LONDON GROVE – It’s been six uncertain weeks since the 2020 high school football season was originally scheduled to begin for members of the Ches-Mont.
And the COVID-19 layoff certainly seemed to have an effect in the first half of the season opener for four-time defending league champion Coatesville. But the Red Raiders rebounded to score four unanswered touchdowns in the second half to surge past host Avon Grove 41-10 on Friday.
“I’m not saying it was expected, but under the current circumstances, it was understandably sloppy at times,” said Red Raiders’ head coach Matt Ortega.
Clinging to a 13-10 halftime lead, Coatesville cranked up its running game and blew it open with three quick TDs in the third quarter. Dangerous running back duo Ashon Wesley and Dametrious McClain-Jackson combined for 166 rushing yards on 19 carries, and 116 of the yards came in the second half for the Raiders (1-0).
“I was talking with Dametrius (McClain-Jackson) at halftime and we said that we have to put the offense on our back,” said Wesley, who led the way with 86 yards on the ground. “We have three returning starters up front so that helps us a lot.”
Despite outgaining the Red Devils by 156 yards in the first half, Coatesville’s lead was surprisingly precarious.
“It was weird seeing the scoreboard at the end of the first half. We aren’t used to seeing it that close, so we had to pick it up,” McClain-Jackson said.
“I addressed it at the half,” Ortega added. “We kind of lost our focus for about five minutes stretch and gave (Avon Grove) some life. We talked about that the first (second half) drive could really set the tone, and we scored. From there we kind of took over.”
A run of 39 yards by Wesley set up a 36-yard scoring burst by McClain-Jackson to make it 20-10 in a flash. And then on the next possession, sophomore quarterback Harrison Susi found Dowayne Molina on an 11-yard scoring strike. The Raiders then put together a nine-play march and Susi capped it off for a short keeper to up the lead to 34-10.
“Especially so early in the season, we knew that’s what we wanted to do,” Ortega said. “We wanted to establish the run and that’s what we did. And that is only going to help open things up offensively.”
Junior Boulder Eubanks – who shared duties at quarterback with Susi – later scored on a 10-yard run to wrap up the scoring.
“We have some young people in there at quarterback. So right now we have to be a running team, and I love it,” said McClain-Jackson.
“We did some things on defense in the second half that I shouldn’t have done and (Coatesville) capitalized on it,” first-year Avon Grove head coach Joe Coffey said. “They are a good football team and a great program.”
Coatesville was without its top two receivers – Abdul-Sabur Stewart and Damonte Reason – who missed the game with injuries.
The Raiders scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions of the game before bogging down. The opening score – a 17-yard pass from Susi to Tommy Ortega – came moments after the Devils failed to convert a fourth and long faked punt in its own end of the field. But Avon Grove’s Colby Riddell blocked the PAT.
Late in the first half, Ashon Wesley raced 33 yards up the middle for a quick score and Coatesville was ahead 13-0. But the Red Devils owned the second quarter, starting with an impressive seven-play, 64-yard scoring march. Slotback Sean Glatts went the final 31 yards on a reverse.
“We lost focus on that one drive and they got us on the reverse,” Ortega said. “But we have a lot of seniors on that side of the ball and they’ve been working their tails off.”
The most impactful play of the opening half came when an errant Coatesville pass on a wide receiver screen wound up in Riddell’s hands and he returned it 55 yards the other way. It set up a 37-yard field goal by Bobby Smith who converted despite a bad snap, cutting the deficit to three.
“We had a really good first half of football,” Coffee said. “I really couldn’t be more proud of the way we battled. That’s something we really can build on.
“I wouldn’t trade this group for anybody. That was one of the best halves of football against a 6A opponent since I’ve been here.”
The Raiders limited the Devils to 56 yards of total offense. Avon Grove finished with 21 rushing yards on 25 attempts.
“It is the strength of our team,” Ortega said. “We didn’t give them much in the second half.”