Barnes, quick start help Chel­tenham top West Ch­ester East

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - SPORTS - By An­drew Robin­son arobin­son@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @ADRobin­son3 on Twit­ter

WYN­COTE >> As soon as Chel­tenham won the pregame coin toss Fri­day night, its choice was al­ready made.

Nor­mally, Pan­thers foot­ball coach Ryan Nase is a staunch de­fer to the sec­ond- half guy, but a de­ci­sion he made two weeks ago was turn­ing into a trend so he stuck with it. Chel­tenham opted to take the ball and when Nate Ed­wards took the open­ing kick back for a score, it was the best start the Pan­thers could have hoped for.

A quick open­ing and a re­silient end­ing helped the No. 7 Pan­thers edge No. 10 West Ch­ester East 2821 in their first round Dis­trict 1-5A play­off game in the wind and rain Fri­day.

“My brother, Sam Sykes, he opened it up for me and once I saw the block, they weren’t fast enough and I scored,” Ed­wards said of his 83-yard kick re­turn. “It was a great boost. Once I scored, I knew we were go­ing to have a great game. My line­men, they blocked well for Jamir (Barnes) and they opened it up for us.”

The ori­gins of tak­ing the ball first date back two weeks to when the Pan­thers faced Up­per More­land. Nase didn’t want to put the ball in the hands of UM’s Caleb Mead to start things off and then his guys re­sponded with a first­drive touch­down.

Last week against Wis­sahickon, the Pan­thers got the ball first and scored again on that first drive. So Nase, the sec­ond-year head coach, fig­ured he was go­ing to keep rolling with it.

“If we win the toss next week, we’re go­ing to take the ball and try to score again,” Nase said with a laugh. “I was al­most a lit­tle ner­vous we started too fast. We had to reign them in be­cause we knew West Ch­ester East would come back and 14 points wouldn’t be enough to win the game.”

Chel­tenham’s of­fense didn’t even touch the field un­til the 6:54 mark of the first quar­ter and by then, the host Pan­thers were up 14-0. West Ch­ester East’s first drive ended when a botched hand­off led to a fum­ble that Chel­tenham’s Zachary Gaf­fin scooped up and ran back about 30 yards for a score.

The game wasn’t even two min­utes old and the Vik­ings found them­selves on their heels. While WC East coach Scott Stephen would have liked a re-do on the start, he knew his team wasn’t go­ing to col­lapse de­spite the early set­backs.

“I’m proud of these guys, you’re down 14-0 and you don’t know what di­rec­tion you’re go­ing to go but as we told them as a staff, we weren’t con­cerned,” Stephen said. “We knew what we had, we knew

the type of char­ac­ter of team we had and re­ally, we just needed to get our foot­ing, set­tle down and set­tle in and we did that.”

The Vik­ings got back in the game with their de­fense. WC East stopped Chel­tenham’s first of­fen­sive drive short on a fourth-down try, then forced two con­sec­u­tive punts. A 29-yard catch by Michael Gray on a de­flected pass helped set up a 35-yard touch­down run by Kyle Cichanowsky to put the Vik­ings on the board af­ter the de­fense’s fourth-down stand.

West Ch­ester East tied the game 14-14 when se­nior quar­ter­back Ryan Cas­sidy found John Wileczek for a 15-yard score. Gray and Cas­sidy, both se­niors, along with se­nior run­ning back Pierre Marchant, had got­ten the Vik­ings set­tled on of­fense af­ter the de­fense had got­ten them back in the flow of the game.

“They were dynamic, we chal­lenged them and they rose to the oc­ca­sion, af­ter it was 14-0 and you needed to get stops, they got stops,” Stephen said. “The de­fense al­lowed us to get back in the game

“We were 2-8 last year, we changed the di­rec­tion of the pro­gram, we changed the per­cep­tion and they set that tone back in De­cem­ber and it was all the way through tonight when it was 14-0. You don’t come back from that with­out good se­nior lead­er­ship. We will re­mem­ber this se­nior group for a long time.”

With rain fall­ing steadily and of­ten time heav­ily from the open­ing kick, Chel­tenham’s pass­ing game never got into a true rhythm, but the run­ning game was able to start kick­ing up a few yards and quar­ter­back Ado­nis Hunter did con­nect on a key

pass, find­ing TJ Har­ris for a 21-yard score with 2:08 left in the first half. The ex­tra point pinged off the up­right, mak­ing the score 20-14, where it stayed at the half.

Out of the break, West Ch­ester East marched the open­ing drive of the third quar­ter right down the field and took its first lead at 2120 on a 23-yard Cas­sidy to Wileczek pass with 8:31 left in the frame.

Chel­tenham got its own fourth down stop when WC East fell a cou­ple inches short of mov­ing the chains on a 4th-and-9 pass. The Pan­thers de­fense, led by se­niors Mar­cus Win­field and Daniel Gaf­fin on the de­fen­sive line, also came up with two cru­cial fourth quar­ter stops.

In be­tween, Jamir Barnes took over. With his team trail­ing, Nase talked it out with his as­sis­tants and de­cided to keep feed­ing the ju­nior the ball.

“Some­times, I have a ten­dency

to get too cute so go­ing into that last se­ries on the head­set I said ‘what do we think about giv­ing Jamir the ball?’ and ev­ery­one said let’s do it,” Nase said. “He’s our guy and it’s great to have some­body like him and we’re lucky to have guys like Nate and TJ who can go up and make plays.”

“In film study, my coaches told me they kept con­tain­ing the mid­dle so I went to the out­side when I saw the hole,” Barnes said. “We never gave up, our coaches told us to pick up the mo­men­tum, we made a cou­ple plays and made it hap­pen.”

On the 54-yard scor­ing drive, Barnes car­ried the ball seven times for 44 yards in­clud­ing the go-ahead 13yard touch­down run. It was no co­in­ci­dence the run came off the left side, fol­low­ing pri­mary blocks from Win­field and tight end Will Fe­lix and with Har­ris lock­ing up the last man at the goal line.

“My line­men, they’re my ba­bies, I’m the fa­ther, they’re the ba­bies,” Barnes said. “They pro­tect me and make it hap­pen for me.”

The win sends Chel­tenham on to face No. 2 Up­per Dublin next week. In their reg­u­lar-sea­son meet­ing, Up­per Dublin beat Chel­tenham 20-7 on the Pan­thers’ field and Nase said his play­ers left that game know­ing they could have played bet­ter.

It’s also a matchup he’s look­ing for­ward to.

“I love (UD head coach) Bret (Stover), he’s a great coach and he was a huge help to me when I got the job here so for the next week, we have to pre­tend not to like each other,” Nase said. “It’s re­ally good for our league. He said it go­ing into our last game that there was a good chance we would see each other again and just how great that would be for the (SOL Amer­i­can) league.”

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