Down 21-0 at half, young defense steps up, but Indians run out of time
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
WEST CHESTER — In the weeks to come, it will either be looked back as the turning point or the beginning of the end.
Unionville found itself down 21-0 at halftime to West Chester Rustin, but fought back to within one score, only to lose a tough 21-14 decision Saturday night.
With powerhouse Coatesville looming next Friday, the team’s playoff and division hopes will ride on which version of the Indians hits the field: the thoroughly dominated first-half team or the second-half team that doggedly fought back, moved the ball and shut down one of the best offenses in Chester County.
Injured, battered and a bit overwhelmed by the Golden Knights in the first half, the young Indians (3-1) fought back in the second half, found some rhythm on offense and stopped the Rustin offense which gashed them repeatedly in the first half. After allowing 241 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in the first half, Unionville held the Knights to a stingy 23 yards and no points in the second half.
But, despite the furious efforts of junior quarterback Tom Pancoast (96 yards rushing) and senior running back Richard Sampson (93 yards rushing), it wasn’t enough.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said Unionville head coach Pat Clark. “We made enough collective mistakes in the first half and that got us. I was really proud of my team, we’re still a relatively young team and we rallied in the second half.”
While exceptional again on the ground, Pancoast struggled throwing the ball, completing just two of 14 for 39 yards with two interceptions — and one of the completions, a 40-yarder to Sampson was fumbled away.
“He was just a little bit off,” Clark said. “Tommy handled himself well, he really got the run game going for us in the second half. We haven’t had to throw it much in previous games, we try to work it in practice but…it’s a team game.”
The Knights (3-1) seemed ready to rock from the opening snap. Although a long drive bogged down, forcing a punt, it seemed like the Indians were having a lot of trouble containing Rustin’s trio of skilled backs: Cordairo Taylor, Joe Palladino and Conor Burke — who scored all three touchdowns. For a while, the Unionville defense stretched but didn’t break — and it took a trick play to break though: a 33-yard wide receiver pass from Anthony Nash to C.J Steinmetz, setting up Burke’s one yard scoring run.
That score seemed to take the wind out of the young Indians’ defense, already weakened by injuries, and Rustin scored quickly again on its next possession, with Taylor and Burke ripping off long runs and Burke scoring from nine yards out. To add insult to injury, the officiating crew improperly credited Burke with another touchdown, this one from 15 yards out, on the next drive, when — after looking at video of the play — he should have been marked down at ½ yard line with just 21 seconds left in the first half.
Unionville wasn’t done, though. Taking the opening kickoff of the second half 67 yards, Sampson and Pancoast slashed through the Rustin defense. Pancoast scored from two yards out, but Sean Barnes missed the extra point, leaving the Indians in a 21-6 hole. After the defense managed to stop Rustin twice — a Unionville drive was halted after an interception — Pancoast and Sampson struck again, although it was Sampson who provided a season highlight.
The duo combined to rush the ball down to the Rustin 35, but with time beginning to be a factor, the Indians attempted to go to air. On a 2nd-and-10 pass Pancoast was shaken up on a sideline hit that resulted in a roughing penalty. With the junior QB out of the game, the Indians went to the Wildcat offense, direct snapping the ball to Sampson. Although a bit battered and clearly tired, the senior put his teammates on his shoulders appeared to drive the offense down the field by pure will, grinding out 20 yards, finally scoring on a five-yard run.
Needing the points, the Indians opted to go for two, but were denied — but were saved by a facemask call on Rustin. They didn’t waste the second chance, with Sampson scoring the two to get the score within 21-14.
That, though, was as far as the comeback went. After stopping Rustin again, Unionville got the ball back with a little bit more than two minutes to go, but were unable to move the ball.