Indians shake off first-half malaise, senior rushes for 246 yards, four TD to hold off Sun Valley
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The unthinkable was happening.
Winless Sun Valley came to Unionville and seemed ready to deal a potentially fatal blow to the Indians’ postseason hopes, before they rallied behind senior running back Richard Sampson and a stiffened second-half defense to hold off the Vanguards, 34-19, Friday night.
For Unionville (6-1, 2-1 in the Ches-Mont American), the first half was bit of a nightmare, as Sun Valley quarterback Billy Hudson used prolific throwing and his legs against the Indians — despite the heavy winds that made passing tricky at times. The Indians trailed 19-14 at the half, and frankly, should have felt lucky to be that close — having been outplayed fairly thoroughly, continuing a pattern of recent first-half struggles.
The effort had Unionville head coach Pat Clark scratching his head a bit — and wondering how to find a fix.
“On top of everything Sun Valley did right, and Hudson was great in the first half — he’s a scrapper, he really makes that team go — we had a lot of self-inflicted stuff again,” Clark said after the game. “That’s the issue — it’s hard enough to beat one team and them when you have to try to beat yourselves as well, well, it’s hard.”
Although the Indians are hampered by injuries and a number of younger players moving into key roles, Clark said he thinks the issue is poor execution.
“I have to go back and look at the way we’re practicing,” he said. “What happens on the field is a reflection of what we do all week and we have to look at that. And that starts with me. I have to take a look at the way we’re practicing and see if we can clean some stuff up.”
Seemingly sluggish at times in the first half, Unionville needed a spark if it were to stay on course for a District 1 playoff berth.
Enter Sampson, the senior tailback who is finally enjoying a healthy season — and has been consistently good — or better, even if overshadowed at times. Friday night, he was nothing short of great. He rushed for 246 yards on 22 carries and four touchdowns. With little success running to the middle, Sampson was able to use his speed and elusiveness to get to the edge and rip off long runs. The run game was needed, as junior quarterback Tom Pancoast, coming off two straight strong performances, struggled throwing the ball, going 3-of-12 for 60 yards, 1 TD and one interception. The junior did add 73 yards rushing, as Unionville amassed an impressive 360 yards on the ground.
And while Sampson was dominant on offense — the defense found its footing in the second half, with Sampson and Ross Kim-McManus providing tight coverage, cutting off receiving options for Hudson. And a couple of younger players stepped up, too. Sophomore Mark Caputo continued his growth, putting in a strong effort on the offensive and defensive line. Junior Tim Christopher had a pair of interceptions. Hudson, a four-year starter for Sun Valley, threw the ball a mind-boggling 34 times, despite the wind, but was held to just 14 completions and 149 yards in the air.
“I thought Mark Caputo had a heck of a game tonight,” Clark said. “Mark played both ways all night tonight and did a good job. Matt Maggitti in the second half played real well. Ross (Kim-McManus) and Richard (Sampson) continued to make things difficult for opposing receivers. And Tim (Christopher) stepped up in the second half and played real well.”
Sun Valley struck early, capping a 74-yard drive with Hudson’s 48-yard run for a score. Minutes later Sampson drew Unionville to within 7-6 on a 20-yard scoring run — Sean Barnes’ missed extra point left the Indians down 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Then Sun Valley’s Dan Griffin picked up a Pancoast fumble and ran it back 42 yards for a score, putting the Vanguards up 13-6. But the Indians were able to take advantage of a Griffin fumble minutes later, taking the ball at midfield, with just under four minutes left in the half, this time capped by Sampson’s 24-yard run. A penalty on the extra point kick against Sun Valley moved the ball up, and Clarked opted to go for two, with Sampson just barely getting the ball in, to give Unionville a 14-13 lead with 1:59 left in the half.
But just as quickly, Sun Valley and Hudson struck back, with Hudson running the ball in from 19 yards out with :42 left in the half.
Unionville appeared to be as sluggish in the early minutes of the second half as the first, trading punts with Sun Valley — but it was on that second punt the game appeared to turn, and Unionville came alive. A Sun Valley up back inadvertently touched Chris Baker’s punt and Stephen Rosenberg alertly jumped on the ball, putting the Indians in business on the Sun Valley 27. Three plays later, Pancoast hit Kim-McManus from 11 yards out to give Unionville the lead for good.
And then Sampson took over, powering the Indians to a pair of drives to put the game away, scoring from six out in the final moments of the third quarter and adding a fourth-quarter score from eight yards out to cap the scoring.