War­riors se­cure home play­off game

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Neil Geoghe­gan ngeoghe­gan@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @NeilMGeoghe­gan on Twit­ter

WEST GOSHEN >> For three-plus decades prior to the open­ing of Rustin in 2006, the Hen­der­son-East foot­ball clash was the cham­pi­onship of the West Ch­ester School District. But be­cause the War­riors and Vik­ings topped the Golden Knights ear­lier this sea­son, Fri­day’s reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale at Zim­mer­man Sta­dium was a blast from the past.

And just a year re­moved from a one-win sea­son, Hen­der­son pulled out a 17-10 de­ci­sion to com­plete a 7-3 cam­paign and earn what is ex­pected to be a home game for the first round of the District 1 5A play­offs.

“I think we will cer­tainly have a home game, so hope­fully we will be able to use that to our ad­van­tage,” War­riors’ head coach Steve Mit­ten ac­knowl­edged.

“We came into the sea­son with three ob­jec­tives: win the league, win West Ch­ester and make the play­offs,” added Hen­der­son star run­ner C.J. Pre­ston. “We didn’t get the first one, but we ac­com­plished the other two tonight.”

In all, Hen­der­son scored 17 unan­swered points, but the big dif­fer­ence came on spe­cial teams mid­way through the fourth quar­ter.

Knot­ted in a 10-10 tie, East’s Kyle Cichanowsky mis­han­dled a punt and the loose ball was re­cov­ered by se­nior Kyle McTier­nan at the War­riors’ four yard line.

Two plays later, Hen­der­son quar­ter­back Joe Saulino scored from a yard out with 6:06 on the clock.

“It was the dif­fer­ence in the game,” Mit­ten said.

“(McTier­nan) is a se­nior who had played and worked hard. He is the pres­i­dent of his class and he had an out­stand­ing game. I can’t say enough about him. He put us on a po­si­tion to ice the game.”

As ex­pected, it was a de­fen­sive slugfest be­tween ri­val pro­grams that have been mir­ror-images of each other this fall. Both sides boast stout de­fenses, and both have a dy­namic ju­nior run­ner. Pre­ston rolled up 170 yards on the ground and scored on an elec­tri­fy­ing 74-yard run on Fri­day, while the Vik­ings’ Jared Cooper re­sponded with 169 yards and a TD.

“Pre­ston is a tough back,” said East head coach Dave Gueriera.

“Ev­ery time they handed the ball to (Cooper) we held our breath be­cause he can take it the route,” Mit­ten added.

“Dave (Gueriera) and I were say­ing be­fore the game just how sim­i­lar our teams

are in size and num­ber. That’s a well-coached, tal­ented team over there (at East). We made some in­cred­i­ble plays on spe­cial teams and de­fense, and got just enough of­fense. We are for­tu­nate to come out of here with a win.”

Hen­der­son ends the reg­u­lar sea­son with a four-game win­ning streak and fin­ishes 3-3 in the Ches-Mont Na­tional. The Vik­ings fall to 1-5 in the league (4-6 over­all), but are still ex­pected to slip into the post­sea­son.

“I think we are go­ing to get in but we are go­ing to be on the road for sure,” Gueriera said. “I’m not sure we de­serve it right now, but we will go back to the draw­ing board.”

Pre­ston and Cooper each reeled off a cou­ple runs of 30-plus yards, and each ac­counted for the vast ma­jor­ity of their team’s of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion. Other than that, the de­fenses were dom­i­nant.

“We knew it was go­ing to be a dog­fight, and our de­fense came up huge,” Pre­ston said.

“Our de­fense bailed us out all game and they’ve done that all sea­son,” Guere­ria added. “The story all sea­son has been try­ing to move the ball and get points on the board. We are not do­ing a good job with that right now.”

Trail­ing 7-0 at the half, the War­riors quickly tied it up on Pre­ston’s long run early in the sec­ond half. It came mo­ments af­ter se­nior line­backer Ryan Brida picked off a pass by East quar­ter­back Johnathan Thompson.

“When you have a tal­ent like (Pre­ston), it’s like the say­ing: ‘you have to dance with the one that brung ya,’” Mit­ten said. “He’s had close to 1,300 yards rush­ing and it’s a tes­ta­ment to the work he’s put in and our of­fen­sive line.”

The Vik­ing dodged a bul­let mo­ments later fol­low­ing an­other Thompson pick when Saulino fum­bled at the goal line. But on the next series,

Hen­der­son’s Nick Mascetti picked off an­other Thompson throw, and the War­riors upped the lead to 10-7 fol­low­ing a 32-yard Bryce McEl­hiney field goal.

Early in the fi­nal quar­ter, East over­came four penal­ties in one pos­ses­sion to get the equal­izer – a 28-yard field goal by Jake Bon­nett with 10:16 re­main­ing. But McTier­nan’s spe­cial team’s gem came soon there­after.

“I knew it was go­ing to be a close, tough game,” Gueriera said. “But I didn’t ex­pect all of the mis­takes on our side. We self-de­struc­ted and it killed us. You can’t com­mit four turnovers and a bunch of penal­ties. It was undis­ci­plined and not the way we want to play Vik­ing foot­ball.”

De­spite all of the problems, East still had an op­por­tu­nity to tie it. Thanks to big third down re­cep­tions from Cooper and J.D. Car­roll, the Vik­ings marched into Hen­der­son ter­ri­tory only to turn it over on downs at the 41.

“We still had six min­utes to go with the ball, we go all the way down the field and we can’t con­vert it,” Gueriera lamented.

The lone score of the first half came cour­tesy of Cooper, who ripped off a 32-yarder to set up his own 2-yard scor­ing plunge late in the first half. The Vik­ings had an­other Cooper TD -- a 68-yard punt re­turn -- negated by a penalty. And even though the re­turn went for 51 yards, the il­le­gal block proved costly as East wound up turn­ing it over on downs at the Hen­der­son 11.

The War­riors had one prime scor­ing chance in the first half af­ter a 32-yard run by C. J. Pre­ston, but the Vik­ings ended the threat when Chris Cas­sidy picked off a Saulino pass that was tipped by a Hen­der­son re­ceiver.

“We came back from a 1-9 sea­son last year, and we are not done yet,” Pre­ston said.

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