LOWER MERION — Sun Valley showed some grit Friday night.
The Vanguards not only overcame the loss of Juwan Chandler but also a 14-point, first-quarter deficit for a hard-earned 34-28 win over Harriton on the road.
Quarterback Gabe Boccella scored the winning touchdown with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Boccella’s sneak capped a 16-play drive that took up over six minutes of clock.
“It would have worked out better if we had scored with five seconds to go,’ head coach Ray Gionta said with a laugh after the game. “But that’s what we wanted to do…take as much time off the clock as we possibly could and score a touchdown.’
The Vanguards (4-7) had a number of big plays in its comeback, including an 11-play drive going into the second quarter that finished with Kijana Gordon scoring on a 15-yard run.
After the teams traded possessions that stalled, Harriton, leading 14-6 at the time, drove the ball to the Sun Valley one-yard line only to lose possession on a fumble on the handoff.
After moving the ball just five yards on two carries, Gordon streaked through the middle of the line and raced 94 yards to tie the game (Boccella hit Kyle Herre for the two-point conversion).
“That series was the crucial play of the game,’ Gionta said.
Gordon deferred his success to those who paved the way.
“Obviously it starts with the line,’ said Gordon, who finished with 279 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns. “I really didn’t have to make a move so I give it all to the line. I just had to turn up the speed and I scored on just a sprint.’
Gordon said there were no angles to cut down once he was in the open field. It was just a matter of turning on the burners.
“I just want straight on,’ Gordon said. “I wasn’t trying to lose speed trying to cut, so I just ran straight on’
Gordon said has been called on several times this season as Chandler has had his ups and downs with injuries.
Friday night Chandler said he got hit on special teams after the Rams kicked off after their first touchdown. “I have a stinger,’ Chandler said. “I’ll be ready for the Turkey Bowl (against Chichester).’
More important for the Vanguards Friday night, Gordon was ready to play and produced.
“I just had to step it up,’ Gordon said, “You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do and that’s 110 percent every time.’
Also rushing the ball well for the Vanguards were Quentin West who carried it 13 times for 75 yards and Jon Kester who carried the ball 12 times for 55 yards.
Boccella completed just one of his four passes, but made it count, hitting Herre with 19-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
The Vanguards offensive line was never better Friday night. Gionta was moving his lineman around a lot during the game and the strategy seemed to work.
“We have a few player where the guards and tackles switch to throw the defense off and give them a different look,’ senior lineman Ed Racine said. Then we have a tackles right formations where I go over to the right side…it’s unbalanced …coach has a few plays up his sleeve people don’t know about. They worked tonight.’
Racine who was joined by a host of great blocking by his teammates Friday night including Mike Fisher, Nigel Bell, Bobby Koons, Logan Markley, Anthony Ruggiero plus Nate Cusumano and James Gines.
Racine said they knew they had to be successful when Chandler was injured. “It’s the next man up, that’s how we feel,’ Racine said. “I talked to him on the sideline and he was really bummed out that he couldn’t play. I’m glad we go this win for him.’
Harriton (1-10) was led by quarterback junior Patrick Stewart who was outstanding in defeat going 17 of 34 for 324 yards and four touchdown passes.
For the seniors at Sun Valley, there are no playoffs. But there is their annual Turkey Bowl game against Chichester Thanksgiving Day.
“Can’t wait,’ Gordon said.
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