Unionville mounts miracle comeback to stun Academy Park, 23-20

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Unionville senior QB Alex Gorgone fires down field Friday night.

By Al Tustin, Staff Writer, The Times

EAST MARLBOROUGH — The math was, to be frank, almost impossible.

Unionville trailed a tough Academy Park, 20-9 with just 2:58 to go — an eight-yard run by QB Skylor Fillis appeared to be the dagger, the score that put the game out of reach — and the contest was basically over.

Except suddenly, it wasn’t.

Led by the arm of senior QB Alex Gorgone and a turnover at the moment they had to have one, the 2-0 Indians mounted a furious comeback and somehow, improbably, reeled off two quick TD scores through the air to win a stunning 23-20 contest over the 0-2 Knights, Friday night.

Veteran head coach Pat Clark has seen a lot of late-game drama in his 14-year tenure at the school, but even he was a bit shocked at the sudden turn around of the game.

“Our kids just kind of willed it tonight,” he said. “I thought Academy Park played a great football game — but our kids dug down. There were parts that weren’t pretty, but I really appreciate the way they played until the end.”

Gorgone emerged as a weapon, completing 18 of 30 for 258 yards and three TD — but a pair of interceptions. Despite the picks, the senior showed a growing sense of confidence and patience – waiting for key receivers JT Hower, Nick Schnaars and Joe Zubillaga to break free and finding them in key moments.

Unionville’s Jack Adams fight for yards after a pass reception.

“We got our guys in space and Alex made some great throws at the end of the game,” Clark said.

With a second straight win over a team that beat them in 2016 — both teams that are expected to be postseason teams — Unionville may be poised for one of those magical seasons, the kind of year inspired by improbable comebacks as seen Friday night.

But — and this is a key point — the Indians played a sloppy contest, filled with mistakes in coverage, penalties and too many missed tackles for a team that is looking for a run deep into the district playoffs — a fact Clark is keenly aware of. After a fairly tidy effort in week one against Spring-Ford, it did cause some concern — especially when it came to the running game, where Unionville was held to just 91 yards on the ground.

In fairness, both teams struggled with sloppy play, penalties and missed plays throughout the night, in what remained a tense struggle the entire night.

Unionville’s Zack Lawrence (40) and Broderick McShane (4) try to fight off blocks going after Academy Park QB Skylar Fillis.

Gorgone hit on his first TD pass late in the first quarter, connecting with Jack Adams from 13 yards out. After the extra point attempt by Dominic Braithwaite missed, the Unionville grabbed a 6-0 lead. Academy Park’s explosive offense struck right back, though, as Nathaniel Holmes ripped off a 40-yard scoring run. With a two-point conversion, Fillis throwing to Kareem Burton, the Knights held a 8-6 lead.

Unionville responded by mounting its own drive, but it stalled at the Academy Park 10 — but Braithwaite connected on a 27-yard field goal to give the Indians the lead back.

After both teams exchanged a number of punts, Unionville ended up buried deep in its own end and ended paying the price for a mistake at a key moment. Adams lost the handle on the ball, trying to break out from inside the 10, giving the Knights the ball on the Unionville 13. Fillis wasted no time, hitting Devon Golds for a TD pass. A two-point conversion run attempt by Fillis failed, leaving the score 14-9, Academy Park, at the half.

After a scoreless third quarter, things heated up in the final quarter.

Both teams moved the ball, but drives kept stalling, in part because of good defense, in part because of poor execution. Taking the ball over with a little less than 8:00 remaining in the game, the Knights finally were able to sustain a drive — and maybe most crucially, eat precious time off the clock. The 59-yard, 14-play drive took nearly five minutes off the clock and gave Academy Park a seemingly safe 20-9 lead, when Fillis powered into the end zone with 2:58 left.

Unionville took over the ensuring kickoff on its own 45 after a squibb kick and Gorgone went right to work. He hit Adams with a 20-yard completion. Then after a run play ended in a nearly disastrous fumble — Gorgone recovered the ball — he found Hower for 31 more yards, to push inside the Knights’ 10. Gorge capped the drive by finding Zubillaga for the score. A two point pass attempt failed, leaving Unionville behind 20-15 with just 1:49 left.

On the ensuring kickoff, Unionville tried an onside kick, but the ball was quickly smothered by Academy Park – all but snuffing out hopes of a miracle comeback. For a 10 seconds, that is.

Dante Graham knocked the ball loose from Fillis at the Unionville 39 and suddenly the Indians were back in business, needing 61 yards for a score, with two time outs left and just 1:34 remaining.

“We needed the turnover,” Clark said. “Given the way things had gone, the turnover was awesome.”

Although the rowdy student section had become a bit subdued after the onside kick failed, they roared back to life and then exploded with sound after the next play: Gorgone rolled right, looked off a couple of receivers and threw a ridiculous, crossbody pass to the left sideline and the waiting Schnaars for an amazing 26-yard completion and a first down at the Academy Park 28 with 1:00 remaining. After a pair of runs failed to advance the ball — and took precious time off the clock, Gorgone found one last bit of magic on third down.

He hit Zubilllaga in the endzone, on the right side, to give Unionville a miraculous 21-20 lead with 23.3 seconds left. A leaping catch by Zubillaga on the two point conversion extended the lead to 23-20.

The Knights tried to rally in the final seconds, but Aiden Boyle picked off a final pass to end the game.

While Unionville faces a stretch of games that should be winnable, starting with hosting 0-2 Avon Grove next week, Clark cautioned that the Red Devils are an improved team, and his squad will not be able to make as many mistakes if it expects to win.

“Avon Grove is going to be a war next week,” Clark said. “They’re a much improved team, it’s a local rivalry  and we have some things to clean up.”

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