Red Devils stay alive in playoff chase
DOWNINGTOWN >> A cynic could have call Friday’s Avon GroveBishop Shanahan football clash ‘The Battle for Fourth Place.’ That’s because the two (along with West Chester East) are, essentially, vying for the spot just below powerful Coatesville, Downingtown East and Downingtown West in the Ches-Mont National standings.
But don’t tell that to the Red Devils. They went into Jack Mancini Field on Friday and came away with a 20-7 Homecoming victory over the host Eagles. Now 4-4 overall (2-2 in the league), Avon Grove has two games to play and is still vying for a berth in the District 1 Class 6A playoffs.
“We are still in the hunt until they say we are not,” Devils’ head coach Harry O’Neill said. “We have to play every game like it matters. We’ve never been this deep into the season where every game means something.
“Any time you can win a game in the Ches-Mont National, it’s a huge win. And I don’t care who it is against. We certainly can’t take anybody lightly and we have to cherish each and every win. It was only four years ago where we didn’t have any wins. So to be at .500 this deep into the season is good for us.”
And even though Shanahan drops to 3-5 overall (1-4 in the Ches-Mont) — and has dropped five of the last six — the squad is still in the mix in Class 4A. Heading into Friday’s clash, the Eagles were fifth in the power rankings and the top four will make it.
“We were just a little off (Friday),” Shanahan head coach Paul Meyers said. “We needed somebody to make a play and it didn’t happen. We couldn’t get over the hump.
“But we still have two games left and if we can win at least one of them we still have a good shot at the playoffs. If we get two we should be in.”
The Eagles lone win since a 2-0 start came against winless West Chester Henderson, and they end with road trips to Downingtown West and Oxford. And on Friday, Shanahan moved the football into the red zone on four separate occasions, and only came away with one touchdown.
“We let this one slip away. I told our guys that when they watch the film, they will see that we made too many mistakes,” Meyers said.
“I thought we played a little sloppy, at times, tonight,” O’Neill countered. “But we forced some turnovers on defense, stopped some of their drives and that helped us a lot. I thought our defense came up big when we needed it.”
The Eagles were unable to score in the first half as two long drives deep into Avon Grove territory ended with fumbles. The first came on the opening series when the Devils’ Max Gula pounced on the loose ball at the nine yard line. Moments later, the Devils took the lead on a 73-yard pass from J.T. MacDonald to Tyre Stead, who broke a tackle on third-and-long to go the distance.
“The defender grabbed my ankle and ripped my shoe off, but I just kept on running,” the senior wideout explained. “It felt weird, like I was running on two different feet, but it was fun.”
Early in the second quarter, the Eagles coughed it up again in the red zone and it was recovered by Avon Grove’s Matt Walsh. Shanahan also missed a 38-yard field goal in the final minute of the half after Tyler Kingsbury set it up with a 51yard run.
Avon Grove added another TD when Stead raced 31 yards on a reverse to convert a fourth-and-11 with 1:04 left in the second quarter. The PAT was blocked at it was 13-0 at the intermission.
“We put that in this week. We’ve been saving it for the right spot,” O’Neill said.
“We ran it every day of practice and it works every time, so I wasn’t surprised it worked in a game,” Stead added.
A six-yard run by Kingsbury finally got the Eagles on the scoreboard early in the fourth, but Shanahan previously turned it over on downs inside the Devils’ 10.
“To be in the red zone that many times and only come away with seven points is disappointing,” Meyers said. “The turnovers just absolutely killed us.
“Those were our mistakes and if you do that you are not going to win – I don’t care who you’re playing.”
Avon Grove added an insurance score in the final two minutes when sophomore runner Colby Riddell rambled 41 yards on a fourth-and-short.
“A win is a win,” said Walsh, a junior linebacker who also had a sack. “There were some sloppy things and we’ll have to fix some things, but we kept fighting. And turning them over (in the red zone) really changes the momentum.”
The Eagles out-gained the Devils 367-225, and had a 16-10 edge in first downs -- but lost the turnover battle 3-0. Kingsbury led the way with 127 yards on the ground in 10 attempts.
Quarterback J.T. MacDonald completed just five passes, but it was for 111 yards. Stead had two catches for 77 yards, chipped in 27 on the ground and, of course, the two TDs.
“Tyre is a playmaker and we try to get the ball to him,” O’Neill said.
Avon Grove will host unbeaten Coatesville and end the season at home against Henderson.
“We are a very young team,” O’Neill said. “We start 13 juniors and we were missing Nick Pino, one of our best linemen. So sometimes we play like a young team.”