Unionville battles back to edge Great Valley, 16-13

Clark posts 100th win at Indians’ helm, division title in sight

Unionville's Jack Adams makes a crucial one-handed catch over Great Valley's Brendan O'Donnell. Alex Castina Photo.

Unionville’s Jack Adams makes a crucial one-handed catch over Great Valley’s Brendan O’Donnell. Alex Castina Photo.

By Al Tustin, Staff Writer, The Times

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Having just lost a fumble that left them down 13-3 late in the third quarter — with their season on the line — it might have been understandable if the Unionville High School football team let down in a battle for first place with rival Great Valley.

Instead, the Indians (4-3, 3-0) dug deep, and found a way to mount a pair TD drives in the final quarter to down the Patriots, 16-13, put them in control of defending their Ches Mont American Division title and gain a berth in the District One 5A playoffs. Oh – and win head coach Pat Clark his 100th win with the program and a post-game Gatorade bath.

Clark, for his part, all but beamed with pride after the game.


Unionville’s JT Hower comes down with the ball for an interception at time runs out against Great Valley, Friday night. Jim Gill photo.

“These kids bounce back,” Clark said. “Our kids just lay so hard. J.T. (Hower) had a couple of catches down the stretch and he got that one (the interception) at the end of the game, but it was a total team effort. We found a way to get the ball ran and our ability to keep them off the field was a big bonus.”

If you were looking for heroes — you could certainly start with junior Joe Zubillaga, who overcame an ankle injury to lead the final two drives. Or halfback Jack Adams, who ran with heart and desire all night and channeled his inner Odell Beckham Jr. to make an amazing one-handed catch with the game on the line. Or the defense, which held the explosive Great Valley offense to just one TD — including Zach Nance’s clutch tackle of Pats’ QB Robert Geiss with 4:00 left to get the ball back. Or the offensive line, which found a way to get running room for Adams and Zubillaga — especially on the last two drives.

But maybe the biggest hero was J.T. Hower. Hower fumbled the ball away on a muffed punt — on the Unionville 30 — which set up a field goal by Pat Sauer that gave the Patriots a 13-3 lead in the final minutes o the third quarter. Instead of hanging his head, Hower, a junior WR/DB, went to work. He made a couple of key catches during both scoring drives and then ended the game by picking off a Geiss pass in the end zone as time expired.

Unionville's Joe Zubillaga finds running room to the right on what would be the winning touchdown with less than a minute to go. Jim Gill photo.

Unionville’s Joe Zubillaga finds running room to the right on what would be the winning touchdown with less than a minute to go. Jim Gill photo.

“It was amazing,” Hower said of the comeback. “I knew I had to do something (to make up for the fumble), and I just kept working.”

Zubillaga — growing rapidly into his role at QB, despite a second-quarter ankle injury that left him gimpy for the remainder of the night — cooly engineered the last two drives, finding open receivers on third and fourth and long more than once, plus continuing to display the kind of QB running not seen since Tom Pancoast lined up for the Indians. Adams at times simply refused to go down, was patient waiting for his blocks to set up and found daylight when it was most needed. His 12-yard TD run got the Indians within a single score in the final quarter.

And then there was “the catch.” On the final drive — arguably the season on the line, Adams leaped high in the air to grab a Zubillaga pass, snagged it with one hand over Great Valley defender Brendon O’Donnell and managed to come down with it for a 20-yard gain. That catch set up Zubillaga’s TD run that was the game winner.

With the win, the Indians control their fate in terms of the American Division title. After traveling to Kennett, Unionville hosts 1-6 Octorara before ending the season with a showdown at 6-1 Sun Valley. Don’t expect the Indians to look past their neighbors — and rivals (both schools share a youth football program, the Titans) — next week.

“Never sell those guys short,” Clark said, suggesting that Kennett will bring its “A” game. “They’re a local rival.”

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