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Football: Garnet Valley gets back to plan at half, beats Springfield

Garnet Valley quarterback Matt Mesaros picks up a first down in last week's game against Ridley. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

CONCORD TWP. — Garnet Valley went into the locker room Friday night feeling, with a certainty that few programs in the area can claim, that it didn’t play its way.

Being up just a touchdown on Springfield was not ideal, sure. But rushing for just 39 yards, passing for more than twice as many and being unable to consistently chew up yardage between the tackles? That’s not in the Jaguars’ DNA.

The halftime speech from first-year coach Eric Van Wyk was self-evident from the bruising, in-your-face drive that it inspired after the break.

Joe Checchio finished off the march with a one-yard dive, and Garnet Valley killed the clock in the second half on the way to a 20-7 win, the Jaguars’ 38th straight Central League triumph.

“We came in the locker room, he (Van Wyk) was like, this isn’t how we play. We need to be much more physical. You guys have it in you, you need to play more physical. They’re out-physicaling us, and we’re the most physical team in the Central League,” running back Luke Mingioni said. “It really motivated us to go out and grind it, play as hard as we can.”

Mingioni, a depth cog in Garnet Valley’s backfield stable, provided runs of 16 and 17 yards on that opening series of the third. The Jags (5-0, 4-0 Central) covered 71 yards on eight plays, all runs. They ran 40 plays in the second half to Springfield’s 17, suffocating the Cougars and controlling the clock.

Jack Westburg made it 20-0 on a seven-yard jet sweep with 1:07 left in the third. It complemented a seven-yard run by Jason Bernard on the Jags’ first snap of the game, after Tyler Lassik had picked off a pass and returned it 37 yards to the 7.

The Jags carried the ball 50 times for 230 yards. Six players had at least four carries, led by Bernard’s 16 for 71. Mingioni added eight for 65. Matt Mesaros was 10-for-17 through the air for 111 yards, hitting six receivers. The backbreaker was to backup running back Ronnie Leraris, who took a fourth-and-9 screen 13 yards through four tacklers to set up Westburg’s score.

“It’s nice because we can give guys breathers,” tight end/defensive end Jake McDowell said. “Our depth is incredible, we have so many guys who are ready to step up. But it’s also a nightmare for defenses because they don’t know who to cover. If they cover one guy, we’ve got another weapon. We just have so many playmakers who are able to do a good job.”

That unspectacular yet unrelenting pressure applied defensively. Springfield (2-3, 1-3) compiled an 18-play drive that ate up 10:32 in the first quarter, but it ended in a turnover on downs at the 27 on the first play of the second. Short of the series following Westburg’s score – a 22-yard hookup between Jake Rama and Mike O’Donnell, a 43-yard Aidan Kreydt end around before Rama snuck in for the TD – they didn’t sustain offense.

“We go in the locker room down 7-0 to one of the best teams in the state,” Kreydt said. “I don’t think that really mattered to us. We came out in the second half fired up, but it obviously didn’t go our way.”

Springfield committed two turnovers, Lassik’s interception, then a forced fumble in the final minute by Lassik that McDowell recovered. But for a Garnet Valley defense that has allowed just 41 points, it was the little things, repeated over and over, that made the difference.

“It’s always good when they’re driving down and we’re getting beat up, just to strike back and stop them, it feels amazing,” McDowell said. “It kills their momentum, and it brings the momentum in our favor.”

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