33-26 win wasn’t easy, but another big day by Sampson sets up possible showdown next week against Kennett
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
ATGLEN — Imagine this: you run for 210 yards, a pair of touchdowns and lead your team not just to a hard-fought win, all but lock up a spot in the post-season and yet somehow, that wasn’t the most impressive performance of the night.
Sure, once again, Richard Sampson — Unionville’s all-Universe tailback — was spectacular in leading his team to a hard-fought 33-26 win over Octorara Friday night.
But Sampson, arguably putting together one of the best seasons in Indians’ history, might have been outclassed by Braves’ quarterback Dan Soloman, who used his feet and arm to drive the Unionville defense crazy — and almost carry his 4-5 team to an upset. The senior competed 21 of 32 passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns, while running for another 98 yards on the ground.
“That kid (Soloman) must have thrown it a hundred times tonight,” Unionville head coach Pat Clark said. “We knew coming in, they would probably spread us out, because we’re probably little more experienced up front then they are. We have a few kids on the defensive line that probably are better better than they guys, so we knew we’d get a lot of edge, perimeter stuff.
“The kid (Soloman) is gutsy and he makes a ton of plays. But we’ve played a ton of good quarterbacks, but he’s right there with them.”
And while Soloman was nothing short of spectacular, Sampson has been as constant as the North Star for Unionville, racking up some 1,257 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground (plus a couple more TD via the air) this season — with one game to go.
“The kid is just a phenomenal athlete,” Clark said. “He’s proving himself to be one of the best in the county. He’s asking me for the ball at the end, and who am I to say no? He’s shown tremendous maturity. I thought our kids up front did a nice job, too, we gave him room to run and then when he didn’t have too much room, he found some room.”
Though it was yet another narrow win, the (8-1) Indians very likely locked up a District 1 playoff berth — and a win next week against rival Kennett could mean an opening round home game for Unionville. The emerging Blue Demons need a win Sunday (Saturday’s contest was delayed by snow) over Oxford to stay in the playoff hunt — turning the already heated rivalry game into a must-win for both teams.
“It could be a first round playoff game, to be sure,” Clark said, praising Kennett head coach Scott Green for his quick transformation of the program.
Friday’s win — regardless of the outcome of next week’s game — probably puts Unionville into the AAAA postseason bracket, with eight wins, including quality wins over Coatesville and Frankford.
“I would hope when we look at points, we should get a spot in the AAAA playoffs and my kids should be extremely proud of that,” Clark said. “We’re kind of a young team, we’ve overcome some serious injuries, kids are getting their first varsity experience, so we’re proud of that fact. Now, if we don’t tighten things up a little bit, we may not be there for long.”
Although they escaped with the win, it was another battle, another back and forth game that could have gone either way.
Unionville grabbed the early lead with 74-yard drive on its first possession, capped by Sampson’s 25-yard scoring run. But Soloman, as would do all night, was able to sling the ball all over the lot — creating room and time for himself using the option to great effect. And just when the young Indians’ defense got the hang of reading the option, the Braves would switch out to a spread look — which frustrated Unionville’s attempt to get to the speedy Soloman. The senior QB engineered a six-play, 53 yard drive to tie the game at 7-7 — which is where things stood at the half.
As seems to be the routine this year for the Indians, a quiet, low-scoring first half was followed by a high-scoring, drama-filled second half.
Much as they did on their first possession of the game, the Indians opened the half with an impressive 70-yard scoring drive — again capped by a long (20-yard) scoring run by Sampson, to grab a 14-7 lead — a lead Unionville never would surrender.
In fact, it looked like the Indians would take control of the game when Soloman fumbled on his own 46 and they scored in quick order, quarterback Tom Pancoast connecting with Matt Maggitti from 10 yards out, putting them up 21-7.
Despite the miscue, Soloman didn’t quit — he came back firing the ball. He quickly engineered a 69-yard drive, hitting Charles Cooper with a 19-yard scoring strike, cutting the deficit to 21-14.
Just as quickly, Unionville again seemed to break the Braves spirit — scoring in four plays, Pancoast perfectly leading Ross Kim-McManus for a 39-yard score. Even with a missed extra point, the Indians appeared to have a commanding 27-14 lead.
Octorara proved how deceiving appearances can be, and went 60 yards on eight plays with Soloman connecting with James Brown for a 15-yard score. The Braves extra point attempt failed, too leaving the score 27-20.
The Braves had a chance to turn the game from scary into downright terrifying. Unionville took over the ball its 43 after an onside kickoff — and then Sampson raced 40 yards down to the Octorara 17 — and it looked like the Indians were in position to score again. But Maggitti lost the ball on the next carry, giving the Braves the ball and a chance to tie the game with 7:49 left.
Unionville was able to bottle Soloman up — and in what may have been a pivotal choice by Octorara head coach Jed King, the Braves went for fourth and 2 on their own 20 and didn’t get it, turning the ball over on downs at the 21 with 6:21.
Sampson made quick work of taking advantage, getting the ball in the end zone on three carries — and eating nearly two minutes off the game clock in the process, giving Unionville a 33-20 lead with 4:57 left.
A good thing, too, as the Indians would need the cushion.
Soloman coolly directed a 10-play 63-yard scoring drive, bring his Braves to within 33-26 with 2:18 left.
But Sampson would have the last word. After Unionville recovered another onside kick, the senior tailback raced 22 yards, down to the Braves’ 28. Three more carries — despite a number of Octorara time outs — ate up the clock and the Indians were able to go into “victory” formation at the Octorara 16 — to run out the final seconds.