Unionville defeats Garnet Valley, 8-6
By Steven Hoffman
As the tension-drenched fourth quarter unfolded, with Unionville clinging to an 8-6 lead, each snap of the football created a new narrative for the season-opening slugfest between Garnet Valley and Unionville.
Garnet Valley’s offense would move the ball forward a few yards and the momentum swung their way. Then Unionville’s defense would respond to the challenge and the Indians would seem to be on the verge of victory. Unionville’s offense would drive forward and then it would be Garnet Valley’s defense that would make a big play. It was the kind of game that football purists love—a hard-fought battle in the trenches between two well-coached teams with plenty of hard running and good tackling. And what the game lacked in points—how many football games are decided by a score of 8-6?—it made up for with fist-pumping, momentum-swinging plays.
“Their kids played hard and we played hard. It’s a rivalry football game,” said Unionville head coach Pat Clark shortly after his team held on for the 8-6 win. “When we play each other, it always seems to come down to the last play. And tonight it came down to the last play.”
“That,” said Garnet Valley head coach Mike Ricci, “was a great high school football game.”
The first amazing play of the game came midway through the first quarter. Unionville capitalized on good field position for its first offensive series, moving the ball from the 47 to the 33 of Great Valley. The drive stalled, but Unionville brought out a not-so-secret weapon: the right leg of starting quarterback Alex Pechin, who also handles his kicking and punting duties. When the Indians lined up to attempt a 50-yard field goal, Garnet Valley had to be wary of a fake because, well, high school teams don’t usually attempt field goals from 50 yards out. But Pechin boomed the kick through the uprights with distance to spare, making it 3-0. The large home crowd cheered wildly for Pechin, chanting AL-EX FOOT-BALL! AL-EX FOOT-BALL! whenever the team needed a big play.
Garnet Valley took the lead on the first play of the second quarter when, on fourth-and-three from the 20, quarterback Steve Flanagan connected with tight end Tom Cleary, who raced into the end zone for a score. The point-after attempt failed so it was 6-3.
It remained 6-3 as both teams’ offenses surged forward in bursts of three or four yards, but couldn’t reach the end zone. Unionville’s ground attack, which relied heavily on Brandon Boon, Austin Hofmann-Reardon, and Brendan Boyle, was effective at moving the ball behind good blocking by the offensive line. Garnet Valley’s primary offensive weapon was the running of Derrick West.
When a Garnet Valley drive stalled with 1:38 left in the second quarter, it looked like the Jaguars would still take the 6-3 lead into halftime. A good punt had Unionville starting at the 27, and there was no indication that either team would be able to put together a 73-yard drive in a minute and a half. But Garnet Valley was flagged for an illegal procedure on the punt and had to run the play again. This time, the snap sailed out of the reach of punter Denny Nealon and the ball bounced into the end zone. The only option Nealon had was to fall on the ball for the safety. It was now 6-5.
The second half started with Unionville on offense. Slowly but steadily the Indians marched down the field—Boone for two yards, Hofmann-Reardon for five yards, Boone for three yards, Boyle straight ahead for two yards and then to the left for seven yards. Pechin on a quarterback-keeper for one yard to move the chains. When Boyle darted to the right for 15 yards, the Indians were inside the 25-yard line. After six straight minutes on the field, Garnet Valley’s defense appeared to be vulnerable. But on a scramble by Pechin Garnet Valley was able to force a fumble, halting the drive at the 7.
Unionville’s defense pinned Garnet Valley right there after two good plays by middle linebacker Michael Weber. The Indians' offense took over in excellent field position at the 34 of Garnet Valley. Hofmann-Reardon powered his way through the line for a 17-yard run to the 15. Boone then bolted eight yards to the 7. Two plays later, the Indians picked up a first down at the 3. On three straight plays, Unionville tried to punch the ball in, but Garnet Valley’s defense yielded nothing. On fourth-and-three, Clark had no choice but to send Pechin in for a field goal attempt. This was a chip-shot in comparison to the 50-yarder, and Pechin made it 8-6 with 10:25 left in the fourth quarter.
Now it was Garnet Valley’s turn to run the ball time after time. They drove 70 yards on 14 plays, moving all the way to the 5. But with their backs against the end zone, Unionville’s tenacious defense answered the challenge. On fourth-and-goal from the 5, Flanagan dropped back and looked for an open receiver. Ricci said after the game that Flanagan’s primary target on the play was the six-foot-two Cleary, who caught the first touchdown. But Unionville defender Shane Jones disrupted the play by pressuring Flanagan. The quarterback was about to be dragged down when he desperately flipped the ball in the air. It was Unionville’s ball and the Indians set out to preserve the 8-6 lead with 3:28 to play.
Pechin continued his magic. On third-and-eight from his own 27, when it looked like Unionville would have to punt the ball away, he scrambled for 23 yards. The first down not only gave Unionville the advantage in the battle for field position, it also allowed the clock to continue to run. Despite the diminishing hopes, Garnet Valley’s defense wasn’t about to give up. They stopped Unionville on a fourth-and-one from the 38 and Garnet Valley had one more opportunity on offense.
Flanagan dropped back to throw a pass on first down, but it was batted down defensive lineman Andrew Jones. Flanagan picked up five yards on a QB scramble on second down, but a penalty wiped out the gain and precious time evaporated. With 15 seconds to play, Garnet Valley had time for one more play. Flanagan completed a pass to Cleary, setting in motion a hook-and-lateral play that almost worked, with a Garnet Valley player streaking down the right sideline with only one Unionville player—Pechin—standing in the way. Pechin made the game-saving tackle as the home crowd roared.
Clark called Pechin’s performance—with the field goals, the big first-down runs at critical moments, and the game-saving tackle—one of the best individual performances that he’s seen in a high school football game.
Clark was pleased with how hard his team played on both sides of the ball. Moving the ball isn’t easy against Garnet Valley, but the Indians’ diverse running attack managed to pick up enough yards to win the game.
“We run the ball—that’s our identity,” Clark said, adding that three of the members of the offensive line were starting for the first time. “I think they grew up tonight.”
Despite the fact that his team came out on the losing end of the game, Ricci saw a lot of positives with how his team played.
“I thought it was a fantastic game,” Ricci said. “I love coming here to play Unionville, it’s a great football environment here.”
Both coaches emphasized the need to move on after the non-league game, which is only the first step in a long season.
“The next week of practice is our best week of practice,” said Ricci, whose team plays Upper Darby next.
Unionville is looking forward to traveling to Exeter High School for a showdown on Friday night.
“Any time you win a rivalry game, you’re glad, but the reality is that we’re back to work now,” said Clark.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email email@example.com.