Late FG decides District One, 5A playoff opener
By Al Tustin, Staff Writer, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The faces told the story.
Joy — on the faces of West Chester East football players after Jake Bonnett’s final minute, 27-yard field goal gave it a hard-fought 10-7 win over Unionville in the opening round of the District One, 5A playoffs Friday night.
Pain — for the sixth-seeded Indians (7-4, 6-0), who seemed destined to make a run in this year’s new playoff format, but never could seem to get their offense in rhythm against the swarming 5-6, 11th seeded Vikings’ defense.
“We thought we could play defensively with them and make things tough,” Unionville Head Coach Pat Clark said afterward. “But we couldn’t find enough points tonight.”
As both teams displayed stout defense, it became increasingly likely that the game would come down to one small play or a quick sequence. In this case, it was the opening moments of the third quarter when East suddenly found its way on offense — and the running of Jared Cooper and Pierre Marchant took the opening kickoff down the field for quick score, to the tie the game.
“I think they came out fired up, and we were on our heels a little bit,” Clark said. “I thought after that first drive we adjusted, we blocked a field goal and it kind of went back and forth until the last drive.”
But just as quickly, the game settled back into a defensive struggle — until the final minutes when the Vikings mounted the decisive drive to push into scoring position as the clock ran into the final minute. Bonnett — who had an earlier field goal attempt blocked — nailed a 27-yard kick high and deep to decide the game with :13 left.
Unionville took a halftime lead on a 20-yard scamper by Jack Adams.
Although the end was not what was hoped for, Unionville again has much to point at with pride for the 2016 season. After a tough 0-2 start, and injuries to the first and second team quarterback, the Indians righted themselves, winning seven of eight down the stretch — marred only by a loss to powerful Downingtown East — en route to a second straight Ches Mont American Division title and a perfect record in conference.
Despite having a solid core coming back for 2017, key seniors such Jesse Gill, James Watson and Trevor Gardiner — who formed one of the county’s top linebacking corps — and defensive linemen Bryce McManus and Mike Cresta — who were the backbone of the superior defense will be missed and tough to replace. All played at a high level throughout the season, often battling injury to stay in the lineup and taking pressure off the inconsistent offensive unit.
“We’ve been playing great defense all year,” Clark said. “I’m so proud of the kids, the linebackers are a group of seniors and I have two senior D-linemen and those guys were kind of the heart of the defense.
With a solid core of juniors returning, plus a talented crew of younger players, Unionville seems likely to continue its position as one of the most solid and strong performing programs in the county in 2017.