Downingtown East outmatches Avon Grove, 42-310/01/2019 12:35PM ● By Richard Gaw
As the home team stands began to clear out last Friday night soon after Avon Grove’s 42-3 loss to undefeated Downingtown East, Red Devils head coach Harry O’Neill stood on the field and pointed to his team’s opponent.
He called head coach Michael Matta’s club “an excellent team,” “physically strong,” and “the best team we’ve played all year,” and its proof was in the drubbing the Cougars gave the Red Devils, led by quarterback Andrew Person, running back Stanley Bryant and an unrelenting defense.
“They beat us in all phases of the game,” O’Neill said. “On film, they looked physically strong, and when they came here, they looked exactly the way they looked on film.”
From the game’s outset, the 6-0 Cougars again proved why they share the top of the Ches-Mont National Division with Downingtown West; why they have amassed 224 points and surrendered just 58 so far this season; and why they are currently ranked in the Top 25 in many Pennsylvania State high school polls.
With 9:04 left in the first quarter, Bryant broke several tackles on his way to a 14-yard rushing touchdown that gave the Cougars an early 7-0 lead. With 8:13 left in the quarter, Bryant, playing outside linebacker, swallowed up an Avon Grove fumble that led to a screen pass from Person to Spencer Uggla, who spun his way past defenders for a 28-yard touchdown run with 7:51 left in the quarter.
With 6:05 left in the first, Person connected with wide receiver Luke Connolly on a 40-yard TD strike on the Cougars’ first play from scrimmage, which was followed by a two-point conversion that staked Downingtown East to a 21-0 lead.
Avon Grove received a bit of life late in the first quarter when running back Colby Riddell broke through the line for a 32-yard run that moved the ball into Cougar territory for the first time, but with less than five minutes left, an Avon Grove fumble was recovered by Downingtown East on their 35-yard line. A pass interference on the Red Devils moved the ball to midfield, which was followed by a 22-yard strike from Person to wide receiver Nick Marra, an 11-yard run by Bryant and a 7-yard roll-out touchdown pass from Person to tight end Connor Noble with 3:53 left in the first quarter.
With 26 seconds left in the quarter, Avon Grove got on the board for the only time, on a 38-yard field goal by Bobby Smith.
With a 28-3 lead, Downingtown East continued its business-like offense to wrap up its scoring effort on two touchdowns in the second quarter. A four-yard touchdown reception from Person to Connolly with 8:49 left in the first half extended the Cougars’ lead to 35-3, and with 1:07 left in the half, Bryant scored his second TD of the game on a 14-yard carry.
A scoreless second half was accelerated by the use of the Mercy Rule, which under PIAA rules, goes into effect in the second half when one team goes ahead by 35 points or more. Under the rule, the game clock runs continuously, except for timeouts, injuries and after touchdowns.
The Downingtown East loss merely served as the latest defeat in an already hard-luck 2019 season for Avon Grove, one that has fallen to 1-5 and been dotted with heartbreaking, late-game losses to Owen J. Roberts and Bayard Rustin. At the game’s conclusion, O’Neill not only gave credit to Downingtown East but to his entire program -- including players and coaches -- for their show of resilience in the face of a tough season against more talented opposition.
He said that it is part of a different approach to the school’s football program, one that began when he took over as Avon Grove’s head coach in 2014.
“This is not a shot at anybody who has played here before, but we’re wired a little differently than we used to be,” said O’Neill, whose club faces Coatesville on Oct. 4. “We’re going to show up and play every down whether we’re losing 42-3 or whether we’re in the game. Where we’ve come in the six years I’ve been here to where we are now is the reason why we don’t have bad body language, and why nobody quit.
“We don’t cry about who we play, unlike other teams in our league,” O’Neill added. “I will bet that all ten teams on our schedule will make the playoffs, but you don’t hear us crying about what division we play in and who we play every Friday night. We show up and we play, and I’m proud of my guys for that. There are times we look at film and we think that we may be physically overmatched but mentally, we think that we have a shot, and that’s because our culture has changed.”
Downingtown East will take on its rival Downingtown East on Oct. 4, in a game of unbeaten teams.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].