Unionville holds off improved Avon Grove, 27-17

Indians’ ground game, special teams overcomes Red Devils strong throwing game

By Al Tustin, Staff Writer, The Times


Unionville’s Brandon Boon breaks out into the open on a 78-yard TD kickoff return against Avon Grove Friday night. Jim Gill photo.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Big plays at key moments by a team’s stars often make the difference in a game.

Without question, that was the case Friday night as Unionville (2-1) held off a determined Avon Grove (2-1) team, 27-17.

It took big plays by Indians’ seniors Brandon Boon, Brendan Boyle and Elan Nash to seal the deal when the much-improved Red Devils came roaring back from a 20-3 deficit in the second half.

Boon and Boyle managed to power a fourth-quarter, clock-eating scoring drive while Nash, a Naval Academy commit, snagged an interception in the end zone to stop the Red Devils’ late comeback attempt. Big special teams plays — a 78-yard kickoff return for a score by Boon and Trevor Gardiner’s punt block and subsequent end zone recovery for a score proved the difference in a game when the Red Devils controlled the ball much of the game.

“It was big,” Unionville Head Coach Pat Clark said of three seniors stepping up at key moments. “Boyle came out and ran the ball — we’ve always had a running quarterback — and that kind of settled him down.”

Although frustrated by the final result, Avon Grove Head Coach Harry O’Neill took some solace in his team’s ability to come back and turn what looked like a comfortable Unionville win into a true nail-biter.


Avon Grove’s Shane McLaughlin led a comeback in the second half, throwing for more than 200 yards. Jim Gill photo.

“We’re not happy that we lost,” O’Neill said. “But didn’t quit — we were down 20-3 and we scrapped our way back into the game. That’s all we can ask for, is a shot to win it at the end. If we catch that ball going into the end zone down there, it’s 27-24 and maybe we onside kick and who knows what happens? A lot of woulda, shoulda couldas, but I’m proud of my team. We don’t have many seniors and from where we were last season to right now, I’ll take that effort every single day. I don’t like the outcome, but we didn’t quit, we dealt with adversity and last year we wouldn’t have handled it that way.”

Boon rushed for 129 yards on 19 carries, while Boyle rushed for 106 on 12 carries as the Indians were able to move the ball with an old-school ground game, in addition to Boon’s TD return.

Unionville was able to contain Avon Grove’s talented junior running Nate Jones to just 65 yards rushing, but senior Quarterback Shane McLaughlin had a strong night, throwing for 220 yards — on 19 of 38 passing — hooking up almost at will with Henry Buchanan and Chris Vahey.

Early on, though, it looked like the Red Devils might be able to run their way to victory, as Jones powered an opening drive that stalled deep in Unionville territory — and was capped by a Kevin Sheehan field goal. Boon struck back on the ensuing kickoff — racing 78 yards up the left side for a score, giving the Indians a lead they would never surrender.

The Indians were able to shut down Jones’ for the rest of the half, and with Gardiners’ punt block score, Unionville enjoyed a 14-3 half time lead.


Unionville quarterback Brendan Boyle spearheaded a strong Indians’ running attack. Jim Gill photo.

With the opening kickoff, the Indians managed a methodical drive for a score, capped by a one-yard Boon TD run. It looked like Avon Grove might be finished — but the young Red Devils clearly had other ideas. McLaughlin led Avon Grove on an eight-play drive before the end of the quarter — going to the air — topped off by a Kevin Francis scoring run, to cut the deficit to 20-10.

After getting a stop of the Indians, forcing a punt, McLaughlin went to work again, throwing, and ultimately running the ball down to the 1-yard line, where Francis was able to power the ball in again. What had been a seemingly comfortable Unionville lead was now a mere 20-17 margin, midway through the final quarter.

But — as big players often do — the trio of Indians’ stars all but willed the team to victory. As Boyle cooly engineered a late drive, Boon rambled 58 yards to set up his short scoring run to give Unionville a 27-17 lead.

The game was far from over. McLaughlin again drove his Red Devil squad down the field — deep inside the 20, before Nash was able to pick off a tipped pass to seal the win for the Indians.

Unionville faces a tougher task: a road contest at West Chester Rustin to open the Ches-Mont American season, a game that could decide who wins the league title.

“They’re defending league champs,” Clark said. “They’re a tough physical team. I’ve looked at some film on them already and we’re going to have to come out and play with the same level of intensity we had tonight.”

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