CHELTENHAM >> Cheltenham football coach Ryan Nase believes one of senior quarterback Adonis Hunter’s best qualities is one most people don’t notice.
It’s not the arm or the legs, the pinpoint throws or push he goes at defenders with to gain an extra yard but instead the way Hunter commands the offense. Smarts and awareness go a long way and they certainly served Hunter well as he orchestrated the Panthers offense Friday night.
Coupled with a second quarter special teams outburst, it was all No. 1 seed Cheltenham needed to down No. 16 Springfield-Delco 41-7 in the opening round of the District 1-5A playoffs.
“It’s the biggest thing people don’t see,” Nase said. “He’s either checking with me or comboing plays in the huddle and he’s making decisions to exactly where the ball goes. He’s very, very rarely wrong and that’s the part of what we don on offense people don’t notice.”
Hunter threw for a touchdown and ran for another while compiling 201 total yards of offense. Cheltenham’s first play was a 13-yard keeper by Hunter and he would finish the night with 79 yards rushing.
With a deep stable of backs to hand off to, the senior is usually more of a passer than a runner but during the week, he and the coaches saw something in film. Again, with that game awareness perking up, Hunter was able to read the Cougars’ defense and he took off when the time was right, including his 18-yard scoring run that made it 13-0.
“We saw on film all week they were playing a 3-5-3 a lot with two high quarter coverage,” Hunter said. “We knew they didn’t want to get beat deep and they were dropping a lot, so only bringing three, I had a lot of time, I could see holes and gaps and the defense and that’s when I go.”
Jamir Barnes, who returned to the Panthers lineup after sitting out Week 10 to rest a couple minor injuries, put Cheltenham (10-1) on the board with a 12-yard run in the first quarter. Hunter made it a two score game but the Cougars (3-8) would block the extra point as they continued to hang tough.
Springfield coach Chris Britton wasn’t surprised by his team’s fight, even after a pair of special teams touchdowns by Cheltenham in the second quarter.
“They played the way they played all year,” Britton said. “They don’t put their heads down, they persevere when things don’t go their way. Things in life aren’t going to go their way and I know these guys won’t give up on each other and it’s something to be proud of.”
The game changed in a blink thanks to a pair of touchdowns in a 90-second span. After the Panthers defense got a stop, a high snap on the punt brought about an errant, low kick that Cheltenham senior Siddiq Williams scooped up and returned 27 yards for a touchdown.
Cheltenham’s defense yielded just four yards on the next drive, causing another punt and another score. This time, it was sophomore Kamden Wyatt blocking the punt and senior Avin Grant engulfing it on the run for a 15-yard touchdown and a 26-0 lead.
“It feel great when we score 14 straight points and the offense hadn’t even touched the field yet,” Hunter said. “Coach Nase and Coach (Spentley Toran) did a great job with special teams this week, we didn’t have a great last two weeks, so they helped us go over it and our guys made plays.”
“Special teams can be a huge momentum shift and we found that out tonight,” Nase said. “Tonight, it was punt returns. Nate (Edwards) has changed games with his kick returns and special teams is a huge part of why we’re successful.”
The Cougars came back and got their lone score of the game on the ensuing drive when quarterback Nate Carr drove in from a yard out.
“I appreciate the seniors and everything they did,” Britton said. “We’ll have a lot of kids coming back next year to try and build on this season.”
Taking over with just 34 seconds on the clock, Hunter deftly led a 55-yard drive to finish the half with a touchdown. After running for seven yards and getting out of bounds, he hit senior TJ Harris for back to back nine-yard gains, both ending with the receiver stepping out to kill the clock.
Finally, Hunter dropped in an 18-yard pass over a defender and over Edwards’ shoulder for a score with 2.3 left on the second quarter clock.
“It’s all about trust,” Hunter said. “With 30 seconds left, having to go (55) yards, Coach Nase trusts us to get the job done and I trust the receivers and trust the line to make sure everything goes well. I put it up there and it’s one thing the coaches and I talk about, just give them a chance. We have great athletes and guys that can go get it.”
Cheltenham got an 11-yard score on a bulldozing run by Williams in the fourth quarter but overall, the players and coaches felt they eased up too much after halftime.
Now with 10 wins, the Panthers tied a school record for most victories in a single-season and will try to break that record next week against No. 9 Unionville. Doing that means playing 48 good minutes and not just one strong half, something the Panthers will surely focus on this coming week.
“We just did a good job executing everything we went over during the week,” Hunter said. “I don’t think we did as good a job in the second half and I’m a little disappointed in myself and the team because if we want to make a run in the district playoffs, we have to finish in both halves.”
CHELTENHAM 7 26 0 8 – 41
SPRINGFIELD DELCO 0 7 0 0 – 7
C – Jamir Barnes 12 run (Andrew Moreland kick) 1:18
C – Adonis Hunter 18 run (kick blocked) 8:44
C – Siddiq Williams 27 punt return (kick blocked) 6:31
C – Avin Grant 15 blocked punt return (Moreland kick) 5:03
S – Nate Carr 1 run (Barber kick) 40.6
C – Hunter 18 pass to Nate Edwards (Moreland kick) 2.3
C – Williams 11 run (Hunter two-point run) 11:20
First Downs 16 10
Rushes-Yards 37-201 35-161
Passing 9-14-1-1 9-18-0-1
Passing Yards 122 137
Total Yards 333 298
Penalties-Yards 6-41 3-30
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-2
Rushing: C – Adonis Hunter 6-79, Sam Sykes 8-24, Siddiq Williams 9-41, Jamir Barnes 11-56, Nate Edwards 1-(-3), Jordan Lilly 2-4; S – Andrew Gilbert 8-30, Jayden Baiden 15-90, Nate Carr 6-15, Vincent Divario 3-12, McCoach 3-14
Passing: C – Hunter 9-14-1-1-122; S – Carr 9-17-0-1-137, Longo 0-1-0-0-0
Receiving: C – Edwards 2-21, Jon-Marc Foreman 2-45, TJ Harris 4-44, Barnes 1-12; S – Baiden 1-(-1), Longo 2-21, Shandley 1-23, Sciarrino 1-8, Williams 1-33, McCoach 1-8, Gougler 1-1, Tropiano 1-38
Interceptions: C – Nate Edwards; S – Tom Dougherty
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