By ANDY EDWARDS
WESTTOWN -- Still smarting from its first loss to Unionville in five years, West Chester Rustin was itching to take out a week’s worth of pent-up aggression on someone.
A week removed from being knocked from the ranks of the undefeated itself, Kennett was the first to face the firing squad. It turns out the Blue Demons had plenty of bullets of their own. In the end, they just couldn’t dodge Rustin’s last one.
Adam Burke racked up 91 yards and scored three two-yard touchdowns and the Golden Knights (1-1, 4-1) rattled off 22 unanswered points in a six-minute, fourth-quarter barrage to earn a much-needed 29-26 victory over upset-minded Kennett on a cool Friday evening at their home stadium. Jordan Lardani rushed for 140 yards and a pair of scores, including a 10-yard touchdown with 1:47 to play that brought Kennett to within a field goal, but the Blue Demons (1-1, 3-2) couldn’t corral the ensuing onside kick and Rustin ran the clock out on a game it was desperate to win.
“It was a great rebound for us,” said Burke, whose third score finally gave the Knights their first lead with just under nine minutes to play. “It was a total team effort…It took everybody to get this win, and it was huge for us.”
Terry Loper led the Knights with 111 yards on 15 carries as Rustin finished with 285 yards on the ground.
“We just had to stick to Rustin football,” Burke said. “We just had to keep pounding the rock, and we knew eventually we would break it.”
The Knights did, but it took them until the final quarter to finally bend Kennett’s defense to the breaking point. Trailing 18-7 after a scoreless third period, Burke and the Knights’ power running game went to work. The senior’s second touchdown of the night capped a 14-play, 69-yard drive with 10:33 to play, and quarterback Dan Fithian found Frank Hosking in the back of the end zone to complete the two-point conversion and pull Rustin to within 18-15.
Facing third-and-long deep in their own territory on the ensuing drive, the Blue Demons committed their first and only turnover of the game as Jordan Jones threw on the run and into a crowd of Rustin defenders. T.J. Kirk pounced on the opportunity, picking off the errant throw and taking the return all the way down to the 2-yard line. Burke found pay-dirt for the third time of the game- and 15th time this season - on the next play to give the Knights their first lead of the contest.
After Rustin’s defense forced another punt, Fithian hit Dan Walls in the corner of the end zone on 3rd-and-12 for the game-winning score.
“When I knew I was getting closer to the sideline, I knew I had to be careful about how much more I ran over,” Walls said of his clutch reception. “I just used my awareness and got my feet down and caught the ball.”
Kennett’s next drive covered 65 yards in 10 plays, Lardani capping it with a 10-yard burst and running in for the two-point conversion to make it 29-26. Brett Rose’s onside kick was a good one, but Rustin was able to pounce on it after several dangerous bounces to seal the victory it badly needed after a hard-fought loss to Unionville.
“Any win this year is a huge win,” said Rustin head coach Mike St. Clair. “We had a tough loss last week and our kids rebounded well…We’re just trying to get better each week.”
The scrappy Blue Demons have certainly improved on a weekly basis. After recording its first 3-0 start in program history in head coach Scott Green’s third season at the helm, Kennett has now lost two in a row. Two years ago, though, taking the Knights to the wire would have been unthinkable. Now, Green’s bunch knows it’s close to being on the other side of close games.
“It’s just really heartbreaking for the kids, because I know how badly they wanted to win,” Green said. “To get a win against a team like Rustin would have been a dream come true.
“Make no mistake about it, Rustin is well-coached and they have tough kids. All of that said, we want to win these close games. I really feel that for our program to take the next step we have to start winning these games.”
Kennett’s undersized defense was up to the task most of the night, stuffing the high-powered Rustin ground game on fourth down three times in the opening half, the last of which produced the biggest of momentum swings.
The Golden Knights looked poised to take their first lead late in the half, but Burke was stacked up on 4th-and-1 and brought down inches short of the Kennett 15-yard line. The Blue Demons had 42 seconds to work with and little in the way of an explosive aerial attack to traverse nearly the length of the field. It didn’t matter.
Carl Lowe took a handoff and turned the corner, making several nifty moves to gain the second level. The senior speedster broke into the secondary and outran everybody for an 84-yard score that shocked the Knights’ home crowd into silence and gave the Blue Demons an 18-7 lead.
Lardani’s 65-yard burst down the left sideline and a two-point conversion had Kennett up 11-0 midway through the second quarter. Kennett racked up 240 yards on the ground in the first half, but St. Clair’s defense buckled down and surrendered just 72 in the final two periods.
“Scott does a great job with that team,” St. Clair said of the Blue Demons. “They’re a great team and very hard to defend. In the first half we made a couple of mistakes and they capitalized and held us in check for a little bit.”
Not quite long enough, however, to hand the Knights a second straight deflating loss.
“We played our hearts out that game (against Unionville) and came up a little bit short,” Walls said. “We really needed it. There’s a big difference between 4-1 and 3-2.”
A difference that, despite their best efforts, the Blue Demons know all too well.
West Chester Rustin 29, Kennett 26
Kennett 3 15 0 8 -- 26
W.C. Rustin 0 7 0 22 -- 29
K- Rose 23 field goal
K- Lardani 65 run (Chew run)
W- Burke 2 run (Jenkins kick)
K- Lowe 84 run (Rose kick)
W- Burke 2 run (Hosking pass)
W- Burke 2 run (Jenkins kick)
W- Walls 16 pass from Fithian (Jenkins kick)
K- Lardani 10 run (Lardani run)
First downs 13 22
Yards rushing 312 285
Yards passing 35 32
Total yards 347 317
Passing 3-8-1 4-6-0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties 3-15 2-10
Punts-Avg. 4-34.3 1-51.0
RUSHING - Kennett: Lardani 21-140, 2 TDs; Lowe 6-103, TD; Jones 11-52; McQuiston 1-17. Rustin: Loper 15-111; Burke 19-91. 3 TD; Lamberjack 6-42; Pernsley 8-36; Peterson 2-4; Fithian 3-1.
PASSING - Kennett: Jones 3-8-1, 35 yards. Rustin: Fithian 4-6-0, 32 yards, TD.
RECEIVING - Kennett: McQuiston 1-23; Rochester 1-8; Lardani 1-4. Rustin: Walls 2-26, TD; Seal 1-5; Burke 1-1.
SACKS - Kennett: None. Rustin: Steinmetz, Dunion.
INTERCEPTIONS - Rustin: Kirk.