass at the Cahillite 25 and ran it into the end zone for a 14-10 lead.
“It was exciting, we knew we needed a play to turn the game around, we had gotten off on the wrong foot, but we knew we had [a big play] in us,” said Maguire. “I saw [Roman’s] linemen drop into a pass set, dropped into my zone, read the quarterback’s eyes and saw him looking at a slant pass.”
Maguire stepped in front of the Roman Catholic receiver and it was clear sailing to the end zone.
Fine minutes later, Roman Catholic went for the first down on 4th-and-2 at the Malvern 46 yard line. Burton was stuffed by the Malvern defenders for a loss; then on the very next play, Gunther lofted a perfectly-placed pass down the left sideline that fell into Ryan Iacone’s arms. Iacone had his defender beat by a step or two, and raced into the end zone to make it 21-10 with 3:33 before halftime.
The stiff ocean breeze made passing (and punting) a challenge from time to time Friday evening, but Gunther’s two big shots were right on the money.
“Going against [Roman Catholic], we knew we would have some one-on-one [passing] plays, so we took a few shots, and it worked out,” said Gunther.
Following a three-and-out by Roman Catholic and a 10-yard punt, Malvern had the ball at the Cahillites’ 35, and helped by a few defensive penalties, moved the ball down to the 15, when Nick Gueriera scored on a running play to make the score 28-10 just before halftime.
Gueriera picked up solid gains throughout the night, often breaking tackles and helping Malvern control the ball.
“We have confidence in our [offensive] linemen,” said Gueriera. “We started out a little slow tonight, we made a couple of mental errors, but we’re an experienced team, and we came out [in the second quarter] and played the way we knew we could.”
Malvern stayed red-hot right after halftime. After receiving the second half kickoff, the Friars scored on a two-play, 65-yard drive. Gunther hit Iacone down the right sideline for a 33 yard gain, then Gueriera scored on a 32-yard run, bouncing off a tackler or two.
A Roman Catholic 75-yard interception return for a touchdown cut the Friar lead to 35-17 midway through the third quarter. Malvern regained momentum when the Cahillites fumbled a punt return at the Roman Catholic 10 yard line, and the Friars recovered at the 3. Two plays later, Gueriera scored his third touchdown of the night to make it 42-17 with 11:02 left.
The 49-17 win capped a fun day trip for the Malvern squad, which ate dinner together in a Wildwood restaurant before playing the game in front of a contingent of dark-blue-and-white-clad fans.
“It was great to have our students coming down here to cheer us on,” said Nick Gueriera. “I also had a couple of family members who were in the stands, and it was [fun] having them there for me. The atmosphere was great tonight, and there’s nothing like playing under the lights.”