Kennett beats Avon Grove 25-23 on Tuley's kick
08/29/2017 12:33PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
The black, rubbery residue of Kennett's home turf dotted the face of Kennett High School's new varsity football coach Josh Kaufman last Friday evening, just moments after his kicker James Tuley's 32-yard field goal with no time left on the clock gave the Blue Demons a stunning 25-23 victory over Avon Grove, and sent Kaufman to the ground in jubilation and relief.
When Kaufman got back on his feet, his players were swarming around the field like giddy schoolchildren at recess, having just survived a merry-go-round of momentum and emotions against a resilient Avon Grove squad who will likely compete at the top level of the Ches-Mont this season. When asked about his inaugural victory as Kennett's coach, Kaufman finally found his breath again.
“I didn't envision this. I don't think anyone could have,” he said. “The back and forth, the momentum, the fumble, the great first half, the great second half. We had momentum and then they took the momentum back."”
It only took Kennett's opening touchdown drive in the first quarter to register who will be the key components of the team's offense this season: Quarterback Jake Dilcher, running back Garrett Cox, and wide receiver Mitch Kosara.
Inheriting the ball on its own 32-yard line, Kennett drove 68 yards -- mostly on Cox's running -- in a scoring drive that ended with a 24-yard TD pass from Dilcher to Kosara with 4:03 left in the quarter, which was followed up by a two-point conversion.
Sporting an 8-0 lead, Kennett's second scoring threat ended when Avon Grove recovered a fumble in its own end zone with one second remaining in the first quarter, despite a 35-yard pass from Dilcher to wide receiver Chris Brooks.
On its first possession of the second quarter, Avon Grove quarterback Shane Wolford engineered a drive on the strength of running back Kevin Francis' runs, and with 7:46 left in the first half, a screen pass that wide receiver Tyler Boyd ran in for the touchdown was called back on an offensive holding penalty. Avon Grove's second scoring attempt was thwarted on an interception by Kosara with 30 seconds remaining in the half.
The Red Devils got on the scoreboard early in the third quarter on a 71-yard, eight-snap drive that was dominated by Francis, who bullied his way through the Kennett line, ending with a one-yard TD carry with 6:15 left in the third quarter. The point-after failed, giving Kennett a narrow 8-6 lead, but on Kennett's next possession, a bad snap over punter Tuley's head was recovered by Avon Grove's Thomas D'Antonio in the Kennett end zone with 4:02 left in the third. After a successful PAT, Avon Grove found themselves in the lead, 13-8.
The Blue Demons recovered their lead with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter on a QB keeper by Dilcher, followed by a two-point conversion pass to wide receiver Danny Mancini. Down 16-13, Avon Grove tied the score on a 24-yard field goal by kicker Kevin Sheehan with 8:04 left.
With just over four-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game, Dilcher orchestrated a 81-yard touchdown drive that featured blistering runs by Cox and a ten-yard penalty by Avon Grove. With 1:03 left, Cox broke through the middle of the field for a 14-yard score, that after a failed two-point conversion, gave Kennett a 22-16 lead.
On the ensuing kick-off, Avon Grove returner Kyri Rossiter gave his team good field position by returning the kick to midfield. On its first play, Wohlford found wide receiver Dylan Lapham at the Kennett 40-yard line, who promptly flicked the ball to Francis behind him, for a hook-and-lateral play that ended with a 40-yard TD sprint by Francis up the sidelines with 45 seconds left in the game. After an extra point kick, Avon Grove clung to a 23-22 lead.
Dilcher then went to work on his own 25-yard line, starting with a 34-yard strike to Kosara that moved the ball to the 41-yard line of Avon Grove with 27 seconds left. After two incomplete passes, Dilcher connected with wide receiver Justin Shacknai with six seconds remaining that moved the ball to the 30-yard line. On his last play, Dilcher heaved the ball into the end zone, which resulted in a 15-yard pass interference call on Avon Grove as the clock expired, setting up Tuley's game-winning kick.
“I knew that it was make or break, and I was ready,” Tuley said. “I was really happy to share the moment with my holder, Jake Dilcher. We've been best friends forever. He was not originally supposed to hold the ball, but I told the coach, 'He's holding the ball for me. I know we're going to make it.'”
Kaufman gave credit to Dilcher for his poise in engineering Kennett's last drive.
“Jake is really dangerous, and he provides my offense with a lot of different capabilities, and so I'm very fortunate to have him. He's a very hard worker," he said. “He knows the playbook as well as I do.
“This was a heavyweight battle between two really good football teams,” Kaufman added. “Avon Grove is going to have a great season. They have a good quarterback. They have a great running back. They're very well coached, and we're very, very fortunate to come out on top this game.”
Kennett travels to Boothwyn this Friday for a non-conference game against Chichester, while Avon Grove has its home opener this Friday against non-conference opponent Harry S. Truman High School.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.