Penalties, mistakes turn big lead into close game late; coaches worried as playoffs loom
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — It might have been homecoming, but it very nearly turned into the chickens coming home to roost as Unionville’s sloppy and penalty-filled second half play nearly cost them a three-touchdown lead late against an opportunistic Great Valley squad Saturday.
The Indians (7-1, 3-1 in the Ches-Mont American) managed to hang on for a 34-28 win over the visiting Patriots, but getting another W was cold comfort to head coach Pat Clark, who was clearly annoyed at his team following the win.
“it’s embarrassing,” a clearly irritated Clark said after the game. “It’s a direct reflection on me as a head coach. If guys are going to start missing time (from being benched) down the stretch, then so be it. Look, they (Great Valley) are competitive, they’re scrappy, (running back Mack) Hasz is good, (quarterback Chris) Geiss made plays for them. But we helped them a whole lot.”
It was another uneven performance by a team that appears headed to the postseason, and another game when Unionville couldn’t get things going in the first half. In addition to the penalties, the Indians continue to have issues with hanging onto the ball.
“It’s a me thing,” Clark said of his team’s issues of late. “They’re good kids, they show up, they practice hard, they work hard. They’re good kids in the community, they’re good kids in the classroom, but they lose focus. And it becomes about them, it becomes a me thing, rather than a team thing at really critical times. Until we find that maturity, and we only have a couple of weeks left to do that, we’re going to live dangerously.”
Still, there were clear positive signs, too. Richard Sampson, coming off a four-TD game last week, scored three more, rushing for 145 yards on 19 carries, while junior quarterback Tom Pancoast scored on a pair of long runs — rushing for a total of 184 yards on 19 carries. In total, the Indians offense racked up just under 400 yards of total offense.
Another positive: younger players such as Austin Lowe, Stephen Lange and John Stradling stepped up into the lineup, allowing a couple of starters — Sampson, among others — to play just one way instead of needing to double up on offense and defense.
“When we can play fewer guys both ways, it really helps us,” Clark said. “We at a point in the season, where it’s been really physical and we’re a little dinged up. I was really pleased with the way guys stepped up. John Stradling was excellent for us at fullback, it let us play Matt Maggitti one way, Brad Pechin gave us great minutes at defensive back, so Richard (Sampson) could play a little bit of one way. It definitely helps to have guys step up.”
And even with those issues, the Indians have been good enough when it mattered that one more regular season win, either next week at Octorara or in the regular season finale against rival Kennett, and they should have a safe spot in the District 1 playoffs.
The visiting Pats (4-4) marched right down the field to open the game — a big, physical team that runs its option offense well. Junior QB Chris Geiss directed a 14-play, 86-yard drive right out of the box, serving notice that Unionville was in for a battle. The Indians struck back quickly — with Sampson racing 59 yards for the tying score.
Although Unionville managed to duck any damage from a pair of fumbles, one by Sampson, another by quarterback Tom Pancoast, a high punt snap over the head of Chris Baker proved not to be the charm on the third time. Great Valley grabbed the ball on the Unionville 14 and managed to punch it in the closing seconds of the first half.
As has been the case for much of the season, the second half turned out to be a totally different type of game. The Indians opened the half with their most methodical drive of the season, driving 57 yards on eight plays, capping it with a two-yard Sampson run.
Unionville quickly followed up with another solid drive — again capped by a short Sampson run — to grab a 20-14 lead by the end of the of the third quarter.
It was at that point Pancoast unleashed a pair of option runs out of the spread formation, one for 48 yards and another for 55 yards — both for TDs — that gave the Indians a seemingly comfortable 34-14 lead with 5:55 remaining in the game.
But Great Valley and Geiss — in part thanks to a number of penalties on Unionville — clearly weren’t built for comfort, but rather speed. The Pats, sparked by a personal foul, quickly scored, cutting the lead to 34-21.
After getting a quick stop, Great Valley got the ball back and again, fueled by a roughing the passer call, were able to march 81 yards in just over a minute to cut the score to 34-28.
That set up an onside kick — which the Patriots recovered — giving them the ball with 1:14 left in the game and just 53 yards to go for the tying and potentially winning score.
But there the Unionville defense regained its composure and stopped the Patriots on four downs, getting the ball back to seal the win.
And if this week’s game was worrisome, Clark thinks next week’s matchup against Octorara — with its high powered passing game — could be down right scary.
“those guys throw it all over the yard,” Clark said. “And we get crazy when people start throwing the ball on us. They’re going to make it really interesting for us and we have to go to their place. If we don’t play with discipline, we’re capable of being beaten every week, if we’re undisciplined.”