Special teams plays propel Unionville to a 27-17 win
● By Steven Hoffman
Two special teams plays—Brandon Boon’s 73-yard kickoff return touchdown and Trevor Gardiner’s blocked punt that he then returned 15 yards for another touchdown—propelled Unionville to a hard-fought 27-17 win over Avon Grove on Sept. 18.
Boon also contributed two rushing touchdowns and ran for 133 yards, most of them in the second half, as Unionville held off a resurgent Avon Grove squad.
Avon Grove took the early lead, 3-0, after putting together a 12-play drive on the game’s opening offensive series. The drive took more than seven minutes off the clock.
Nate Jones, Avon Grove's standout running back, carried the ball seven times during the drive, picking up 31 yards, including a nice 15-yard gain. Jones also moved the chains on a crucial fourth-and-one play that gave Avon Grove the ball at the ten-yard line.
Unionville’s defense stopped Avon Grove right there, though, as they tackled Jones in the backfield on one play and cornerback Elan Nash defensed a pass by Avon Grove quarterback Shane McLaughlin. Kicker Kevin Sheehan gave his team a 3-0 lead with a 30-yard field goal.
Unionville took the lead on the ensuing kickoff when Boon darted 73 yards for a touchdown.
Avon Grove’s offense spent most of the rest of the first quarter marching down the field, but when the drive stalled with just under a minute to play, the team was in the unlikely position of trailing, 7-3, despite spending 11 of the game’s first 12 minutes on offense.
The score remained 7-3 until Unionville’s special teams unit turned in another big play, this time deep in Avon Grove territory. Trevor Gardiner blocked a punt, picked up the ball at around the 15-yard line, and raced into the end zone with 4:03 left to play. The point-after kick failed, but Unionville still held a 13-3 lead, an advantage the Indians would carry into the second half. In addition to the special teams plays, Unionville's defense was doing a good job of limiting Avon Grove’s running attack.
Unionville quarterback Brendan Boyle engineered the team’s best drive of the game to start the third quarter. The big play was a 49-yard gain by Boon as he eluded tacklers and raced past defenders for the big gain. Boyle also had two nice carries during the drive, including a 13-yard gain that moved the ball to the one-yard line. Boon got the call and powered his way into the end zone, making it 20-3.
During the last few years, Avon Grove would have struggled to come back against a good team like Unionville, but coach Harry O’Neill has the Red Devils in a much-improved position. There is no quit in the team, and soon Avon Grove was making a comeback.
With the Indians focused on stopping the run, McLaughlin started putting the ball in the air with more frequency. On second down from his own 28, the left-handed quarterback did a nice job of scrambling to his left to avoid the pass rush, and then he tossed a beautiful 39-yard pass to tight end Chris Vahey. Three plays later, McLaughlin found the tight end again for a 13-yard play. Following a quick 12-yard slant pass to Henry Buchanan, the Red Devils were at the six-yard line. Running back Kevin Francis bulled his way into the end zone, cutting the score to 20-10.
As the third quarter moved to the fourth quarter, Unionville embarked on a time-consuming drive that faltered at the 30-yard line of Avon Grove, but took valuable time off the clock.
On the next possession for Avon Grove, McLaughlin engineered perhaps the most impressive drive of the game, completing five of eight passes as Avon Grove moved from its own 25 to the 15 of Unionville. The big play during the drive was a 13-yard pass to Buchanan that moved the chains on a fourth-and-ten play. Then, on second down from the 15 of Unionville, McLaughlin dropped back to pass. He saw room to run and bolted 14 yards through the heart of Unionville's defense to the one-yard line. Francis got the call on the next play and carried the ball into the end zone, cutting the lead to 20-17. There was 4:22 left to play in the game.
It took less than 90 seconds of game time for Unionville to respond with a 65-yard drive. Boon scored from three yards out, the third time that he found his way into the end zone, pushing Unionville’s lead to 27-17.
Avon Grove’s offense quickly marched down the field, but a pass by McLaughlin bounced off a receiver’s hands and Elan Nash intercepted the ball at the goal line for Unionville. With only 1:24 left in the game, the Indians just had to run out the clock to conclude the 27-17 victory.
The result left both teams with a 2-1 record as Avon Grove moves on to host a Sept. 25 Downingtown East, while Unionville goes on the road to face Bayard Rustin on the same night.