Unionville improves to 7-0 with Homecoming win over Bayard Rustin
● By Steven Hoffman
Moments after his team pulled out a hard-fought 28-21 victory over visiting Bayard Rustin on Friday night, Unionville head coach Pat Clark said, “This is what a game with Rustin is like.”
Whenever Clark’s Indians and Mike St. Clair’s Golden Knights face off on the football field, a good, old-fashioned football game breaks out—one that will inevitably be decided by tackling and blocking and running the football. The two teams are perennial powerhouses in the Ches-Mont League, and they save some of their best football for when they are lined up against each other. That was certainly true in the latest clash, which saw momentum swing from one team to the other throughout, and the result hinged on just a few key plays.
Rustin struck first with 1:43 left in the first quarter when running back Ty Pringle scored on a five-yard touchdown run. The score was set up when quarterback Steven Pileggi completed a short pass to tight end Sean Hopkins, and he slipped a tackle and raced down the left sideline for a 37-yard gain.
Unionville battled back on the next offensive series, led by the passing of senior quarterback Alex Gorgone and a running attack that featured Joe Zubillaga, Jack Adams, and Dante Graham. A 14-yard carry by Zubillaga moved the Indians to the 19-yard line of Rustin. After two productive carries by Adams—one for eight yards and another for eleven yards—the Indians were in the end zone, tying the game at 7-7.
Rustin continued to have success moving the ball on the ground, driving 65 yards on nine plays on its next possession. Pringle gained 35 of those yards on five carries, while Michael Covert picked up 27 yards on three carries. Nick Benoit scored the touchdown on a three-yard run, giving the Golden Knights a 14-7 advantage.
On Unionville’s next series, the Indians marched 85 yards on eight plays. Gargone moved the chains on an 11-yard pass play to receiver Nick Schnaars and on a nice 24-yard pass play to receiver J.T. Hower. The drive concluded when Gorgone again found Hower for a 33-yard gain—this time for a touchdown. The game was tied with 1:17 left to play in the second quarter.
Unionville got the ball first in the second half, and they made the most of it by embarking on an 80-yard drive that would give them their lead for the first time in the game. Unionville’s diverse running attack continued to be effective behind the blocking of linemen like Joe Hagen, JB Bowers, Declan Boyle, Pablo Aviles Bernal, and Cole Sheehan. Hower and Zubillaga each moved the chains with gains on the ground. Unionville moved into Rustin territory when Gorgone connected with Adams on a seven-yard play. On the very next play, Gorgone threw a seven-yard pass to Schnaars, setting up a crucial fourth-and-one. Clark, who has won more than 100 games at the helm of the Indians, knows his team well. He decided to go for it on fourth down, confident that his players would do their jobs on the big play. It helps having such a versatile offensive weapon in Zubillaga, who picked up two yards on the fourth-and-one to allow Unionville’s drive to continue. On the next play, Zubillaga took the ball, faked a run, pulled the ball down and threw a pass to a wide open Hower. The receiver broke a tackle and raced into the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown. Kicker Dominic Braithwaite gave the Indians a 21-14 lead.
Rustin tied the game on its next offensive series, relying on the running game on a seven-play, 50-yard drive after kick returner Collin Hurley gave the Golden Knights good starting field position. Pringle picked up 24 yards on four carries during the drive and scored a touchdown from two yards out, tying the score at 21-21. That was still in the score when the fourth quarter got underway.
After Unionville’s defense forced Rustin to punt the ball away with 11:14 in the game, the Indians went back on the offensive. Adams gained 19 yards on one carry, and Hower gained five more on another play. On another fourth down play, Gorgone completed a pass to Hower, who managed to turn the play into a 29-yard gain that set up the Indians at the nine-yard line of Rustin. Two plays later, Gorgone turned in a highlight reel play, avoiding three defenders as he scrambled around in the backfield and bought enough time for Connor Schilling to get open in the end zone. Gorgone placed the ball perfectly for Schilling to haul in the reception. It was 28-21, in favor of Unionville. There was 9:21 left to play in the game.
The Indians’ defense made a big stop on Rustin’s next offensive series as Hower came up from the cornerback position to make a good tackle on receiver Carson Jones after he hauled in a pass that gained three yards on a third-and-seven play. On fourth-and-four, Rustin gave the ball to Pringle, but Unionville’s defense swarmed to the ball and stopped the ball carrier just short of the first down. That gave the ball back to Unionville’s offense.
Gorgone got the drive off to a good start, bolting 15 yards right through the middle of Rustin’s defense. But four plays later, near midfield, Unionville fumbled away the ball and Rustin had another chance to tie the game.
Once again, Unionville’s defense was equal to the task at hand. Rustin moved the ball all the way to the 29 of Unionville before the Indians’ defense came up with a stop on fourth-and-two to get the ball back with 1:41 left to play.
Unionville’s offense needed to make one more big play, converting a fourth-and-one with 8.2 seconds left to seal the victory. Unionville’s offense converted three fourth-down opportunities during the game, while the team’s defense stopped Rustin on two fourth-down opportunities. As is usually the case when these two teams meet, just a few plays meant the difference between a win and a loss, and those fourth-down plays loomed large.
Clark said that he was very proud of his team’s effort. Unionville made some adjustments at halftime that helped the defense slow down Rustin’s strong offensive attack during the second half.
“We tweaked some things at halftime, but we also talked about just doing your job,” Clark said. “We were able to bear down. It’s really about focusing on defense.”
On offense, Gorgone continued to demonstrate his growth as a quarterback and leader on the team, Clark said. The Indians compiled 400 yards of offense against Rustin.
Clark lauded St. Clair’s Rustin squad. For the last decade, the Ches-Mont League's American Division title has come down to these two teams, and they have played some memorable games battling for supremacy.
“They gave us everything they had,” Clark said of the Golden Knights. “That is a championship program that Rustin has, and you have to give them credit.”
The win improved Unionville’s record to 7-0 and put them in a strong position to win a third straight American Division title. Unionville will face Downingtown East, who is also undefeated, on Friday, Oct. 13. The game is at Downingtown East.
Clark, as always, is emphasizing the need for his team to take the schedule one game at a time and not to overlook any team that they will face.
Under Clark, Unionville has established a tradition of excellence, and there have been quite a few very good teams through the years. What stands out to the head coach about the 2017 squad?
“I like this team’s grittiness and focus,” Clark said. “I’ve maybe had bigger teams or stronger teams, but this team is very mature and they have a grittiness to them.”