Aston >> West Chester East earned its first football victory of the season Friday evening, a hard-fought 29-0 win against host Sun Valley.
“It feels good,” said East head coach Scott Stephen. “When you’re 0-7, you always have choices, and our players are sticking together, they’re pulling for one another, they’ve worked extremely hard throughout the season. It’s nice to catch a W, because they’ve worked hard and they can see the preparation that goes into a win.”
The contest against Sun Valley (2-6) was a closely-fought defensive battle through the first three quarters, with the Vikings holding a slim 7-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter, West Chester East exploded for three long touchdowns, including a school-record 98-yard TD run by Mitch Ragni, to put the game away.
Through most of the first half, neither team penetrated deep into enemy territory. With about three minutes to go before halftime, West Chester East’s Tyler Wileczek grabbed a punt on the Vikings’ 40 yard line, and returned it all the way to the hosts’ 24. East gave the ball to Ragni five consecutive times, the fifth carry a 1-yard plunge into the end zone to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead with 2:01 left in the half.
Sun Valley then put together a quick drive, keyed by a long kickoff return by Noah Griffin and several pass completions from quarterback Steve Eskridge to junior Jonathan Grayson, to put the ball deep into Vikings’ territory. A fumble at the East 15 yard line ended the scoring threat.
“It was back-and-forth in the first half, a lot of defense on both sides of the ball,” said Stephen. “Sun Valley was doing some things defensively that were giving us some different looks; but hats off to our coaching staff for making adjustments at halftime, and, more importantly, hats off to our players for executing.”
Midway through the third quarter, East put together a long drive, consisting mostly of solid ground gains by Ragni. The visitors moved steadily down to the Sun Valley 19 yard line before a fumble gave the ball back to the Vanguards.
The next time the Vikings got the ball, they faced a third-and-21 at their own 39 yard line. West Chester East quarterback Ryan Mcintire flipped a short pass to Wileczek, who took it down the left sideline 61 yards for a touchdown. It was the opening play of the fourth quarter, and it gave the visitors a 14-0 lead.
“We had been showing [Sun Valley] a lot of runs up to that point, and we liked the defensive look we thought we might get on that play,” said Stephen.
Five plays later, Sun Valley faced a fourth-and-3 from its own 40 yard line, and attempted a pass that was picked off at midfield by West Chester East junior strong safety Brady Laird. He returned it all the way for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 20-0 lead with 10:02 left.
“Our defense played great all night,” said Stephen. “Our defensive coordinator, Gary Phillips, and his staff put our guys in the right positions, but our guys had to make the plays. The preparation started on Saturday morning, and we had a really nice week of practice. … We got several turnovers tonight, and when that happens, all 11 guys on the field are doing their job to force certain things on defense.”
Nine plays later, West Chester East made another pass interception when Wileczek snared a Sun Valley pass at the Vikings’ 2 yard line. On the very next play, Ragni rumbled 98 yards up the left side for a touchdown, the longest run in school history.
“We were just looking to get some room; but the nice thing with Mitch, who’s a track guy too, is that he combines a little bit of everything,” said Stephen. “And the guys up front needed to do their job to make that play happen too.”
Ragni finished the game with 217 rushing yards on 22 carries.
With 19 seconds left, Sun Valley attempted a pass play from deep in their own territory, and West Chester East sophomore Pablo Ortiz nailed the Vanguard QB in the end for a safety to make the final score 29-0.
Sun Valley suffered several injuries Friday evening that hampered its performance. One of them was to senior back Andrew Kmett.
Sun Valley head coach Ernie Ellis said, “We had a couple of guys knocked out of the game tonight. Kmett’s usually our lead blocker; he’ll typically set the edge, make the hole, and not having him out there really, really hurt. But that’s not an excuse; we did not execute, and that’s what it comes down to, we have to execute. I’m super disappointed tonight – at myself, the other coaches are disappointed in themselves – it’s back to the drawing board. We’ve got to get back up and keep coming to work every day.”