Magic Matt Mesaros leads Garnet Valley into the District 1 6A championship in a 28-17 victory over Downingtown East
GLEN MILLS — Matt Mesaros is the starting quarterback for Garnet Valley. The 5-8, 170-pound senior takes his role as a leader seriously. So serious that he’s willing to selflessly play scout team quarterback, usually a part for an understudy.
It allows Mesaros to have some fun with the Garnet Valley first-team defense. During those sessions, he’s forced to scramble to make plays.
That ability to improvise surfaced Friday night in the Jaguars’ PIAA District 1 Class 6A 28-17 semifinal victory over No. 12 seed Downingtown East with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
No. 1-seed and defending District 1 6A champion Garnet Valley (12-0) gets to defend its district title against Central Bucks West, a 14-13 winner over Perkiomen Valley, next Friday at 7 p.m. at Garnet Valley.
Mesaros’ touchdown passes to Ron Leraris, who made a great adjustment on a 21-yard throw, and Jake McDowell came on off-scheduled plays and both came on fourth down with the game in the balance.
Each time, Mesaros rolled out and bought time, looking downfield, and each time he double-pumped before finally releasing the ball, thinking on the go.
He’s actually scary to defend, because if he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next, how is an opposing defense able to figure him out?
“That comes from working with the scout team,” Jags’ first-year head coach Eric Van Wyk said. “Matt is a special kid. It’s his decision to run the scout team. It says how great of a leader Matt is. He has to run every single play to help prepare our defense. It’s his decision.
“But that allows him to scramble against our first-team defense to try and make a play and I think we saw that tonight.”
Mesaros completed seven of nine passes for 92 yards and scored one of the Jags’ two first-quarter touchdowns.
But it was his poise and adlibbing that won it.
The play that turned the game around came with just under 9 minutes to play. Van Wyk initially opted to kick a field goal, then called timeout and changed his mind. Showing great trust in Mesaros and the offense, Van Wyk went for it on fourth-and-two at the Cougars’ 21.
Mesaros took the snap, rolled right, and when he saw his primary receiver covered, he scrambled while looking downfield and bought another second to see Leraris by the pylon in the end zone. Mesaros let it go, Leraris showed super body control in stepping in front of a Downingtown East defender to make what resulted in the game-winning catch.
“Those two TDs were improvised and the original plays didn’t work out and Leraris and McDowell made great plays,” Mesaros said. “On the Leraris score, our guys were covered and I was looking to buy time, and on the McDowell, it was the same thing.
“I was a backup quarterback last year and I was there on the field in the state semifinals against St. Joe’s Prep. I don’t want this to end.”
A 25-yard James Blake with 5:04 left in the third quarter gave Downingtown East (10-3) a 17-14 lead when the Jags’ offense wasn’t moving.
The Cougars could not do much of anything themselves, thanks in large part to Garnet Valley senior middle linebacker Joe Checchio. He’s generously listed at 5-9, 185, but he plays like he’s 6-4, 240. He was all over the field, primarily assigned to stuff Cougars’ star Bo Horvath, who had rushed for a combined 530 yards in his previous two games.
Against Garnet Valley, Horvath, a Lehigh lacrosse recruit, was “held” to 123 in 20 carries, though was considerably slowed when he got hurt late in the first half.
“I felt we did well the whole game, but in the fourth quarter we got in our way a little bit, but Garnet Valley is a good football and they played better, that’s why they won,” Downingtown East coach Mike Matta said. “I was very close to the seniors on this team. They went through the COVID situation and I was very proud of the way they battled. They were fun to be around. I’m going to miss that more than anything.”
Wherever Horvath went, Checchio was there to meet him.
“We had to keep Horvath’s yards to a minimum,” Checchio said. “It was definitely about tackling and execution. We missed some tackles in the first quarter, and later in the game, we cleaned that up. I played last year and I was on the field when we lost to St. Joe’s Prep in the states.
“Our goal is to get back and we’re doing everything in our power to get back there again.”
The game was knotted at 14-14 at halftime. In the first quarter, it looked as if the game would take the form of a shootout. Both Downingtown East and Garnet Valley scored on their first two possessions.
The Cougars, behind Horvath, took the opening kickoff 86 yards over nine plays, ending in the first Horvath touchdown, a one-yard plunge into the end zone with 9:45 left in the opening quarter. The big play of the drive was a Horvath 43-yard run, when it seemed the Jaguar defense had him hemmed in. Somehow, Horvath kicked his way out and flew down the sideline to the Jags’ seven. Two plays later, Horvath closed the drive.
Garnet Valley answered with an explosive play of its own when senior tailback Jason Bernard showed considered speed in rambling 47 yards for a 7-7 with 7:36 left in the quarter.
Once again, like two heavyweights battling it out, the Cougars clawed back. They embarked on another nine-play drive, which ended in Horvath sliding into the end zone from two yards out.
And again, Garnet Valley answered, countering with a nine-play drive of its own, which closed out on Mesaros’ 15-yard scoring with :24 left in the quarter.
Then, the offense disappeared.
Part of that had to do with Horvath getting hurt with less than three minutes remaining in the half after a two-yard run. He went limping off the field and didn’t see the field again for the rest of the first half. By intermission, he had 107 yards rushing on 15 carries. Bernard was not far off, pounding the Cougars’ defense for 89 yards on 10 carries.
Downingtown East (10-3) 14 0 3 0-17
Garnet Valley (12-0) 14 0 0 14-28
DE – Bo Horvath 1 run (James Blake kick), 9:45
GV – Jason Bernard 47 run (Tim Comers kick), 7:36
DE – Horvath 2 run (Blake kick), 4:57
GV – Matt Mesaros 15 run (Comers kick), :24
DE – Blake 25 FG, 5:04
GV – Ron Leraris 21 pass from Mesaros (Comers kick), 8:55
GV – Jake McDowell 2 pass from Mesaros (Comers kick), 2:25
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been covering high school football since 1992 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter @JSantoliquito. Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball.
Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball
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