Sampson, Pancoast have big game, marred by four turnovers
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Pat Clark was probably a little less stressed this week after his Unionville football team won — again — Friday night, but clearly the veteran head coach was frustrated by the one ugly thread through his team’s first three wins: too many turnovers.
Behind an explosive offense — but one that delivered up four turnovers — the Indians (3-0) controlled a tough Avon Grove team for four quarters, winning 20-7, in a Ches-Mont American Division game, a departure from the nailbiters played during the first two weeks of the season.
Although the offense racked up an impressive 343 yards of total offense, including 162 yards rushing for the speedy Richard Sampson — and 93 more on the ground for junior quarterback Tom Pancoast — mistakes and turnovers kept Unionville from enjoying an easy night — and Clark signaled his concern that his team must play better, especially heading into a showdown next week at undefeated West Chester Rustin.
“Our ball security is terrible, right now,” Clark said afterward. “We killed ourselves. It’s terrible and I don’t know what it is, but we’re just going to keep working on it in practice. We stopped three drives, at least, by fumbling the ball away. And you can’t afford to do that. We’re playing with fire, there. It’s not lack of effort, but we have a bunch of new kids who have kind of found their roles, but we can’t do that, we’re going to get burned one of these days.”
Despite the turnovers and sloppy play, there were a few good signs. The young Indians defense bent — and gave up a lot of yards on the ground. Red Devils’ sophomore tailback J.T. Blyden gashed them for 120 yards, but all but one Avon Grove (1-2) drive ground down, halted by a turnover or a big defensive play. Jerry Rassias (who got an interception for the second straight week and added a fumble recovery for good measure) and Tim Christopher made a number of big plays to shut down the passing game.
“We held them to six, which is a tremendous improvement over the first couple of weeks,” Clark said.
The game started out almost exactly the way Unionville might have wanted. Christopher recovered a Ryan Singley fumble on the Avon Grove 38 four plays into the game. Pancoast led a lightning drive, completing three passes, the last a 12-yard strike to Doug Ott for the first score of the game, making 7-0, after Sean Barnes extra point kick.
It wasn’t long before troubled waters rolled into what had been calm seas. The Indians drove deep into Red Devils’ territory, only to lose the ball on the Avon Grove 6, after a Pancoast fumble.
The Indians’ defense stepped up, though. While Avon Grove held the ball for some six minutes, its drive stalled on the Unionville 34. The Indians, wasting no time, scored four plays later when Sampson rumbled 48 yards for a touchdown. With Barnes’ extra point kick, the Indians seemed to be in complete control at the half, 14-0.
But the start of the second half was good news/bad news and symptomatic of some of the struggles the team — missing four starters due to injury — has endured as younger players learn on the job. Sampson raced returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for an apparent score, only to have it called back because of a pair of blocking from behind penalties. Unionville still managed to pound the ball into the end zone after taking over on the Avon Grove 47, with Matt “Iron Mike” Maggitti pounding it in from 14-yards out. Barnes’ extra point kick was blocked, leaving the Indians with a solid 20-0 lead, just a little over three minutes into the half.
While Avon Grove was able to move the ball on the ground, the Unionville defense shut down the passing game. Avon Grove quarterback Tanner Peck had his team driving deep into Indians’ territory — after a Maggitti fumble — when Rassias picked him off.
“We were able to control the clock a bit,” Clark said. “And we didn’t let them hurt us downfield. They had one or two pass plays, but we made them keep grinding it out.”
The Devils finally broke through in the opening minutes of the final quarter when — taking over after Ryan Amanto picked off a Pancoast pass, Peck hit Toby Fiala from 12 yards out.
If there was a moment of tension, it came when Sampson fumbled with 5:46 to go — Amanto snagging the ball for Avon Grove — but the Indians’ defense slammed the door with a four-and-out and was able to run the clock out the rest of the way.