Academy Park defeats Unionville, 28-1311/15/2021 09:44PM ● By Steven Hoffman
The second round playoff game between the Unionville Longhorns and the Academy Park Knights last Friday night was a tale of two halves.
In the first half, the Unionville Longhorns resembled the team that posted a 9-1 regular season record and opened the playoffs with an impressive 23-13 win over Springfield. The Longhorns played well on offense and defense, putting together two long scoring drives while also pitching a shutout on defense. They carried a 13-0 lead into halftime.
Then, in the second half, Academy Park flipped the script. They resembled the team that posted an 8-2 regular season record and opened the playoffs with a 40-15 win over Oxford. As this game of two halves unfolded, Academy Park scored 28 unanswered points to win the game, 28-13, and advance to the next round of the District 1 5A playoffs.
For the entirety of the first 24 minutes of game action, it was the Longhorns who seemed destined to reach the third round of the playoffs.
The Longhorns’ opening drive covered 65 yards over 14 plays. Quarterback Matt McCloskey moved the chains with a 9-yard carry, and a few plays later he tossed a 15-yard completion to Stephen Carello to move the ball to the 33 of Academy Park. Tight end Nathaniel Holt picked up 9 yards, and then Ryan Knightly moved the chains with a two-yard carry that moved Unionville into the Red Zone. McCloskey gained ten more yards over three consecutive carries to pick up another first down. Two plays later, running back Joseph King used his quickness to get around the left corner and move the ball all the way to the one-yard-line on an 8-yard carry. Running back Brendan D’Amico scored on a one-yard run, following the blocking of Jack Tuel and Owen Prysock up front. There was a bad snap on the extra point attempt, so the score was 6-0 with 5:01 left to play in the first quarter. The Unionville drive had taken seven minutes off the clock.
Academy Park quarterback Darrell Fields utilized the team’s top playmakers during the first offensive series. Fields threw a pass to speedy wideout Eric Willis, who turned the play into a 27-yard gain. Running back Terrence Oliver picked up 7 yards on his first carry of the game. The Knights marched down the field and were in the Red Zone when the first quarter ended. Facing a third-and-long from the 14 of Unionville, Willis got a carry and picked up about three yards before Unionville’s Luke Schriver made a nice tackle. That made it fourth-and-ten from the 11. Academy Park elected to go for it, but an incomplete pass ended the drive and gave the ball back to Unionville.
The Longhorns put together another productive drive that included two carries by McCloskey that totaled 20 yards and a 24-yard reception by Schriver. A few plays after that, McCloskey again teamed up with Schriver, this time for an 11-yard pass play that moved the ball to the 8. It was fourth-and-one. Unionville coach Pat Clark decided to go for it, and they called on D’Amico for another short yardage situation. He powered his way to a three-yard gain that gave the Longhorns a fresh set of downs to work with. They would need just one play as Knightly took a shovel pass and sprinted in for a five-yard touchdown. Kicker Brian Dym booted an extra point to make it 13-0.
On Academy Park’s next offensive series, they picked up two first downs, but Unionville’s defense stepped up with some big plays. Defensive back David Hoffmann broke up one pass play, safety Tucker Opdahl came up to make a good tackle to prevent Willis from picking up a first down on another play, and Holt tackled Fields for a loss. Academy Park soon had to punt the ball away, allowing Unionville to run out the clock on the first half.
Rarely will a football game turn so dramatically from one half to another as this one did.
After Unionville played so well on offense and defense in the first half, it was Academy Park’s turn to show why they finished as one of the top teams in the Del Val League and outscored opponents by more than 250 points during the course of the season. On the opening drive of the third quarter, Academy Park drove 66 yards on five plays—all carries by Oliver—to get on the scoreboard. Four of the carries were for 14 yards or more—an indication of things to come for the Knights. Academy Park went for two points and Willis took a direct snap and scored, cutting the Longhorns’ lead to 13-8.
Academy Park’s defense came up with a fumble recovery and then forced a three-and-out as momentum swung toward the Knights. They put together another scoring drive, this time 63 yards over ten plays—all of them on the ground. Oliver picked up 39 yards on the drive, and Willis put an exclamation point on the drive when he scored on a 15-yard run. The two-point conversion failed, but Academy Park now led 14-13 with less than a minute to play in the third quarter.
On their next possession, the Longhorns put together a decent drive and moved into Academy Park territory when McCloskey connected with Knightly on a 20-yard pass play. Academy Park was also flagged for a personal foul. But soon Unionville was facing a fourth-and-long situation. A pass to Schriver netted just a short gain, and the Longhorns turned the ball over on downs.
Unionville needed a big play to take back the momentum, but Oliver delivered a 42-yard run that quickly moved the ball deep into Unionville territory. Two plays later, Willis bolted into the end zone from 11 yards out. He then scored on a two-point attempt, making it 22-13 with 6:02 left to play in the game. Willis also scored the final touchdown of the game, this time from 20 yards out, making it 28-13.
Academy Park tallied more than 300 yards of offense in the second half, and Oliver accounted for 204 of those yards on the ground. With the 38 yards he gained in the first half, he finished with 242 yards rushing on the night.
Sixth-seeded Academy Park is now 9-2 on the season and will play Strath Haven, the second seed, on Friday night in the third round of the playoffs.
For many other teams, the Longhorns’ 2021 season would be a dream season. But Unionville has been so good for so long that 2021 represents just one more in a long line of good seasons. The Longhorns finished the season with a 10-2 record, and while the exit from the playoffs came earlier than anyone would have wanted, it was a very good season.