Jones scores 5 TDs in Avon Grove's 42-7 win over Kennett
● By Richard Gaw
In the opening days and weeks of Harry O・Neill・s tenure as head football coach at Avon Grove in the summer of 2014, he was unapologetic in saying that the school・s football program was in shambles, and painfully honest in his use of the phrase ・changing the culture・ when applied to the most integral component of the team he wished to transform. He had inherited a team that had gone 0-10 in 2013, so a change of direction was not only obvious, it was crucial.
Any change in the culture of the program during the 2014 season ・ any goals that O・Neill had set out to achieve ・ had to have been tucked down somewhere in the quiet space where intangibles like patience and fortitide reside in the back pages of his team・s playbook, because the Red Devils proceeded to embark on their second straight winless season. And yet, when in the slow course of what takes a team from bad to good, patience and fortitude never appear in the box scores or score touchdowns or sack the opposing quarterback for a ten-yard loss. They arrive slowly, like strangers who are misunderstood then accepted and then implemented.
Last Friday night, the patience and fortitude that O・Neill came to the Avon Grove program preaching at long last paid great dividends.
Behind a five-touchdown, 322-yard rushing assault by junior running back Nate Jones, the Red Devils ended their two-season, 20-game consecutive winless streak with a 42-7 thumping of Kennett, a convincing victory that ruined the debut of new Blue Demon Coach Doug Langley.
"The maturity level on this team has changed, and the culture has changed,・EO・Neill said moments after the victory. ・It・s a great group of dedicated kids. I told my guys, ・We don・t deserve to win. We・re not entitled to win, but we・ve worked hard enough to win.・EThe things that I told them more than a year ago, began tonight.
"I have 80 guys this year,・EO・Neill added. ・Last year, I had 56. Last year, I had six seniors, and this year, I have 16. You win in this league with seniors, and every one of them has bought into the program.・}
Jones ran roughshod over the over-matched Blue Demon defense all night, beginning on the Red Devils・ third play from scrimmage. Taking a hand-off from Avon Grove quarterback Shane McLaughlin at midfield, Jones ran to his right, then shifted gears and charged directly up midfield on his way to a 49-yard touchdown with 10:50 remaining in the first quarter.
On Avon Grove・s next possession, Jones scored again on a 36-yard run with 6:51 left in the first to give him just a shade less than 100 yards in rushing and the Red Devils a quick 14-0 lead. On Kennett・s next possession, sophomore quarterback Jake Dilcher scored his team・s only touchdown of the night on a short-yardage keeper with 3:38 left in the opening quarter.
While Jones seemed to score at will, the Avon Grove defense held Dilcher・s primary offensive weapon ・ pitches and sweeps to Nick Dunlevy in the backfield ・ to very little gain. With a little more than 11 minutes remaining in the first half, Jones scored his third touchdown on a one-yard run, leaving new coach Langley and his staff wondering how they could possibly contain Jones.
They never did.
With exactly four minutes remaining in the first half, Jones ran for his fourth touchdown of the game, this time on a 56-yard scamper up the far sideline, evading tacklers to give Avon Grove a commanding 28-7 lead at halftime, which was extended to 34-7 when, with 7 minutes left in the third quarter, Jones capped his five-TD night with a 25-yard touchdown run.
"He・s a beast, a special talent,・EO・Neill said of Jones. ・Shane [McLaughlin] can throw the ball and run the ball just enough, so that we・re balanced. We were really good on offense but this year, but we・re so much more improved on defense as well. We have a different attitude, and we feel like a different team. We understand that it・s one play at a time, and they went at this game one play at a time.・}
With 1:53 left in the third quarter, McLaughlin ・ who tossed for 96 yards on five-for-eight passing ・ found a cutting Brett Yurkovich across the middle for a 55-yard touchdown strike to complete a resounding imprint Avon Grove made not only on Kennett, but to the entire Ches-Mont League.
With the opening loss, Kennett will look to get in the win column when they travel to West Chester East on Sept. 11.
For all of its importance in the immediate future of the Avon Grove football program, O・Neill still saw the win as a ・baby step,・ one whose merits and accolades will be put to the test during every game of the season, beginning with thier game when the Red Devils travel to Oxford on Sept. 11.
"We・re still a long way from where we need to be, but we・re starting to figure out how to win,・Ehe said. ・Everything we・ve been doing has been different than the first year I got here. It・s a week-to-week, game-by-game, play-by-play process.・E
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.