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GEOGHEGAN: In a year to forget, Rustin has season to remember

FORT WASHINGTON >> It’s been a high school football season like no other. But in a lot of ways, West Chester Rustin’s 2020 squad put together a campaign very reminiscent of so many others under its only head coach, Mike St. Clair.

The Golden Knights fell 29-8 in the District 1 Class 5A Championship Game on Friday at top-seeded Upper Dublin. But Rustin accomplished an awful lot during a season shortened by the coronavirus. And at the top of the list was that the Knights advanced further in the postseason than anybody in the Ches-Mont.

“It was a very good season for us,” St. Clair said. “We overcame a lot of obstacles. These kids responded and we won a lot of big games. We just ran out of steam tonight.

“I’m proud of everything these kids did. There wasn’t much more they could have accomplished. They didn’t want this season to end, but it has to at some point.”

The final tally was a 4-2 mark, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Rustin opened the season with a wild 35-27 setback to archrival Unionville, but then stormed back with three straight impressive regular season games, including a two-touchdown victory over West Chester East, and a marquee blowout triumph over powerful Downingtown East.

“I will remember the win over Downingtown East for the rest of my life. It was awesome,” senior running back Tucker Flynn said about the 32-13 stunner.

“We had to win that game to get into the playoffs,” St. Clair added. “And to beat a team like Downingtown East — one of the top programs in the state — that was a statement win.”

Another blowout win in round one of districts over Wissahickon set the stage for Friday’s final against an Upper Dublin team the Knights have now faced four times in the postseason since 2014. Rustin never really got its signature running game on track against the Cardinals and asked quarterback, John Crispino, to do a bit more than he’s used to doing through the air.

In short, the Knights got to this point by doing what they do, and on Friday Upper Dublin did something few opponents have been able to do: stop it.

“We do what we do and (Upper Dublin) did it a little better than us,” St. Clair said.

Overall, Rustin found a way to overcome a lot of obstacles in 2020, and it started just before the season when star runner Drew Gallen was lost for the season with a knee injury. And then his backup, Alex Pratzner, was injured against Unionville.

That opened the door for Flynn and junior Dayshawn Jacobs, who combined to rush for 1,183 yards and 14 TDs.

“We got our opportunity and we capitalized — we did our best,” Flynn said.

“This whole season was ‘next man up,’” St, Clair said, “It wasn’t easy trying to do things with personnel that’s never done it before, but we feel blessed we got to play this season and got to a district title game.”

Crispino headed into Friday contest as Chester County’s most efficient quarterback despite attempting just 24 passes all season. Against the Cardinals, he threw his first interception of the season, and then followed it up with two more.

“But we wound up playing more games than a lot of other schools,” said junior linebacker Anthony Meadows. We have the same tradition every season — we run the ball, we bully people off the line. And this season it was nothing new.

“We always want to win West Chester, finish ahead of (East and Henderson) and we did. There is nothing to hang our heads about.”

And to be the last Ches-Mont team standing during a season heavily impacted by a global pandemic, well that’s something for the memory banks.

“This is a season we will remember always in the middle of a year we all want to forget,” St. Clair said. “These kids overcame adversity all year.”

During a postgame huddle, St. Clair wanted his players to remember what a fruitful and resilient season it was, despite the bitter ending.

“I just wanted the guys to know that they kept the Rustin tradition going,” he said. “People know when they come to high school here that they are expected to carry our winning ways, and these guys did it.”

His players definitely got that message.

“I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve done,” Flynn said. “Hey, we played six games, and before the season we didn’t even know if we were going to be able to play at all.

“I couldn’t be more thankful.”

Neil Geoghegan is a staff writer for The Daily Local News. You can reach him at ngeoghegan@21st-centurymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NeilMGeoghegan.

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