Pechin, Scargill help power balanced offense, while defense turns early struggles around
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — First, they had to battle thunder and lightning, which delayed the game twice, second, they had to overcome a strong rushing start by Avon Grove, and finally, they had to overcome a bit of sloppy play, when admittedly the game was largely out of reach.
The Unionville High School football team managed all three, holding off the visiting Red Devils, 41-21, in a stormy Thursday night matchup.
The game started more than 30 minutes late, thanks to a line of showers and lightning in the area — Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association rules require a 30-minute wait, following lightning being seen during a high school sporting event. A second delay came in the final seconds of the first half.
And while the weather didn’t seem to phase the Indians, Avon Grove’s running game seemed like it was going to be a major issue, as Jake Parola kept gashing the the middle of Indian defense, powering the Red Devils to a 59-yard, 12-play scoring drive in the opening minutes of the game.
If Unionville was going to hang in, let alone win, Indians’ defensive coordinator Harry O’Neill was going to have find a fix and quick. Needless to say, he did and the Unionville shut down Avon Grove until the game was out of doubt.
“Early on, they did a nice job with the run,” Unionville Head Coach Clark said. “They hadn’t shown that much run the first few weeks, and I don’t think we were really focused on that aspect of the game. Harry did a good job of changing fronts and getting our kids refocused. I thought the turnovers and stops were key to changing momentum.”
Another key piece, the continuing emergence of junior quarterback Alex Pechin, who threw for 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns. A new wrinkle — Pechin also picked up yards on the ground, 54, including a 55-yard scoring run.
And while Pechin was impressive, so too, was running back Garrett Scargill, who rushed for 93 yards on the night, and ran with power up the middle — the latest in a long line of Unionville backs to show that particular skill. With a newfound airgame and the old-school running attack, it looked like the Indians found their zone on offense, Thursday night.
“Offensively, we’re going to take what the defense gives us,” Clark said. “We had at least eight guys touch the ball on offense. That’s pretty good balance. I think that in order to be a championship level team, we have to execute in both the run and pass game. I think our yardage was about 50% run and 50% pass.”
Although the Indians were sluggish in the first quarter, they came to life in the second quarter — and built a nearly insurmountable lead before lightning in the distance halted play with :14.4 remaining in the half.
Trailing 8-0, after Tanner Peck’s TD scamper, Unionville got it going by playing to the program’s traditional strength: a pounding ground game, after snagging an Avon Grove fumble on the Red Devils’ 30. Scargill pounded the ball down to 5 on four carries and Dom DiBiaggio scored to cap the drive.
Enjoying a short field after an Avon Grove three-and-out, Pechin threw a strike to Scargill for a 36-yard TD, to give the Indians the lead, 14-8. After Unionville’s defense stalled the Red Devils on its own 35, the offense came right out and scored again, this time on Pechin’s 55-yard run, to make it 20-8.
Seizing an opportunity with just over a minute left in the half, the Indians went into a “lightning” drill, with Pechin slinging sideline passes, driving the team down the field, completing 5-of-6 passes for 67 yards in the final minute of the half.
Once the lightning — at least, that coming from the sky — left for good and the game resumed, Unionville went back into ground-pound mode, chewing up the clock and essentially putting the game away after Austin Hoffman-Reardon’s 12-yard scoring run made it 34-8.
Avon Grove did manage a couple of late TDs — and Pechin rushed for a second score in a second half that saw some uneven play. Still, Clark said he continued to see improved play and execution from his squad, but allowed there are still a few issues to work on.
“I am pleased with our progress,” Clark said. “We got a little undisciplined late in the game and gave up yards, but we are taking care of the football on offense and that’s big, when you combine it with defensive stops and turnovers. We can continue to get better; we face a really good Sun Valley team next week – one I think will be in the hunt for a league title, so our mental execution needs to continue to improve.”