Dunlevy rushes for 135 in 28-13 win09/03/2014 01:25AM ● By Lev
By Richard L. Gaw
One, perhaps two years from now, when the Avon Grove High School football program is firmly entrenched in head coach Harry O’Neill’s philosophy of tough defense and disciplined offense, the good number of underclassmen who make up the Red Devil squad will likely remember the 2014 season-opening, 28-13 loss to cross-town rival Kennett on Aug. 30 as the night the new program officially began.
More importantly, for some, it was the night they learned the power of resiliency.
Moments after the expected pomp and circumstance of an opening night at Avon Grove’s home field, one that honored the military and their families – as well as held a moment of silence for Avon Grove Senior student Raziel Mireles, who had died the evening before in a drowning accident – the reality of a new season began. One the very first play from scrimmage, Red Devil junior quarterback Nick Dunlevy bolted from his own 34-yeard-line and ran 66 yards for the first score of the game, a play that took all of 19 seconds to complete. They were the first of 135 rushing yards Dunlevy would ring up on Avon Grove, a strong effort that was backed up by 71 yards in passing.
In Avon Grove football seasons recently passed, it became the norm for the club to pack up and quit in the face of such immediate humiliation, but O’Neill did not give up his position as defensive coordinator under Unionville coach Pat Clark so that he could sit idly at Avon Grove. On its first possession, Avon Grove came roaring back on offense, highlighted by a 35-yard pass from quarterback Nick Skulski to receiver Henry Buchanan that got the ball within Kennett territory. On the next play, running back Nate Jones scampered for 15 more yards. Eventually, after a fourth-and-five was stopped, the ball was turned over on downs within the 20 yard line, but the drive indicated that despite their inexperience, the Red Devils would not surrender.
A strong defense led by senior Ryan Hoffman (13 tackles) held Kennett in check on its next possession, and on their first drive of the second quarter, Avon Grove’s resiliency paid off. With the ball on the Kennett 39, a two-yard carry by quarterback Shane McLaughlin was followed by a 20 yard run by Jones. On second and 13 from the 20, McLaughlin found receiver J.J. Moroz for a 17-yard gain that got the ball to the three yard-line. After two penalties placed the ball back on the 20, McLaughlin again found Moroz for a ten-yard gain that got the ball to the ten, which set up McLaughlin’s tip-toe scamper up the left sideline for the game-tying score with 8:55 left in the half.
On its next possession, Kennett drove the ball from their own 28 to its second touchdown on the night, a 10-yard run by running back Miles Robinson that finished with a dramatic leap into the end zone with 4:12 left in the half.
Kennett extended its lead on a 79-yard drive engineered by Dunlevy, highlighted by a 35-yard strike to Robinson that set up a six-yard run by Dunlevy, and a subsequent five-yard touchdown carry by Dunlevy that pushed their lead to 21-7.
As with any new team with a new coach, new playbook and new direction, there are likely to be many growing pains, and for Avon Grove, these pains were in the form of penalties and turnovers. Perhaps none were more evident than in the Red Devils’ first possession of the final quarter. After Skulski had gotten his team within the Kennett 20, his pass attempt near the end zone was tipped, then recovered in the air by Kennett safety John Finfrock, who ran back 92 yards for the interception to make the score 28-7 with 9:05 remaining in the game.
Though its significance was negated by the wide differential in the score, Jones’ 76-yard touchdown run with 8:31 left to notch the game’s final score was a gorgeous, tight-rope wire run up the left sideline. Jones ran for a total of 177 yards on 17 carries, while Avon Grove’s alternate quarterbacks Skulski and McLaughlin threw for 60 and 65 yards, respectively.
Afterwards, O’Neill, his voice hoarse from coaching, talked about his team’s resiliency in fighting back from Dunlevy’s early touchdown. “They bought in to this program since the day I first got here, and it wasn’t even a question in my mind that they would not quit,” O’Neill said. “I knew that no matter what, that they want to fix this thing as much as I want to fix it. We’re not going to go away. We’re not going to be the same old Avon Grove. We’re going to line up and try to beat you.
“I told them that I don’t care what happened prior to March 17, which was the day I got hired,” he added. “It’s a long journey for us, and in order to get out of the wilderness, we have to play six seconds at a time, and all of us have to do our one-eleventh effort.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].