Downingtown East’s second half overpowers Unionville, 45-21

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Downingtown East’s Nicolas Hesel closes in on Unionville’s Alex Gorgone as he loses the handle on a first-quarter fumble.

By Al Tustin, Staff Writer, The Times

DOWNINGTOWN — For a half, it was truly epic, but the second half proved that depth and school size matters in high school football.

Undefeated Unionville was giving undefeated Downingtown East all it could handle for two quarters before finally giving way to the Cougars’ size and depth, with the Indians dropping a 45-21 contest, Friday night at Kottmeyer Stadium in a Ches Mont crossover game.

For East (8-0, 4-0 Ches Mont National), it was an opportunity to shake off a sluggish start and get into high gear, with next Friday night’s crucial matchup against Coatesville looming. To beat the powerful Red Raiders — in what will likely be a contest to decide the winner of the Ches Mont National Division as well as the ability to lay claim as the best team in the county — Cougars’ coach Mike Matta said his team is going to need to play better that it showed early on this week.

Downingtown East QB Bryce Lauletta looks downfield on what would be a first quarter TD pass against Unionville.

“We played terrible in the first half, terrible,” Matta said afterward. “We didn’t play Downingtown East football at all. We were standing up, lollygagging round….that’s a good team (Unionville), 7-0 — maybe the number one seed in District One (5A) and they had a great game plan.”

Matta said it was better — more intense — play by his guys up front that changed the game’s fortune in the second half and the ability to dominate in the trenches — where his Cougars struggled  in the first half.

For Unionville (7-1, 3-0 Ches Mont American), while the loss ends a quest for a perfect regular season, Indians’ coach Pat Clark was under no illusions — his 5A team was going to have to come in and play a nearly flawless game to knock off the powerhouse 6A Cougars, a team with more depth and size — and the ability to play most of its starters just one way, while many Unionville players must play offense and defense.

“Not only are they two-platoon, they’re good two platoon,” Clark said. “We got worn out a little bit, (in the second half) — we caught a break when we got the onsides kick and we couldn’t convert. It was kind of back and forth, so we had to come out and get a score…and that was the difference. We didn’t protect as well in the second half, I don’t know if it was their scheme, or if they just turned it up a little bit…but I thought my kids played really hard against a good football team.”

Unionville’s JT Hower catches a pass just before re raced down the left sideline for a 54-yard TD,

While the Indians were explosive in the air in the first half, it was East’s running game — powered by Garvey Jonassaint, who rushed for 115 yards on 20 carries, Tim Alvado, who rushed for 93 yards on 21 carries and Brassir Stocker who added 84 yards on 18 carries. Even though senior QB Bryce Lauletta struggled with his throwing all night, the Cougars’ run game was more than enough to wear down the Indians.

Unionville’s Alex Gorgone had an uneven night — he threw for 220 yards and a pair of TDs, but gave up three interceptions. The Indians’ usually powerful running game was all but stopped — Dante Graham was the leading rushing with 19 yards on five carries.

Still, early on, it appeared the Cougars would dominate — scoring a pair of touchdowns before most of the fans were settled in the stands.

East took the opening kickoff and methodically drove down the field — mostly behind the running of Alvado — with Lauletta scoring from one yard out. With the extra point, the Cougars grabbed an early 7-0 lead just a couple of minutes into the game.

Moments later, after a Gorgone fumble gave East the ball on the Unionville 35, Lauletta immediately hit Stocker with a 35-yard TD pass, giving the Cougars a 14-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.

But it was here where Unionville — which has shown grace under pressure all season — turned things around just as suddenly.

Gorgone hit JT Hower with a 54-yard TD pass on the first play after the ensuing kickoff — and just like that it was 14-7.

After the Indians’ defense managed to force a Downingtown East punt, the Unionville offense went back to work, crafting an 11-play, 62-yard scoring drive to tie the game, 14-14, before the end of the first quarter, suddenly quieting the raucous Kottmeyer crowd.

The Cougars struck back, after a Gorgone interception ended a drive deep into Downingtown East territory, Stocker powered a 59-yard drive, with Lauletta again scoring to give the Cougars the 21-14 lead.

But the resilient Indians struck right back — with Gorgone hitting Hower for a 65-yard pass, setting up a first-and-goal on the five. Gorgone connected with Joe Zubillaga for a TD — one in which the entire Unionville line moved the ball, rugby scrum-style, the last three yards to gain the tying score, to make it 21-21.

Downingtown East added a late field goal after a controversial roughing the passer call on a halfback option pass by Alvado — Alvado caught a lateral from Lauletta out by the numbers and appeared to be on a run/pass option and was hit by Joe Hagen just as he was releasing the ball, on a 4-and-12 play with :29 left in the half. That set up a 29-yard field goal by Dan Good that gave the Cougars a 24-21 half time lead, a lead they would never surrender.

The second half was dominated by Downingtown East’s defense and its running game.

After stopping Unionville on a three and out (following a half-starting onside kick, that gave the Indians the ball at midfield to start) — the Cougars appeared to tweak their defense to widen out a bit and close off Gorgone’s passing lanes — East mounted a clock-munching, 13-play, 65-yard drive, grinding the ball down the field. Lauletta’s pass to Jack Riley from three yards out capped the drive.

After Gorgone was intercepted again, at the Indians’ 45, the Cougars again ate up the rest of the quarter and then some, powering the ball down the field, scoring on Stocker’s three-yard run, to make it 38-21.

After Unionville was held to another three-and-out, East mounted a quicker — but decisive — drive, with Jonassaint ripping off a 42-yard run to finish it — and the game — off, making it 45-21.

The win sets the Cougars up for both the Coatesville matchup — which will likely determine the champion of the National Division — as well as a top seed in the District One 6A bracket. The Red Raiders (7-1) come off a 42-6 win over Avon Grove, Friday night.

Unionville controls its own fate, but may need to post wins against Sun Valley (this coming Friday night on the road) and in the regular season finale at home against Great Valley, which beat Octorara 41-6 to improve to 4-0 in the American, to claim the American Division. The Patriots will host West Chester Rustin next Saturday — if they win and Unionville beats Sun Valley, the the Oct. 27 game will end up being a conference championship game.

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