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Central showdown evolves into lopsided win for Garnet Valley

Garnet Valley's Sean Gallagher breaks out for a long kick return to start the second half Friday night against Strath Haven. The Jaguars went on to a 42-7 victory. (PETE BANNAN-MEDIANEWS GROUP)

NETHER PROVIDENCE — The most anticipated football game in Delaware County this year featured Garnet Valley and Strath Haven, two of three undefeated Central League teams entering play Friday.

The showdown marked the final meeting between Delco’s two winningest coaches, Strath Haven’s Kevin Clancy and GV’s Mike Ricci, who will retire after the season. Considering how well both teams have performed, the throngs of fans in attendance likely expected a competitive game.

Alas, the game didn’t quite live up to expectations on the scoreboard. The Jags were in complete control from the opening kick at a jam-packed George L. King Field, rolling to a 42-7 win. Garnet Valley (5-0, 4-0) is now one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the Central League, and will travel to Ridley next week to face the Green Raiders, who improved to 5-0 with a victory Friday night over Radnor.

Compared to the rest of the league, however, Garnet Valley is on another planet right now. The Jaguars are just way too good, too big, too fast. Against the Panthers, that was evident from the very start.

Haven’s dominant ground attack, a three-headed monster of Chase Barlow, Matt Shuler and Anthony Crawford, was held in check all night against the Jags’ excellent defensive front including big, bad linemen Cole Brennan, Kieran Gallagher and Austin Sorokanych. There was no place to run against the physically imposing trio.

“Strath Haven is a really good offense. They execute just like our offense goes out and executes every week,” Brennan said. “The practice we got in against ourselves during the summer, and the practice we had against our scout team this week, really prepared us for this game. The scout team creates a picture perfect image of what the team we’re playing that week is, and that had us ready.”

Garnet Valley’s Ryan Saunders, center, is congratulated by teammates after his second touchdown against Strath Haven Friday night at George King Field. The Jags went on to a 42-7 victory.

By halftime, the game was essentially out of reach, with the Jags enjoying a 28-0 lead. Haven’s rush attack, which has destroyed defenses through the first month of the season, was limited to 55 yards on 21 carries and one fumble lost in the first two quarters. Those numbers improved a little in the second half, once Garnet Valley’s first-team defense exited in the third quarter. Crawford led the way with 86 yards on 21 carries, while Barlow (34 yards) accounted for the team’s lone touchdown with 3:09 left to play.

Garnet Valley’s offense was equally impressive. After punting away the opening drive, the Jags’ first-team unit scored on its final six possessions. Senior quarterback Max Busenkell got it started with a 46-yard keeper to the end zone to make it 7-0. Following an interception by linebacker Andrew Jackalous, Busenkell connected with his favorite target Sean Gallagher on a 21-yard scoring pass with 43 seconds to play in the first period.

Lead running back Jason Bernard (70 yards, nine carries) rumbled into the end zone from five yards out to put GV ahead by three touchdowns. Then, in the waning seconds of the second quarter, GV capped another excellent drive when Ryan Saunders plowed his way past the goal line from a yard out.

Ricci couldn’t have asked for a better all-around performance from his squad.

“I was thrilled with our execution on offense, defense and special teams,” he said. “That’s a very good offense that Strath Haven has … and to stop their offense is just a testament to our guys. I can’t say enough. Jeff Allison, our defensive coordinator and the defensive staff, do a phenomenal job teaching and getting our guys ready to go. Offensive coordinator Rich Boyd and the offensive coaches, they do the same, and we executed equally well on offense. I have such respect for everything that Strath Haven does. We knew we had to be on point in order to succeed tonight, and our kids really rose to the challenge.”

One last handshake from Strath Haven coach Kevin Clancy to Garnet Valley’s Mike Ricci as the game ends. The Jags won 42-7 to go 5-0.(PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

When it comes to operating a run-first offense, nobody does it better in the area than Garnet Valley. It’s been that way for years.

“We had a good game plan,” senior center Sam DiTrollio said. “We don’t change that much on offense. We still like to go and play hard-nose football.”

Add in an athletic quarterback who can throw the ball with efficiency, and now the Jaguars become extremely dangerous. The passing offense has been superb under Busenkell’s direction.

“They were a very physical Delco defense,” said Busenkell, who completed 8 of 10 passing attempts for 119 yards. “It never changes what we do. We just know we have to go out and execute our game plan.”

Gallagher enjoys being on the other end of Busenkell’s passes. He had seven catches -— all in the first half — for 83 yards and a touchdown.

“Max and I have been throwing the ball since we were really young,” he said. “It’s just great to be here, on this team, and be able to throw the ball like we have.

“It really comes down to our offensive line and the protection they give Max time to throw, and Max’s arm … he just puts it right into your hands every time. He’s got a really good arm and that makes it easy.”

It’s difficult to imagine anyone in the Central League stepping in Garnet Valley’s way. The Jaguars have reeled off 29 straight wins against league foes. Friday’s win was the 251st in Ricci’s storied career. Going into another big one at Ridley next week, the Jags have outscored the opposition, 251-47.

The playoffs beckon down the road and this Garnet Valley team has the chance to be something special.

“It’s tough to come out week in and week out and perform at a high level, but I can’t say enough about our scout team. They’re just incredible,” Gallagher said. “I know we’ll have another tough week of practice and get ready for Ridley.”



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