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McLaughlin and co. step up for Sun Valley’s first win

ASTON — There have been big wins at Dr. Wally Field on the campus of Sun Valley High School over the years.

Championships have been won, Turkey Day games have been decided in the last minute, and more than a few comebacks ended with a rousing version of the school fight song.

The noise that erupted at Sun Valley Friday night following the Vanguards’ 27-23 nonleague victory over Upper Moreland was a long time coming. It signaled the end of a 14-game losing streak that included the last seven games of the 2018 season and the first seven this year.

The team that had scored 53 points in those seven 2019 losses got three touchdowns in the second half to complete a comeback that rivaled the two TDs in the last two minutes in a win over Lower Moreland during the 1975 season, which took place before many who were involved in Friday’s game were born.

“You’d never know these kids were 0-7 the way they’ve kept fighting to get a win,” SV coach Bubba Bernhardt said. “I’m so happy for all of these guys.”

Following a short scoring run by Sun Valley’s Tyler McLaughlin late in the third quarter, a 27-yard field goal by Upper Moreland’s Nick Prisco on the second play of the fourth quarter put the visiting Bears ahead, 23-14.

It took Sun Valley only four plays — all completed passes — to drive 64 yards and get six points back. Three Johnny Eskridge connections netted only seven yards. On fourth down, McLaughlin lined up behind Eskridge, who let the snap go by him.

McLaughlin made it look like he might be about to run with the football, then stared downfield and tossed a pass to a wide-open Sean Stone, who outraced the defense to complete a 56-yard scoring play and cut Upper Moreland’s lead to 23-20.

“It’s a play we work on every week,” Bernhardt said.

The pass was the first McLaughlin has thrown this season, and the catch was Stone’s first.

“It’s a tight end delay,” McLaughlin said. “Some of us have been playing together now for a few years, and we try to feed off each other’s energy.”

Stone recalled the work he and McLaughlin did on the play a day earlier.

“It’s something we do at Thursday practice,” he said. “It worked this week. The pass was right there tonight. We’ve got two (Ches-Mont) league games left, and we want to come back here next week and make it a special Senior Night for our teammates.”

Antonio Rivera, who like McLaughlin and Stone is a junior, made the next big play for the Vanguards. Rivera had dropped a couple of passes when he was wide open, but he got to a throw by Upper Moreland’s Byron Hopkins for his biggest catch of the night — and the only interception of the contest.

“I forgot about everything else that happened before and just made sure that I made that play,” said Rivera, who was responsible for seven of Eskridge’s nine completions. “This is great to finally get a win like we did tonight.”

Rivera’s interception set up Andrew Kmett to dash in with the winning score five plays later, an 11-yarder with 5:34 to play in the game.

Late in the first half, Hopkins (17 carries for 118 yards) got off a 39-yard run to the Sun Valley 4. McLaughlin then came up with three tackles for loss, and Hopkins had to attempt a pass from the 17 on fourth down but the ball fell incomplete.

“That’s just playing to the ball,” McLaughlin said.

In the second half, a McLaughlin stop forced Upper Moreland to attempt a field goal, and Stone had a tackle for loss and then broke up a pass on the Bears’ next possession.

The Sun Valley defensive line helped shut UM down in the fourth quarter, limiting the visitors to one yard on the ground until Hopkins ran for 29 yards with one minute to play.

Jonathan O’Neill broke up two of Hopkins’ four passes after Upper Moreland took the ball to the Sun Valley 30, and seconds later the celebration began.

Bernhardt and his players were delighted to wish assistant coach Shane Coyle, whose wedding will take place Saturday afternoon, well before they walked off their home field as winners for the first time in more than a year.

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