Tredyffrin >> After a fair-to-middling first half Friday evening, Conestoga’s football squad swung into high gear after the halftime break, rolling to a 41-7 win against Lower Merion at Teamer Field Friday evening.
With a roster roughly half the size of Conestoga’s, gritty Lower Merion relied on some resourceful scrambling by junior quarterback Jack Lledo in the first half, and scored a touchdown with only two seconds before halftime, trailing the hosts by only 13-7 at the break.
Then, on the fourth play of the second half, a Conestoga fumble gave the ball to Lower Merion at the Pioneers’ 30 yard line.
Conestoga head coach Matt Diamond said, “When we had that fumble, I told our guys, ‘We need to control the football on the ground.’ And we really challenged our [defense] to say, ‘Hey, let’s contain Lledo on these third-and-long situations.’”
Three plays later, Lower Merion faced a 4th-and-7 at the Conestoga 27, and Lledo took off on another scramble, but the Pioneers stopped him a yard short of the first down.
On the next play, Conestoga senior running back James Condi swept left for 22 yards, then five plays later Pioneer senior quarterback Michael Costigan lofted a long pass down the right sideline toward junior wide receiver Peter Detwiler.
Detwiler, who grabbed six passes for 156 yards against Garnet Valley a week ago, was in tight 1-on-1 coverage but reached above the Lower Merion defender to snare the pass. He raced down the sideline for a 46-yard touchdown that gave the hosts some breathing room.
“Peter Detwiler made a heck of a play on that pass,” said Diamond. “That was a big-spark play. And I thought Michael Costigan made some good decisions tonight on when to run or to pass.”
The Pioneers led 21-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter and had the ball at midfield. Condi then broke some tackles for an 18-yard run, then two plays later found a big opening for a 37-yard touchdown run that gave the Pioneers a 27-7 lead with 10:59 left.
“I have to give credit to our offensive line for giving us a push tonight in the second half,” said Diamond. “And James Condi ran super hard tonight – he kept continuing to move his legs, fall forward and gain positive yardage.”
Condi finished the night with four touchdowns and 166 yards on 20 carries.
With a 27-7 lead, Conestoga forced Lower Merion into a 4th-and-11 at the Aces’ 19 yard line. A Lower Merion punt was blocked by several Pioneers, and the hosts recovered at the visitors’ 4 yard line. It was Conestoga’s second blocked punt of the night.
“I thought our special teams did a really nice job tonight,” said Diamond. “During the past week, we saw some things that we thought we could possibly take advantage of if their punter was a little closer to the line of scrimmage. For [that] blocked punt, we brought up an extra return man, and we were able to get through the gaps and make the play.”
The Pioneers’ first blocked punt came midway through the second quarter with the hosts holding a 7-0 lead. Lower Merion was punting from its own 21 yard line, and Conestoga junior Christian Lariviere came off the edge to block the punter’s personal protector back into the punt. The ball bounced off the protector, and the Pioneers’ Nico Arbes recovered the ball at the Lower Merion 1 yard line. One play later, Condi bounced into the end zone from the 1 yard line.
Condi had scored the Pioneers’ first touchdown too, on a 9-yard run with 2:15 left in the first quarter.
Diamond said, “I thought our defense played well tonight, particularly in the second half, and I thought our secondary played really well,” said Diamond. “All week long we had worked on [Lower Merion’s] screens and their waggle plays.”
“Give Lower Merion credit, I thought their kids played hard, but I was proud of the way our guys answered the call in the second half.”
Lower Merion scored its lone touchdown on a long, seven-minute drive that covered 67 yards in 15 plays. Twice during the drive, on 4th-and-short yardage situations, the Aces went for the first down and succeeded. With two seconds left before halftime, Lledo hit junior running back Jay Zheng with an 11-yard pass into the left front corner of the end zone to cut the Pioneers’ lead to 13-7.
LM head coach Joe Augustine praised his gritty quarterback, Jack Lledo, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior.
“Jack’s a hard-nosed football player who finds a way to make something out of nothing, whenever we need a spark,” said Augustine. “In the first half, we executed the game plan pretty well. I thought we matched up with Conestoga physically, but because of our roster size some of our players have to play both ways [offense and defense]. You look over at Conestoga’s sideline, and they have players stretched from end to end. But we never quit, we never stopped fighting.”