Zero Hour

Shutout-happy de­fense, con­verted QB, carry Unionville into di­vi­sion show­down

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bruce Adams badams@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @mline­s­ports on Twit­ter

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.”

PETE BANNAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

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.

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