Francis’ big game lifts Devils over Whippets
Francis runs wild (390 yards, 5 TDs) in Avon Grove win over West
LONDON GROVE » It’s easy to tell Avon Grove’s Kevin Francis apart from any of his teammates, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he has now more than double the rushing yardage as anyone else in the county this season. All you have to do is take a quick glance at his battered helmet.
He is the only Red Devil with a couple large swathes of yellow showing through the chipped golden paint. It is the culmination of uncountable collisions between Francis and would-be tacklers. And on Friday afternoon, the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder cemented his legacy as one of the Ches-Mont league’s toughest runners with a performance for the ages.
“Yellow is the color of the skull of the helmet. But he doesn’t take hits at the end of runs, he dishes them out,” said Avon Grove head coach Harry O’Neill. “He finishes runs better than anybody I’ve ever had. He is always going forward.”
A battering ram all season, Francis put up numbers that wouldn’t be believed even in a video game. And in the process, he helped engineer the biggest Avon Grove victory in years: a 3817 triumph over visiting Downingtown West. A senior, Francis carried the football 50 times on Friday, gained 390 yards and scored five touchdowns.
“That’s abuse. Fifty is a lot, but he’s our guy,” joked O’Neill.
“That was tough-guy football and (Francis) is a throw-back runner,” added Whippets’ head coach Mike Milano. “What a tough,
tough, tough kid. He’s an old-school Ches-Mont football back. He never quits.”
Let’s face it: 390 yards and five TDs on 50 carries is a good season for a decent running back. Francis did it in one amazing afternoon.
“I had no idea I was anywhere near 390,” Francis later admitted. “That’s amazing. My (offensive) line is the best. I love them.”
It was easily a school record for both carries and yards, and was the second highest yardage total in a single game in Ches-Mont history. Downingtown High School’s Mike Recchiuti amassed 410 yards on 50-plus attempts back in 2000.
“Kevin is an old-school Ches-Mont type of guy,” O’Neill said. “He’s got one fumble in all of those carries, he runs hard and after the game he looked like he could have kept on playing. He is a one-of-akind guy.
“He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he has unbelievable vision and power,” O’Neill added. “I’ve coached a long time and seen some pretty good running backs, and if he isn’t the best, he is certainly top-three.”
Francis surpassed the 1,000-yard milestone for the season in the first quarter and had rolled up 224 yards by halftime. His totals through six games: 1,310 yards on 183 carries and 18 TDs. He leads the league in all three categories.
“I would have given it to him 60 times. That kid wanted to win and he did,” Milano said.
“After a long run, I’ll admit I am winded,” said Francis, who had seven runs of more than 15 yards. “But I feel like I could play another four quarters. I guess I just don’t get very tired usually.
“I just run through the hole my line makes. And I try to run my hardest.”
Overshadowed by Francis’ heroics, the Red Devils extend their winning streak to three games, and are now 2-0 in the Ches-Mont National (3-3 overall). And the roller coaster season for Downingtown West (0-2, 3-3) continues.
“I told the team that we
can’t use the excuse that we are young anymore,” Milano said. “Avon Grove completely dominated the game in every phase. We were out-coached, outplayed, out-physicaled … and frankly embarrassed.”
It was Avon Grove’s first win over West since 2009, and the first over a team from Downingtown or Coatesville under O’Neill, who is in his fourth year at the helm. The Devils outrushed the Whippets 338 yards.
“It’s a big win and I want to enjoy it, but this needs to become the norm,” O’Neill. “We shouldn’t be surprised or begging and hoping anymore.”
Deadlocked at 7-7 early in the second quarter, Francis scored his second touchdown to cap an eight-play, 94-yard march in which he gained every yard. And when kicker Kevin Sheehan booted a 38 yard field goal in the final seconds, Avon Grove took a 24-14 lead into the intermission. Francis certainly didn’t cool off in the second half, scoring on additional runs of 13and 24-yards.
“The more he gets the ball, the more he starts wearing on opponents. And our O-line did a tremendous job,” O’Neill said.
“(Francis) plays with all heart,” said teammate Dylan Lapham. “He keeps on impressing us all. I just love the kid. He plays his heart out.”
The Whippets — who scored on a pair of long plays in the first half — managed just three points the rest of the way on a 50yard field goal from Massimo Biscardi. Sophomore quarterback Will Howard threw for most of his 230 yards in the second half, and receiver Dan Byrnes grabbed six catches for 116 yards and a TD.
Up next for the Whippets: unbeaten rival Downingtown East.
“We will see more of the same,” Milano predicted. “They will run downhill at us. If I were them, I’d give it to their tailback 70 times.”
Lapham finished with three catches for 42 yards and was a force on defense with an interception and a sack.
“We’ve always wanted to beat a Downingtown team,” Francis said. “Everyone was always scared of them, but not us.”
Avon Grove’s Kevin Francis breaks away for a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half.
Avon Grove’s Kevin Francis breaks a tackle against Downingtown West.