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Football: Mike Ricci and Kevin Clancy square off one last time

Mike Ricci, who will retire after 35 years as Garnet Valley coach at the end of the 2021 season, meets Kevin Clancy's Strath Haven team for the final time Friday. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

The two winningest football coaches in Delaware County history will meet one last time Friday night.

Mike Ricci will retire from Garnet Valley after the 2021 season. His Jaguars (4-0) are locked in a three-way tie for first place in the Central League with Kevin Clancy’s Strath Haven squad and Ridley.

Ricci is second only to Clancy in career coaching wins. The Jaguars gave Ricci his 250th win last Friday against Upper Darby. Meanwhile, the Panthers rolled past Harriton for Clancy’s 323rd victory.

Since Garnet Valley is a Class 6A program and Strath Haven is Class 5A, a district playoff game between the teams is out of the question.

Strath Haven head coach Kevin Clancy speaks his team after a 2019 game. (DFM File)

The legendary coaches will clash Friday night at George L. King Field. Ricci didn’t want to make it seem the game was about him and Clancy when asked to describe his feelings about the final showdown. It’s about two strong, undefeated programs, Ricci said, going head-to-head in what should be a memorable battle. Each team is trying to hand the other its first loss of the year, which will go a long way in determing the league championship.

“I’m not looking at it as my last time against Kevin as much as I am that it’s a great opportunity for a fantastic high school football game,” Ricci said. “The environment is going to be spectacular. I know our kids are looking forward to it, I know their kids are looking forward to it. To me it’s what high school football is all about. They’re a class act program and I always love playing against class acts.”

Ricci has immense respect for his friend Clancy. When Ricci was a young coach at Garnet Valley in the 90s, he sought advice from Clancy and Interboro’s Steve Lennox on how to build a successful football program from the ground up.

“When I started, Coach Clancy was the guy and Strath Haven was the team,” Ricci said Wednesday. “A lot of the things that we do in our program are based off of what I’ve watched Strath Haven do for years. I have such respect for Coach Clancy for the kind of person he is and I think he’s a phenomenal coach.

“One of the things that I love about playing Strath Haven is … you know they’ll be prepared, you know that they’re going to have an answer for anything you try to do. To me, it makes it a really fun game, especially this year. This is a big game. Both teams are 4-0, they’re playing extremely well and they’re executing their offense like the heyday Strath Haven teams. I love their quarterback (Sam Milligan) and their three running backs (Chase Barlow, Anthony Crawford, Matt Shuler), everything they do. (Assistant coach) Jim Conner does an amazing job with their defense.”

This game showcases the top-two scoring teams in Delco. GV has outscored opponents, 199-40. Strath Haven has bludgeoned teams by a 201-67 margin. Clancy and Ricci have traditionally run the football a ton, Clancy with his vaunted Wing-T and Ricci with his formidable veer-option. But both offenses have opened the playbook a little this year, allowing their athletic quarterbacks to throw the ball more often. Milligan has thrown for 258 yards, four touchdown passes and zero interceptions. GV signal caller Max Busenkell is completing passes at an 80 percent clip (25-for-31) with 652 yards, nine TDs and no INTs. He’s on pace to have one of the best passing seasons GV has seen in years.

While both teams have succeeded with their aerial attacks, GV and Haven remain exceptional ground-and-pound running offenses. Haven has a three-pronged attack of Shuler (428 yards, five TDs), Barlow (391 yards, nine TDs) and Crawford (351 yards, five TDs). Garnet’s ground game is even more well-balanced, with five players over 100 yards on the year.  Jason Bernard leads the way with 199 yards and six scores. Each squad boasts a tough and nasty offensive line unit.

On the defensive side, CJ Wood and Joey Halloran have been tackling machines for the Jags. Most of the Panthers starters go both ways. Barlow, Crawford and Bob Fookas have combined for nearly 90 tackles.

The final showdown between Ricci and Clancy has the makings of a classic.

“Our guys know we are in for a tough, tough game,” Ricci said.

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