Avon Grove Advances to District Quarterfinals
By Don Leypoldt
To Run in the Nov. 19th Bucks County Herald
Perhaps it was in honor of being the 5 seed.
Or perhaps it’s because Avon Grove (10-1) boasts several extremely talented running backs.
Either way, the #5-seed host Red Devils scored on their first five possessions en route to a 41-14 victory over the #12 Quakertown Panthers (8-3) in Friday night’s first round District One AAAA playoff game.
The Ches-Mont League already cemented bragging rights over the Suburban One with #15-seed Unionville’s shocking 12-7 upset at #2-Pennsbury.
Tonight, Avon Grove and their stable of runners- senior Jordan Harris and juniors Brandon Monk and Brendan McLaughlin- showed why they were the champions of that tough conference. If Harris had gained two more yards, all three would have broken the 100-yard barrier.
“We knew they had three really good running backs and that was on display tonight. We didn’t do a good job of tackling them,” offered Quakertown head coach John Donnelly. “We had a lot of film on them and we did a lot of preparation. But it comes down to run blocking and tackling and we just didn’t do that tonight.”
It was Quakertown who struck first, with senior RB Tony Latronica (15 carries for 143 yards) bursting for an 80 yard touchdown run on the game’s second play. But Monk (11 carries, 113 yards) answered just one play later with a 59 yard jitterbug scoring run of his own.
A Ryan Ayers counter from 19 yards out gave the Red Devils a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. But it would be a pass from this run-based team that keyed their next drive.
Quarterback Kyle Kush connected with WR Mike Rooney on a 14 yard bullet on a third-and-nine, all the more impressive since it was thrown into a 30 MPH wind. McLaughlin (15 carries, 147 yards) burst up the middle for a tackle-breaking and momentum swinging 27 yard run. Cush’s sneak three plays later made the game 20-7.
DB Joe Able lived up to his name by blocking the point after try.
With just 54 seconds left in the first half, Monk scampered 21 yards for his second touchdown, ending a seven play drive. Avon Grove took a 26-7 lead; Quakertown’s Kurt Roberts picked off the conversion try.
The Panthers responded. Latronica sprinted 30 yards and Able (11 carries, 64 yards) added 20 more on a run. Senior lefty QB Ryan Tincknell (7 completions, 81 yards) found Roberts (4 catches 54 yards) over the middle and Roberts advanced it to the AG-3. Avon Grove snuffed out a quarterback sneak on the last play of the half.
It was Kush’s quarterback sneak, which turned into a 37 yard run sprint, that keyed the Red Devils’ opening second half drive. Harris (13 rushes, 98 yards) swept right for a six-yard touchdown and McLaughlin banged in the conversion try.
The Panthers turned the ball over on downs at the AG-36 and the deep field would help them on the next play. LB Dylan Gostler scooped up a Harris fumble and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown, trimming the Red Devils’ lead to 34-14.
But McLaughlin’s 51 yard touchdown run midway through the fourth left no doubt about the game’s outcome.
There were a number of odd factors influencing this Friday the 13th game- the long trip, the turf field, the horrid weather and the absence of two critical Panther senior starters in RB Tyler Burke and LB Geoff DeLan. But Donnelly refused excuses.
“We got to practice on turf twice this week so that wasn’t a problem. Both teams have to play in the weather. It limited us a little bit in terms of what we wanted to do passing wise. They don’t throw a whole lot but they don’t have too. No excuses,” he adamantly stated. “We just didn’t do enough to win tonight.”
This was the biggest win in Avon Grove’s history. The program is just eight years old. The team went 4-6 last year and had never had a winning season- let alone a conference title and a playoff berth- until this year.
Coach Marvin Dooley’s wing-T utilizes his assets. Monk is the slippery playmaker whose runs are most likely to be YouTubed. McLaughlin is the Moose- albeit with good speed. Harris is a quick, 205 pounder who is likely to play at Division 1-AA next year.
Much like Dooley, Coach John Donnelly has breathed new life into a Quakertown program that went 3-9 just two years ago. This is the Panthers’ second straight eight win season and playoff berth.
The Panthers closed their regular season with three straight wins- none more impressive than their 21-16 victory at red hot Souderton on season finale.
Quakertown failed to score 21 points just once during the regular season. Their balanced attack featured six different Panthers who caught at least seven passes. Latronica was the difference maker. The senior scored 18 touchdowns while serving as both Quakertown’s leading rusher and receiver.
The Panthers’ reward for an eight win season was taking one of the longest road trips within District One- 73 miles- to West Grove.
Avon Grove (9-1) lost to District quarter-finalist Downingtown East on October 2nd. From there, they have rattled off six straight wins, outscoring their opponents 221-77. The Red Devils went 3-1 against AAAA playoff squads.
The rushing yards from the Devilish trio- Harris, Monk and McLaughlin- accounted for over 3/4ths of Avon Grove’s 2009 regular season total offense.
“We still had a good season up to this point,” Donnelly reminded. “This is not what we envisioned. We were hoping to advance. But we have Pennridge on Thanksgiving and that is a game we won’t have a hard time getting up for.”
Avon Grove will not have a hard time getting up for their next game at #4 seeded Downingtown West. The Red Devils beat the Whippets 35-21 on October 16th.
Be assured: if AG advances, these Devils will do so on a Wing (T) and a prayer.
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