Shutout-happy defense, converted QB, carry Unionville into division showdown
EAST MARLBOROUGH >> Unionville’s defense is making a habit of posting shutouts this fall — against Avon Grove (21-0), Bayard Rustin (14-0) and, last week, Oxford (14-0).
The Indians’ defense, along with a solid performance from safety-turned-quarterback Joe Zubilaga, is keeping Unionville (33, 2-0) in contention for another Ches-Mont League American Division title.
Friday evening, the Indians will be celebrating Homecoming when they host Great Valley in a matchup of Ches-Mont American Division leaders. If Unionville beats the Patriots, the Indians would be in excellent position to capture their sixth title in the past 13 years under head coach Pat Clark. It should be a good matchup, pitting Great Valley’s skilled offensive players — led by wide receiver Ryan Hubley and quarterback Rob Geiss — against the Indians’ tough defense.
“I like Great Valley’s skill players,” Clark said. “And I like our linebackers.”
The Indians’ defense is led by a trio of excellent senior linebackers — Trevor Gardiner (first team allleague last year), Jesse Gill (second team all-league) and James Watson. All three cracked the starting lineup toward the end of their sophomore years.
“Trevor, James and I have all been playing together since we were 8 years old, playing for the Kennett Titans,” said Gill. “It’s like a connection between the three of us — we understand each other’s thinking on the field. Trevor is fast, and James is a smart player.”
Clark said, “Trevor and Jesse, our interior linebackers, set the other linebackers . ... Trevor runs well, he’s very physical, he doesn’t miss tackles, and he makes plays sideline-to-sideline, which as an interior linebacker makes him unique.”
A fine all-around athlete, Gardiner (6-0, 190) is a righthanded pitcher for the Unionville baseball team.
“Trevor and James [Watson] are maniacs — they’ve been making big plays all season,” said Gill. “Our defensive line is one of the biggest and the best, and our secondary is getting into shape. Our defense has been working as a unit [in the three shutouts].”
Gill is an Indians’ co-captain whose brother Jimmy played defensive end for the Indians several years ago. He knows the challenge Great Valley’s skill players will present Friday evening.
“Ryan Hubley is really fast — he’s going to be a challenge,” said Gill.
The Indians have met several challenges on the offensive side of the ball this season. Unionville’s offense is averaging only about 12 points a game, and was further tested when quarterbacks Alex Gorgone and Drew Lenkaitis went down with injuries. Into the breach stepped free safety Zubilaga, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder.
“It was a hard transition, moving to quarterback,” Zublilaga said. “The toughest challenge was throwing the ball — running the ball came more naturally.”
Thejunior quarterback ran the ball well against Oxford last week, gaining 83 rushing yards in 16 carries. He also completed three of seven passes for 37 yards.
“With help from our linemen, and our whole team, I want to help our team and get it to win the league championship,” said Zubilaga. “I’ve gotten lots of help from Alex [Gorgone], particularly with footwork and with keeping the right mental attitude after throwing an interception, or a three-andout. He tells me, ‘You’ve got to stay positive, keep working hard [after a setback], because everyone on the team is looking up to you.’ Our skill position players also have helped me out, showing me how to time my throws on their cuts.
“It helps to have played the safety position. As a safety, you see a lot of same stuff that the quarterback sees.”
Zubilaga took his first emergency snaps at QB when sophomore backup Drew Lenkaitis went down with an injury and the team needed a backup quarterback. About a wekk later, when junior starting quarterback Alex Gorgone went down with a shoulder injury, Zubilaga moved into the starting spot.
Lenkaitis is now able to play, but Clark said Zubilaga is still his starting quarterback.
“Joe came into the Rustin game knowing just our base plays, but he’s a real competitive kid,” Clark said. “We’ve been able to expand the [offensive] package since then.”
The Unionville head coach also praised senior Shane Burke, who moved into the starting safety spot when Zubilaga became the starting quarterback.
“One of the things that has helped us find success this year is our team’s willingness to do whatever it takes for the good of the team. For example, when Shane stepped up at safety to take Zub’s defensive spot,” said Clark. “Shane’s a four-year player for us, he’s put in his time, and did all the right things.”
Clark emphasized that a key to the Indians’ success is not giving up big plays.
“We’re a good tackling team, and we want to not give up any big plays — we want to make them snap the ball,” said Clark. “Our kids have really been putting time and effort into defense.”
On offense, the Indians have been content to share the spotlight.
“We’ve been winning games by committee,” said Clark. “We have no individual [statistical] leaders.”
Unionville players, from left, Joe Zubilaga, Trevor Gardiner, Jesse GIll and James Watson, have been the anchors so far for the stingy and successful Indians.