Champs! Unionville wins third straight Ches Mont American title

Unionville celebrates its third straight Ches Mont American title after a 41-14 win over Great Valley Friday night. Jim Gill photo.

By Al Tustin, Staff Writer, The Times

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Winning a conference football title is tough. It takes dedication, hard work and maybe a bit of luck. After the fact, it is something players and coaches treasure for years. Many schools go years, or even decades, without winning one.

Winning it three straight years?

That’s a sign of a powerful football program, great coaching, a dedicated community behind the team and a team with the will to do what it takes to win, day after day, week after week.

Unionville managed that feat Friday night with a dominating win over Great Valley to lock down its third straight Ches Mont American Division title, 41-14. That’s the fourth league title in six years for the Indians.

Unionville’s offensive line played a strong game. Here Pedro Aviles Bernal (58) and Declan Boyle (76) clear the way for Dante Graham (26). Jim Gill photo.

The Indians (9-1, 6-0) did it by their preferred playbook: using a dominating performance by the offensive line and great running from seniors Joe Zubillaga (153 yards rushing) and Dante Graham (142 yards rushing) to eat up the clock and pound the Patriots (6-4, 5-1) into submission.

Unionville head coach Pat Clark saluted his players for managing a third straight league title.

“Our kids, year after year, we get everybody’s best game, and I’m just really proud of how our kids respond on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s a great group. It’s a sustained success and it takes a lot of effort and these kids give you everything you need and more.”

The win locks down the third seed for Unionville in the District One, 5A playoffs. Although the seedings won’t be official until Sunday night, it appears that the Indians will host Glen Mills (3-6) next Friday night in the opening round.

Unionville’s Joe Zubillaga reaches for the first TD of the game. Jim Gill photo.

Although a deep run into the District playoffs — if not a title – was a preseason goal, it was clear from the outset that the Indians had one focus and one focus only Friday night: defend the league title. Unionville dominated on defense, as well, stopping the high-powered Pats’ offense much of the night. Other than a handful of issues on special teams, the Indians played arguably their best game of the season.

“Our senior group, we needed big plays tonight, and we got plays out of those kids,” Clark said.

Right from the start, after Great Valley won the coin toss and elected to kick off, Unionville displayed exactly how it planned to win: pound the ball, dominate up front and control the game.

The Indians marched right down the field to open the game with a nine-play, 80-yard drive with Zubillaga, Graham and senior QB Alex Gorgone moving the ball behind a stout offensive line, which seemed to open holes all night long. Zubillaga capped the drive with a 20-yard run. With Dominic Braithwaite’s extra point, the Indians grabbed an early 7-0 lead.

Unionville’s defense shut down Great Valley all night. Here Unionville’s Sam Ross takes down Great Valley’s Owen Banavich. Jim Gill photo.

After a Great Valley drive stalled at midfield, Unionville took over the ball after a punt on its own 10. This, time, it was less of a methodical drive and more of a lightning strike: the big play was a 46-yard pass from Gorgone to Zubillaga, ultimately setting up Graham’s 7-yard scoring run.

Unionville maintained a 14-0 lead to the half — and the contest appeared to remain a tight, tense game.

Until the third quarter, when all heck broke loose.

Unionville’s defense opened the second half with a quick three-and-out for the Patriots — and then quickly ripped down the field behind long runs Graham, Zubillaga and a 13-yard scoring run by junior Joe Fariello, who had something of a coming out party in the game, notching 85 yards subbing for Jack Adams, who went down with an injury.

Seconds later — boom — Zubillaga picked off a pass from Jake Prevost, on the Great Valley 19 and Graham pounded the ball in on two rushes, to suddenly explode the lead to 28-0 in the opening minutes of the half.

The Patriots, though, weren’t quiet ready to roll over. Owen Banavitch took the ensuring kickoff 83 yards down the right sideline to put Great Valley on the board, 28-7.

Seemingly unimpressed, Unionville took the ball back and promptly marched it right down the field — despite three penalties en route — highlighted by  a 36-yard Zubillaga run. Graham scored his third TD of the game, powering the ball in from the 3. Braithwaite’s extra point attempt failed because of a bad snap, leaving the score 34-7.

On the ensuing kickoff…you guessed it…Great Valley’s Josh Burgess raced up the right sideline, this time for 67 yards to the Unionville 7. Prevost scored four plays later from the 1 to cut the lead to 34-14 in the closing seconds of the third quarter.

Unionville closed out the game in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, eating up most of the first half the quarter, with Graham, Zubillaga and Fariello grinding the ball slowly, yet inexorably down the field. Zubillaga offered the coup de grace with a 7-yard TD pass to JT Hower, to make it 41-14.

With the win — during which the Indians broke their school record for points scored in a regular season — Unionville posted its fourth season of nine or more wins in the Pat Clark era. The 2005 and 2007 season teams posted perfect 10-0 records, while the 2011 squad managed a 9-1 regular season.

Assuming the final seedings hold, in taking on Glen Mills, Unionville will be looking to win its first postseason game since 2009, when it upset Pennsbury.

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