Cougars’ ‘D’ grounds Geiss, Great Val­ley

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Sports­doc­tormd on Twitter

SPRING­FIELD >> One by one, mem­bers of the Spring­field foot­ball team queued up near the Great Val­ley bench Fri­day night.

They’d fin­ished their hand­shakes fol­low­ing a 24-10 win over the Pa­tri­ots in the Dis­trict 1 Class 5A quar­ter­fi­nals. But to a man, the fear­some de­fend­ers who’d spent the pre­vi­ous 48 min­utes chas­ing

quar­ter­back Rob Geiss went the ex­tra 20 steps to per­son­ally shake the hand of the for­lorn sig­nal-caller about to be wheeled off the field, jacket on, icepack af­fixed to his back.

Such was the re­spect be­tween two of the dis­trict’s most daunt­ing units: Great Val­ley’s clin­i­cal pos­ses­sion passing of­fense and Spring­field’s in­de­fati­ga­ble de­fense. And by night’s end, the lat­ter pre­vailed de­ci­sively, book­ing the Cougars (11-1) a spot in the Dis­trict 1 semi­fi­nals against West Ch­ester Hen­der­son next week.

Geiss’s night came to an end late in the third quar­ter. He’d sus­tained abuse on his 12 car­ries, but af­ter a rou­tine com­ple­tion on which he wasn’t touched, Geiss buck­led and had to be helped off, just as his Pa­tri­ots had driven to the Spring­field 9, down 24-7.

The snaps fol­low­ing Geiss’s de­par­ture: Run for mi­nus-6 yards af­ter a mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Ryan Hub­ley and sopho­more QB Jake Prevost, two false starts, a Justin Shields sack of Prevost that forced a punt, then on the next se­ries a short run fol­lowed by a fum­ble from wild­cat QB Damien Carter.

In short order, as Dwayne Snipes stripped Carter and Pa­trick Cle­mens pounced on the ball, any slim hope of a Great Val­ley come­back evap­o­rated from a game fea­tur­ing just three sec­ond­half points.

For a Spring­field team no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to break down, an open­ing like Geiss’ in­jury proved too much to over­come.

“We didn’t re­ally think any­thing dif­fer­ent of it,” Spring­field de­fen­sive back Joe Kennedy said. “They were on the goal line, and we just knew that we were not let­ting them get through that goal line. Whether they had a first­string quar­ter­back or a sixth-string quar­ter­back, we knew it was the same thing.”

“When Robert goes down and a new quar­ter­back comes in, doesn’t get one var­sity snap in a game this year, we kept go­ing back,” Great Val­ley wide re­ceiver Dy­lan Tashjian said. “We prob­a­bly should’ve done a bet­ter job of pick­ing him up and help­ing out a young quar­ter­back go­ing in. But we never gave up.”

Even with Geiss, the Cougars were out­stand­ing in sniff­ing out the Pa­tri­ots’ mis­di­rec­tion, screens and coun­ters. Geiss was 16-for19 but lim­ited to just 112 yards. Hub­ley, one of the Ches-Mont League’s most po­tent deep threats, caught four balls for a grand to­tal of one yard.

More of­ten than not, the ball ar­rived in Hub­ley’s hands si­mul­ta­ne­ous to a Spring­field de­fender, like Kennedy, An­thony Di­vario, David Straw­ley or Greg Ta­mac­cio. And as is Spring­field’s de­fen­sive call­ing card, when the Cougars tackle you, you stay tack­led.

“We talked all week that we had to wrap them and keep the quar­ter­back in con­tain,” said Shields, who fin­ished with two sacks. “It was a bat­tle all night. Their of­fen­sive line was do­ing a great job, but we kept fight­ing and fight­ing and good things hap­pened.”

De­spite the gusty con­di­tions, only six of 38 pass at­tempts fell in­com­plete, in­clud­ing Prevost fin­ish­ing 7-for-9 for 56 yards on a drive cul­mi­nat­ing with a Pat Sauer 39-yard field goal.

The flip­side was Johnny Fanelli’s ef­fi­cient use of the passing game, go­ing 9-for10 for 99 yards. He found Kennedy for a 45-yard touch­down in the fi­nal minute of the first quar­ter, Kennedy run­ning through sev­eral fee­ble arm tack­les.

The key was strik­ing bal­ance be­tween run and pass. Ja’Den McKen­zie was the sure thing, car­ry­ing 21 times for 117 yards and a one-yard score. Philip Shovlin picked up the ba­ton with a 14-yard score in the sec­ond, and Jack Coary’s 30-yard field goal with three sec­onds left in the first half pro­vided all the points the Cougars needed.

“Even though they had two great lock­down cor­ner­backs, Fanelli was do­ing a great job put­ting the ball right where it had to be,” Kennedy said. “And on top of that, Ja’Den was do­ing a great job of get­ting through the line.”

“That helps a lot, takes off the pres­sure from (Johnny),” McKen­zie said. “We’ve just got to keep do­ing what we do for Johnny to be com­fort­able back there.”

They got a healthy as­sist from the Pa­tri­ots, who com­mit­ted 12 penal­ties for 86 yards. Coary missed a 35-yard field goal, but was granted a mul­li­gan when run into by a Pa­triot, and con­verted from five yards closer.

With Hub­ley bot­tled up, Great Val­ley (7-5) lacked its big­gest ver­ti­cal threat, com­press­ing space around the line. Mark DeRober­tis, who caught 13 balls in last week’s win over Glen Mills, was held to three catches for 20 yards and 11 car­ries for 51. But up stepped Tashjian, who hauled in 10 passes for 103 yards.

“We look at the de­fense and see what we can get,” Tashjian said. “What­ever is work­ing, we kind of stick to it. We have so many weapons.”

But Spring­field’s abil­ity to limit that group Fri­day means their im­pres­sive sea­son has at least one more in­stall­ment left.

“It means a lot,” McKen­zie said. “We came in, we wanted to win, we wanted to go far, we didn’t want to end early. We wanted some­thing big.”

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