Avon Grove overcomes Unionville, 24-22

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By Al Tustin, Sports Editor, The Times

Avon Grove’s Dino Arhontakis looks for running room against Unionville, Friday night. Before being knocked out with an injury, he tore up the Indians’ defense.

WEST GROVE — It was a tale of two games. Literally.

On Friday night, Unionville and Avon Grove met in a contest mostly controlled by the Indians. But lightning in the area stopped the contest with about 4:00 to go in the third quarter and storms persisted, so the game was slated to be resumed the next afternoon Saturday.

It was that second contest, dominated by the (2-1) Red Devils, that led them to a 24-22 win over Unionville in an interdivisional Ches Mont match up.

While Avon Grove looks to be restoring itself to being one of the county’s top programs, the Indians — 0-3 for the first time since head coach Pat Clark took over in 2005 — struggled up front, particularly in the Saturday portion of the game. Clark made clear his frustrations — and that any hope the team has of defending its Ches Mont American title (three years running) and District 1, 5A titles is going to disappear quickly if things don’t change for the better immediately. With Great Valley looming on the schedule for the Indians, that is going to be a major test.

“We just have to answer the bell a little bit more,” Clark said afterward. “Our mental and physical toughness has to pick up. The first-year varsity guys have to act like seasoned veterans and we have to help them to do that, by creating more competition in practice.”

Unionville’s Black Charlton looks for running room against Avon Grove, Friday.

For the Red Devils, who face a tough litmus test next week with a road game at perennial power Downingtown East, it took perseverance and the ability to bounce back from what looked to be a tough injury Friday night to senior running back Dino Arhontakis. When Arhontakis went down, sophomore Sean Glatts stepped in, but Avon Grove struggled to get its running game moving.

Then the lighting came.

The next afternoon, Glatts found his groove and the Red Devils were able to power the ball up and down the field as AG Head Coach Harry O’Neill was able to tweak his offense to better suit the younger running back.

And yes, a pivotal play ultimately decided the contest: after a Dominic Braithwaite field goal gave Unionville a 20-17 lead, Braithwaite — as had been the plan all game — pooch kicked the ball away from Avon Grove star returner/WR Tyre Stead, with AG’s Jordan Paone grabbing the ball on the  AG 34 and running to his left, only to be hit hard and stripped of the ball by Unionville’s Alex Pelegrin. The ball bounced into the hands of Stead, who raced up the left sideline some 60 yards for what proved to be the winning score with 1:41 remaining in the game.

“Our kid (Pelegrin) made a good play and stripped the ball,” Clark said. “And their kid (Stead) made a better play and picked it up.”

For all of the issues that the Indians would have on Saturday, during the Friday night portion of the game, they appeared to have the game mostly under control.

They grabbed an early lead on Connor Schilling’s 52-yard run for a score. The Red Devils immediately struck back, with QB JT McDonald hitting Stead deep down the left sideline for a 59-yard TD score to knot the game at 7-7.

Unionville was able to come right back with a long drive that stalled on the Avon Grove 12 but Braithwaite connected on a 29-yard field goal to give the Indians a 10-7 lead. Just before halftime, the Indians extended their lead when QB Blake Charlton hit Nick Schnaars with a 27-yard scoring pass, to make it 17-7 at the half.

In the third quarter on Friday night, Unionville managed to stall Avon Grove’s offense, limiting it to a pair of missed long Bobby Smith field goal attempts before weather stopped play with just over 4:00 remaining in the third quarter.

When play resumed Saturday afternoon, Unionville appeared to be sluggish right from the first snap, while Avon Grove seemed to have found a new, and higher gear.

Resuming their drive from the Unionville 46, the Red Devils quickly marched down the field, but were forced to settle for Smith field goal to cut the margin to 17-10.

Then, after Unionville got the ball back and appeared to be driving, Schilling was hit and fumbled, with AG’s Tate Billings recovering the ball on the Unionville 19. Glatts was able to grind the ball down to the 3, before McDonald scored on a keeper to tie the game.

The Indians managed to find themselves for a bit — first on defense, when they stopped an Avon Grove drive cold — and taking the ball on the AG 45, marching it down into field goal range and eating the clock, before Braithwaite was able to give Unionville the lead back, 20-17, on 37 yard field goal.

But, that set up the ensuing kickoff and Stead’s race down the sideline for a score. Unionville had one more shot to drive down the field and was moving the ball, but Kyri Rossiter picked off a Charlton pass with 1:00 to go. Eating the clock, McDonald ran out the final seconds by racing into the end zone for a safety, to seal the win for Avon Grove.

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