Football Preview: Slow start belies Sun Valley’s experience, talent

ASTON — Sun Valley was the first Delaware County football team to play a competitive game this fall, some 10½ months after its last outing on Thanksgiving morning in the good ol’ days of 2019.

The Vanguards have begun their abbreviated 2020 campaign with back-to-back defeats.

Prior to their season-opening game at home against Great Valley on Oct. 9, the Vanguards paid tribute to their teammate and friend, Tazuan “Taz” Thomas, who tragically lost his life in an automobile accident in July. In storybook fashion, Thomas’ best friend, senior Antonio Rivera, took the opening kickoff to the house.

While the Vanguards couldn’t build on Rivera’s memorable touchdown return, falling 20-6 to Great Valley, it was a memorable moment that will stay within the remainder of the year.

“I feel bad I couldn’t get the win,” Rivera said after the game. “Not every game is a guarantee, but we’re going to play our hearts out.”

Sun Valley’s originally scheduled game at Oxford in Week 2 was postponed after a member of the Oxford football program tested positive for COVID-19. Ephrata was rescheduled at the last possible second and made the commute from Lancaster County to Aston last Saturday.

Once again Sun Valley got off to a fast start. Senior quarterback/running back Ty McLaughlin ran for a touchdown early in the first quarter; alas, the Vanguards allowed 23 unanswered points en route to their second straight defeat at home.

And so, after two weeks, the Vanguards are still searching for that elusive first victory. Maybe they’re still trying to figure out how to become a good team under Greg “Bubba” Bernhardt, who is in his fourth year as head coach at Sun Valley. But they’re grateful to even have the chance to get their season on track.

The Ches-Mont League originally had suspended all fall sports in August, but reversed course in September. The league will play a four-week regular season and its teams will be eligible for PIAA District 1 and state playoff tournaments. Sun Valley’s 0-2 start likely will prevent it from qualifying for the postseason, but it can still add regular season games to play in November.

The Vanguards’ annual Thanksgiving Day bash with Chichester won’t take place, however, as the Del Val League, of which Chi is a member school, has twice voted to meld fall sports into a spring schedule next year.

Sun Valley hasn’t posted a winning record in eight years. Last year, a young and inexperienced squad managed only one win.

“There is definitely the feeling that the guys are thankful to be here and to have the chance to play,” Bernhardt said prior to the season opener. “The flip side is, it’s not last year, it’s not the same team. We started five sophomores on offense last year and now we have 16 seniors on this team. They’ve really taken their lumps, too, going back to the second half of two years ago and then last year, so all of these guys have been looking forward to this year. For these older guys, they’ve been waiting a couple of years and kind of building toward this. Obviously, first and foremost, they’re glad to be out here.”

The Vanguards had been using a hybrid approach at quarterback the first two games, with McLaughlin and Kevin Mayoros splitting reps. Rivera is the team’s best playmaker, and if he can get out in open space, the Vanguards can score. Rivera can be used at wide receiver and running back and is also a solid player in the defensive secondary. Jonathan O’Neill is a top wide receiver and Andrew Kmett will see action out of the backfield at running back, alongside Sean Stone. Kmett and Stone also play linebacker.

The Vanguards’ strength is in the trenches, where all five offensive linemen are varsity returners play. Jacob Steinmetz (6-4, 235), Jake Crowder (6-6, 325), Rob Powell (6-3, 210), Travis Powell (6-3, 270) and Cam Madison (6-5, 215) all have starting experience on varsity.

“I think, if we play to the best of our potential, we should be good. We should get better and make improvements. We know we have the talent and we have high expectations,” Rivera said. “We just have to put it together and stick together as a team.”

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