Close-knit Warriors keep right on rolling
UPPER DUBLIN >> Take a look at the West Chester Henderson football team dismounting the bus before a football game.
It won’t have to be a long look.
The Warriors, just short of 40 players strong, won’t dazzle you with their sizes and weights, or even their 40-yard dash times.
All they do, at least this year, is win.
Henderson strolled into windy, frigid Cardinal Stadium Friday night looking for an upset win over favored hosts Upper Dublin.
And they followed the upset playbook to the letter.
Each time the Cardinals struck, the Warriors parried brilliantly, following the upset script to perfection.
And when the Warriors’ 17-14 win was complete, there was no jumping, dancing or physical displays of any kind.
They just did what they had to do, and then congratulated the vanquished.
That’s the way it is for the Warriors.
Nothing fancy, nothing eye-popping, just basic, solid football — played by a team that genuinely likes each other.
“We’ve just gotten better and better since the start of the season,” explained junior quarterback Joe Saulino. “That’s the way we’ve played all year.
“(Upper Dublin) is a fantastic team, very competitive and very aggressive. Our game plan was to run what we do, and then adjust if we had to.”
“We knew we were facing a league championship team, a (defending) district champion team and a firstrate program,” added head coach Steve Mitten. “So we’re very pleased.
“And everybody involved in this program has had a hand in our success.”
But Friday night, the Warriors helped themselves out by stripping the Cardinals of any momentum before it could even get started.
The Warriors spent the majority of the first quarter in Cardinals territory, and while they would only come out of the first half with a 7-0 lead, their confidence never wavered.
They got a huge break in the first half when a Mark Rizzo interception of a tipped pass from Upper Dublin quarterback Justin Horn set them up at the Cardinals 45.
It took 12 plays, but Henderson seized the lead when Saulino plowed into the end zone from the 1-yard line with 1:52 left in the first half.
They were the game’s first points, and the Warriors made sure they stood up.
The Cardinals came back to tie it in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
But before they could enjoy that bit of momentum, CJ Preston broke off an 80-yard run on the very next play from scrimmage, and the Warriors were back in front.
“CJ’s been great all year,” Saulino said. “He’s been the guy we’ve depended on, but he’s just one part of our offense.”
Once again, the Cardinals had nothing to build on.
But the clincher came after Upper Dublin tied the game with 8:34 left when Horn broke off a 28-yard touchdown run.
Two series later, with the Cardinals punting from their own 32-yard line, the diminutive Kavond Jones somehow found his way through the punt protection to block the kick and set the Warriors offense up at the Cardinals 20-yard line.
“I don’t think he weighs 125 pounds,” laughed Mitten, “but he wasn’t going to be denied.”
Three plays later, Bryce McElhiney drilled a 30yard field goal, and the undermanned Warriors were 2:57 away from a major win.
“It was a high snap, Bryce, studder-stepped and he still knocked it through,” beamed Mitten.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t bring our A game tonight, and Henderson did,” said Cardinals head coach Bret Stover. “Give them the credit.
“Their defensive guys up front overran us . That was a great defensive scheme.”
“Our defense is built to play strong, physical Warriors football,” Mitten said. “Defense and special teams are a big part of our team, and I couldn’t be any more appreciative of our kids and our parents and our administration.
“We beat a good football program tonight, and everybody had a hand in it.”
Henderson’s Joe Saulino rolls on a quarterback keeper Friday night against Upper Dublin.