Unionville’s late comeback defeats Great Valley, 16-13
10/11/2016 01:47PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
As the autumn sun slowly began to recede over Unionville High School last Friday evening, so too did any sense of enthusiasm in the school’s annual Homecoming festivities that were about to culminate in a football game between visiting Great Valley and the host, head coach Pat Clark’s Indians.
Thirty minutes before kickoff, the home team’s side of the field was barely filled, and the marching band passed the time on their iPhones, giving off the hushed vibe of a well-behaved library contingent. It was as if everyone was waiting for something to happen.
Eventually, something incredible did.
Any narrative to describe the emotions following Unionville’s come-from-behind 16-13 victory over Great Valley—culminating in a touchdown run by Unionville quarterback Joe Zubillaga with 42 seconds left in the game – would fall short of proper description. Rather, what the Homecoming crowd drove away from on Oct. 7 was told in snapshots: Clark leaping into the air on the sidelines, in awkward and pure jubilation; a young quarterback nearly in tears as he described his team’s refusal to quit when behind by two scores; a student section that spilled out of the stands after the game ended; and most vivid of all, Clark’s players dumping a bucket of water over him at midfield, in celebration of his 100th career win as head coach at Unionville.
The jubilant aftermath of the game, one that littered the Unionville field with players, fans and coaches after the victory, was magnified by the hurdles the Indians needed to clear to get to the point.
On its first possession of the game, Great Valley, led by senior Robert Geiss, marched from its 25 yard-line to within Unionville’s red zone, finished off by a 36-yard field goal by kicker Pat Sauer with 7:39 left in the first quarter.
On its first snaps of the game, the combined running game of Zubillaga and junior running back Jack Adams moved the ball from the Unionville 13 all the way to the Great Valley 16-yard line. On fourth and one, Indian kicker Matthew Mainwaring booted a 33-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining in the quarter to tie the score.
Great Valley inherited the ball on its 41-yard line to begin the second quarter, and carries by senior running back Mark DeRobertis and a 31-yard strike by Geiss to receiver Anthony Liberato moved the ball to the Unionville 3-yard-line. Two carries by DeRobertis got the ball to the one-yard-line, and with 9:57 left in the first half, Geiss scored on a quarterback keeper which, after Sauer’s kick, sent the Patriots into halftime with a 10-3 lead.
There was one more hurdle for Unionville to overcome. Deep into the second quarter, Zubillaga was brought down hard on a keeper, got up and left the game, hobbling toward the sidelines.
“Our kids have always had mental toughness,” said a water-soaked Clark after the game. “We went into halftime and said, ‘Look, ideally, we’d like to tie the game.’ We then went down two scores late in the game, but they just kept fighting back, and it’s because we’re a team. I don’t think we have a ton of superstars, but as a team we find ways to get it done, and that’s all you can ask of these kids.”
The good news for Unionville was that Zubillaga had his ankle inspected and okayed at halftime and returned to action in the second half. The bad news was that with 7:11 left in the third quarter, a Great Valley punt was fumbled by a Unionville returner, and recovered by the Patriots at the Unionville 30-yard-line.
On his first snap, Geiss rolled out and tossed a timing pattern pass in the corner of the end zone to Liberato, which resulted in a pass interference penalty on Unionville.
The penalty gave Sauer all the space he needed, and with 5:44 left in the third quarter, his 31-yard field goal gave the Patriots a 13-3 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, carries by Zubillaga and Adams moved the ball to the Great Valley red zone, but with 11:54 left in the game, Mainwaring’s field goal attempt sailed wide right.
A minute later, Unionville inherited the ball back at midfield. Zubillaga found junior wide receiver JT Hower, who made a leaping catch to get the ball to the Great Valley 35 yard-line. A keeper by Zubillaga moved the chains to the 29-yard-line, which was followed by a spectacular run by Adams, who carried a defender with him to the 12.
With 9:10 left in the game, Adams’ number was called again, and he bolted the remaining 12 yards for a touchdown. After Mainwaring’s kick, Unionville found themselves down, 13-10.
Clark credited his defense for opening up the opportunities for his offense.
“We held Great Valley to a field goal in the second half, which was a huge part of the game,” he said. “If you hold them to a field goal on a short field, that’s a win for us. When you only give up one touchdown, you can always find a way to win.”
Although the lion’s share of the standout defense should be credited to Unionville’s defensive line and its linebacker trio, perhaps the most important defensive stop was made by senior defensive back Zach Nance. On fourth-and-5 with four minutes remaining, Geiss rolled out to his left and sprinted for the chains, but was stopped just short of a first down by a diving Nance.
The play opened the door for Zubillaga to eventually close. On fourth-and-3 from his own 32, Zubillaga drove up the middle for a first down. Adams carried for a few more yards, and a Zubillaga keeper moved the ball to near midfield. After a Hower catch and Adams rush got the ball to the Great Valley 39 yard-line, Adams collared in a one-handed catch at the 25 yard-line.
With 56 seconds left in the game, Zubillaga carried the ball to the 17. On the next snap, he faked a hand-off to Adams and scampered through the defense for a 17-yard touchdown with just 42 seconds left in the game, to give his team a 16-13 victory.
“This was the biggest game of my life, and maybe the biggest game I’ll ever play in my life,” said the emotional Zubillaga. “I’ve never had a greater win than this. I’ve never felt anything like this before. I just saw my guys blocking and just hit it. I couldn’t tell who was running for me, so I just kept running. My teammates should take credit for that touchdown.”
In the closing seconds, as Geiss marched his team to the Unionville 32, the Indian defense came through again, breaking up an end zone pass with just three seconds left.
With the win, Unionville moved to 4-3 overall and now stands atop the Ches-Mont American division with a perfect 3-0 record. On Oct. 14, the Indians will make the short trek to Kennett Square to plays their rivals, the Kennett Blue Demons, while Great Valley (4-3 overall, 2-2 in Ches-Mont American) hosts Oxford on Oct. 14.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.