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Malvern Prep wins the Inter-Ac title with a 17-7 victory over Springside Chestnut Hill Academy with some late heroics

Written by: on Saturday, November 11th, 2023. Follow Joseph Santoliquito on Twitter.


Owen Mears and the Malvern Prep team celebrating the Inter-Ac Championship.

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Owen Mears had to take a quick glance down to make sure the ball was in his hands. The Malvern Prep 6-foot-2, junior defensive back was that numb that he could not feel anything over his first few steps.

His next 87 yards was a vapor trail, leaving everyone behind on his way to a game-clinching pick-six in the Friars’ 17-7 victory over stubborn Springside Chestnut Hill Academy on Saturday.

What was supposed to be easy for Malvern Prep wasn’t.

Malvern Prep captured its second Inter-Academic League title in three years, and its fourth in six years.

It was certainly earned—especially by the Malvern Prep defense.

The Friars (9-1 overall, 5-0 Inter-Ac) were outgained 271-153 in total yards and completed two passes for one yard while getting two first downs in the second half. Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (8-2, 4-1) had offensive woes of its own, stung by the Mears’ interception that decided the game and the Blue Devils had troubles in the red zone, getting picked off twice inside the 15 and losing a fumble on the first play of the game.

“I give a lot of credit to (Springside) Chestnut Hill, they played like it was a championship game and they did a great job stopping us offensively for most of the game,” Friars’ coach Dave Gueriera said. “My hats off to them. What makes this special for us is the culture. We made the defensive stops when we had to, and I couldn’t be happier for Owen Mears.

“I’ve known Owen since he was five and he actually had a pick-six last week that was called back. When we were up 10-0, and missed a fade ball in the first half, the coaches all said to each other that this was going to be a dogfight, and it was. Chestnut Hill plays us tough every year. This was no different.”

At the outset, it looked different.

Malvern Prep bolted out a 10-0 lead before the Blue Devils could get a first down. The Friars’ 6-5 junior defensive end Bernard Blakey recovered a Springside Chestnut Hill Academy fumble on the first offensive play of the game, which Malvern Prep turned into a quick 7-0 lead on Zeke Bates’ three-yard TD plunge. After a SCH three-and-out, Jack Ploszay put the Friars up 10-0 on a 29-yard field goal with 1:57 left in the first quarter.

But something happened on the way to the blowout—the Blue Devils offset Malvern Prep’s superior size on offense with movement on defense, and started to generate some momentum offensively behind the hard running of Jayden Sumpter and the clutch catches of Tyler Roberts.

Blue Devils’ senior quarterback Tommy Markey has had a habit all season of making something from nothing, and with 10 seconds left in the half, he scrambled left to find Anthony Gentile in the corner of the end zone to chop the deficit to 10-7.

It stayed that way until deep into the fourth quarter.

That’s when Mears surfaced.

On a third-and-four at the Malvern 15, Markey looked left and from nowhere, Mears stepped in front of his pass and took it 87 yards for the clinching score with 2:54 to play.

Markey did not see Mears.

“We did not think they were going to switch off their guys, since they showed they had stayed with their guys, and they played it perfectly,” Markey said. “Credit to them. But we had a great season. No one expected us to be here. We gave Malvern Prep one of the best games they had all year.”

Springside Chestnut Hill Academy certainly put a scare into the Friars.

“It was scary there, I mean 10-7 and they were driving again,” said Mears, a national-level lacrosse player committed to Duke. “I give all the credit to coach (Joe) Carr. We worked on that play the whole week. They were trying to run a slant on the inside, and we switched guys. I jumped the route and it was an easy run back, but it was not an easy game. This was a championship game, and this was a championship atmosphere.

“I’ll remember this team for the friendships. It’s love for the seniors. This was a great way to end it. It was an awesome year.”

It was an awesome year for Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, too. This group brought the program back to respectability, since over the previous two years, the Blue Devils went a combined 6-14 without winning an Inter-Ac game going 0-10. Their start this season was their best since 2009, the first—and only time—Springside Chestnut Hill Academy won the Inter-Ac in football.

Coach Rick Knox did a wonderful job resurrecting the program. He is a graduate of the school and has been coaching at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy for 20 years. He made sure to hug every senior before they walked off the field for the last time.

“This was the culmination of a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people,” Knox said. “The last couple of years was hard for me, because this school is like my home and the football team is like my family. The last couple of years have been down years for us, and I personally thanked the team for bringing the program back.

“In a lot of ways, we outplayed Malvern Prep and really battled them. We felt we had a solid feel for what they were doing and we blitzed them from a lot of different angles. If you stay put against them, you’re asking for a lot of trouble. I’ll remember my team for what a great group they were. They were united and cared about each other. When you have that, you can accomplish a lot of things.”

Scoring Summary

Malvern Prep (9-1, 5-0 Inter-Ac) 10 0 0 7-17

Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (8-2, 4-1) 0 7 0 0-7

1st Quarter

MP – Zeke Bates 3 run (Jack Ploszay kick), 7:27

MP – Ploszay 29 FG, 1:57

2nd Quarter

SCH – Anthony Gentile 17 pass from Tommy Markey (Alex Zeka kick), :10

4th Quarter

MP – Owen Mears 87 INT return (Ploszay kick), 2:54

Joseph Santoliquito is a hall-of-fame, 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 on Twitter @EPAFootball.

Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball

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