Unionville wins district championship, 35-25
11/28/2017 02:05PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
Late last Friday night, beneath the lights of Springfield High School's football stadium and over the torn-up grass of the field, the members of the Unionville High School football team celebrated in the aftermath of what happens when determination meets opportunity.
Just moments before, the Indians, seeded third in the District One, 5A playoffs, emerged from a third quarter deficit to defeat top-seeded and previously undefeated Springfield, 35-25, to win the District One, 5A championship for the first time since 1994.
Now 13-1 on the season, Unionville will advance to play Archbishop Wood on Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. for the 5A Eastern Pennsylvania championship at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. The winner of the game will earn a trip to Hershey to play for the 5A state championship on Dec. 8.
Ruddy with sweat and dirt and soaked from Gatorade showers, the players huddled with family and fellow students, and could barely contain their enthusiasm during head coach Pat Clark's post-game address. The championship trophy passed from hand to hand – a fitting gesture, given that so many Unionville players had a hand in the comeback victory.
“I'm really happy for them,” an exhausted Clark said after the game. “They're the guys that made it happen. Our kids willed it defensively. We knew we had to be aware of [wide receiver Kyle Long], and [running back Ja'den McKenzie] got banged up throughout the game, which helped limit their run game. I thought our kids on defense played with a great motor.”
As if following a Hollywood screenplay, the Indians saved the best scenes for the end, but set up their game-winning narrative with a story of its own: Holding the undefeated Cougars to nine first-half points.
While Unionville has been led by its offensive playmakers all season long, it's their defense that has often won games for them, and last Friday was no exception. Springfield quarterback Jack Psenicska was hurried throughout the entire first half, and pressure on him began early, as he coughed up the ball on his team's third play of the game, and was sacked by Elijah Wood for a 7-yard loss on Springfield's next possession.
Inheriting the ball on the 8-yard line, Psenicska's pass was picked off at the 18-yard line by Joe Zubillaga, who ran it in the for the touchdown, giving Unionville an early 7-0 lead with 2:45 left in the first quarter. With 1:09 left in the first quarter, Zubillaga again intercepted a Psenicska pass attempt.
Unionville dodged a proverbial bullet in the second quarter, when Springfield punter Jack Coary's 37-yard punt was bobbled and recovered by the Cougars at the Indians' 40-yard line. However, Coary was called in to punt four plays later, as the Indians held Psenicska to a 5-yard carry.
If Unionville's victory was dotted with big plays, it was not without its faults. With 4:40 remaining in the first half and his team ahead by a touchdown, Unionville quarterback Alex Gorgone coughed up the ball on his own 18-yard line, leading to a 10-yard touchdown run by MacKenzie with 4:02 remaining in the half – followed by a missed point-after – that staked the Indians to a 7-6 lead.
Taking over on its 37-yard line, however, Gorgone regrouped his team and led them to a 9-play, 63-yard touchdown drive that began with his cross-field toss to Zubillaga at midfield, who then scampered 35 yards to the Springfield 26-yard line. Following rushes by Gorgone and Zubillaga, Dante Graham carried the ball for a 2-yard TD with 37 seconds left in the half. With a 14-6 lead, Long returned the kickoff 70 yards to set up a 29-yard field goal with under 30 seconds remaining in the half, cutting Unionville's lead to 14-9 at halftime.
As the second half got underway, Springfield demonstrated without hesitation why they entered the game as the No. 1 seed in the 5A playoffs. Their opening kickoff was fumbled by Unionville and recovered at the Unionville 28-yard line, which was quickly followed by a 22-yard catch-and-run by Long that, despite an unsuccessful 2-point play, still gave the Cougars a 15-14 lead. A subsequent 27-yard field goal by Coary on its next possession extended Springfield's lead to 18-15.
On what may have been the most important possession of the season, Gorgone found wide receiver JT Hower over the middle with 1:36 left in the third quarter, who skirted three tacklers en route to a 50-yard touchdown run that regained the lead, 21-18.
In the fourth quarter, the Indians scored again on a blocked punt that was recovered on their opponents' 25-yard line, ending with a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Zubillaga with 9:46 left in the game. With just less than 8 minutes remaining, passes from Psenicska to Long and Philip Schovlin got the Cougar ball to the 5-yard line, and the drive was finished with a corner pass from Psenicska to Liam Difonzo to cut the Unionville lead to 28-25.
On fourth-and-two on Springfield's 39-yard line, Clark chose to punt away, and it was a decision that ultimately saved the season for his team. Sophomore punter Stefan Twombly's kick handed Springfield a possession at its own 1-yard line, and after a run by Psenicska got Springfield a little breathing room, he was hit hard in his end zone. The ball popped out, and a diving Woodall recovered it in the end zone with 1:54 left in the game to give the Indians a 35-25 win.
In the closing seconds of the game, with the win in hand, Clark huddled with his defense between plays during Springfield's remaining timeouts, as if to help compose them.
“I told them that this is a long game,” Clark said. “When things go right, you have to play the next play. When things go wrong, you have to play the next play. You have to keep your poise and finish the job.”
“We're a family,” Woodall said. “We went for the win. We support each other and we know that we can come back from anything.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.