Unionville holds off Avon Grove, 14-6, in defensive battle

Unionville’s Zach Lawrence takes down Avon Grove QB Shane Wolford during Friday night’s game. Jim Gill photo.

By Al Tustin, Staff Writer, The Times

EAST MARLBOROUGH — With the hurricane damage of Harvey in Texas very much on the minds of all in attendance (not to mention the impending damage of Hurricane Irma in Florida), neighboring Unionville and Avon Grove got together Friday to raise money for storm victims — and put on a bit of a defensive show.

Although the game — which helped raise money for the Hardin-Jefferson Independent School District in Sour Lake, Texas — might have seemed like a mismatch between the undefeated Indians and the winless Red Devils, don’t forgot two things: it’s a rivalry game and both programs pride themselves on playing stout defense.

A fired up Avon Grove (0-3) team gave Unionville (3-0) all it could handle, as the Indians hung on for a 14-6 win, Friday night.

Unionville’s Connor Schilling takes down Avon Grove running back Kevin Francis. Jim Gill photo.

Unionville head coach Pat Clark said he wasn’t surprised at all that the contest ended up being a tough, physical battle.

“We’re playing all of the neighborhood rivalries right now,” Clark said. “And for anybody to think that they’re going to be routs and blow outs … the Avon Grove kids are well coached, they’ve got a lot of personal pride. When your team is trying to win, you play with a tremendous amount of intensity and we got that from them tonight.”

The Indians’ usual high-powered offense struggled to find a rhythm at as the Red Devils managed mostly contain both their speed and passing game, even with Dante Graham’s 117 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Unionville was just barely able to keep senior running back Kevin Francis (110 yards rushing) under control and hold off a second-half comeback by Avon Grove. While not perfect, Clark said his team did what it had to when it had to.

“We got the plays we needed to get when we needed to get them,” he said.

Unionville’s Dante Graham, struggles for yards against Avon Grove’s Dillon Estes. Jim Gill photo.

Although the early season has not been kind to Avon Grove, Friday’s strong, physical effort against one of the top teams in the Ches Mont, gave Red Devils’ head coach Harry O’Neill confidence that better day are ahead for his squad.

“I challenged them before the game because I didn’t think our effort had been good the last two weeks,” he said. “And they showed up…and Iove ‘em for what they did. That’s (Unionville) a good good football team. We were in the game, we probably shouldn’t have called that fake punt, it cost us a touchdown at the end.”

That defense came up big — nearly big enough to steal the game, holding Unionville scoreless in the second half. But that failed fake punt (a failed Francis pass gave the Indians’ the ball on the Red Devils’ 45 and set up a score) and the inability of the Avon Grove offense to cash in when it had opportunities proved fatal.

All Unionville players wore a special decal honoring a sister school district in Sour Lake, Texas. As part of the evening, donations were taken, special shirts were sold and Exelon Donated some $13,000 to help the storm victims. Jim Gill photo.

Unionville grabbed the lead for good when QB Alex Gorgone — who struggled at times — hit JT Hower for an 11-yard scoring pass late in the first quarter. The Indians grabbed a 14-0 lead when Gorgone hit Joe Zubillaga for a 21-yard scoring pass in the second.

Avon Grove’s lone TD came when QB Shane Wolford raced down the right sideline for a 50-yard scoring run. A failed extra point left the score at 14-6.

From there on, both teams dominated on defense — holding the offenses to short possessions and punts. Unionville did manage a late drive deep into Avon Grove turf — eating the final few minutes off the clock, but ended up kneeling to kill the clock in the final minute, inside the Red Devils’ 20.

Avon Grove looks to get on the winning track next week at surprising Octorara (2-1) before heading into its difficult Ches Mont National Division schedule.

Meanwhile, Unionville travels to another Ches Mont surprise: Kennett — which also sports a 2-1 record after a 30-24 win over Twin Valley, Thursday night. As always the game between the two schools — which share a number of recreational sports leagues, including the Unionville-Kennett Titans youth football program — will have both teams fired up for the annual match up of neighbors. Since the Blue Demons returned to playing football in 2006, they have not beaten the neighboring Indians — a score they are looking to settle.

Clark said he saw first-hand how good Kennett’s high-powered offense can be, watching the Blue Demons’ win over Twin Valley, Thursday night.

“Boy, they’re scoring points on people, and they’re playing with a lot of energy — they do a lot on offense,” Clark said. “They’re doing some things on offense that are really, really difficult to defend.”

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