By NEIL GEOGHEGAN
CAMDEN, Del. – In light of what transpired down the stretch to the Downingtown West football squad on Friday in central Delaware, it was probably just as well that the team’s head coach, Mike Milano, wasn’t around to see it.
Milano and the Whippets clearly lost their cool against host Caesar Rodney in a nonleague clash and it led directly to a thoroughly frustrating 21-7 setback. West (2-1 overall) was whistled for five unsportsmanlike penalties on the evening, including one in the waning minutes that virtually handed the Riders a critical first down with the outcome still very much in doubt.
And Milano was the first to lose his composure. He was assessed two of the unsportsmanlike penalties and was booted from the game. The second – which is an automatic disqualification -- came just after the end of the first half following a heated conversation with the officials.
“We are a young team and we are emotional,” said quarterback Nick Pagel. “We will learn from this. We have to just play our game. We came to Delaware and they are going to have their refs and their rules and we have to play by them.”
It was obvious that the West contingent believed they were treated unfairly, but the response was very counterproductive. In all, the Whippets were whistled for 12 penalties for 110 yards.
“We tell our kids they have to keep their cool,” said defensive coordinator J.C. Carroll, who filled in for Milano in the second half. “They have to play with their pads and not with their mouths. That’s a hard lesson but it needs to be learned.”
A year ago, West trounced Caesar Rodney by three touchdowns. This time, all of the mental mistakes were simply too much to overcome.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game,” Carroll admitted. “(Caesar Rodney is) a good football program. They were young when they came up to Downingtown to play us last year. Now it’s our turn to be young.”
That immaturity was on display in the fourth quarter. Trailing by just seven, the Whippets made a couple trips deep into Riders’ territory only to turn it over both times. The first came when Pagel threw an interception and the second ended when West failed to convert a fourth-and-2 at the opponent’s 28-yard-line.
But things only got worse when, in the ensuing possession, an unsportsmanlike penalty turned a fourth-and-long into a first down for Caesar Rodney.
“We had them stopped,” Carroll said. “We had some unfortunate penalties that were not very timely.”
A few plays later, yet another Downingtown penalty after the whistle helped the Riders eventually score an insurance TD with 47.3 seconds remaining.
“There was some chattering going on out there, but we will fix that,” said junior runner Mitchell Meleski, who paced West with 91 yards on 20 carries.
“We left our hearts out there on the field,” Pagel added. “But at the end, we just didn’t get our way on the calls, and we didn’t get it done on the field.”
The Whippets only points came on a 70-yard scoring march to start the second half. It culminated with a 31-yard toss from Pagel to wideout Teddy Verano.
“I think we picked up the intensity a little bit in the second half, and not having our head coach may have had an effect,” Meleski said.
“We lost our cool a bit,” Carroll conceded. “But I was real proud of the way we played in the second half. They could have folded but they didn’t.”
The score was 14-0 at the half and West managed only 87 yards of total offense in the opening two quarters. The Whippets did make two additional forays into the red zone in the first half and again failed to score a point. The first was sabotaged by four penalties for 35 yards and ended with an errant 47-yard field goal try.
But the second was even more discouraging as Elijah Tinson’s 51-yard kickoff return put West at the Caesar Rodney 35-yard-line. Several plays later, the Whippets had a first-and-goal at the four, but they proceeded to lose two yards on the next four plays. On fourth down, a bad snap ended the possession.
The Riders opened the scoring with a nine-play, 70-yard march in the first quarter, and then added another TD following a short punt in the second.
“I am not going to blame anybody accept ourselves for what happened in this game,” Carroll said.
Caesar Rodney 21, Downingtown West 7
Downingtown West 0 0 7 0 -- 7
Caesar Rodney 7 7 0 7 -- 21
CR – Jones 1 run (Scott kick)
CR – Horton 11 run (Scott kick)
DW – Miles 31 pass from Pagel (Caruso kick)
CR – Horton 6 run (Scott kick)
First Downs 13 15
Rushing Yards 142 192
Passing Yards 85 108
Total Yards 227 300
Passing 6-13-1 4-9-1
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties 12-110 11-81
Punts-Avg. 2-32 2-41
Rushing – DW: Pagel 6-(-6); Reyes 7-53; Meleski 20-91; sauder 1- (-4); Egan 1-8. CR – Watkins 9-56; Jones 15-32, TDs; Horton 13-82, 2 TDs; Kemp 8-7; Jarmon 1-16; Briggs 3-(-3).
Passing – DW: Pagel 6-13-1, 85 yards, TD. CR – Kemp 4-8-0, Briggs 1-0-1.
Receiving – DW: Meleski 2-15; Verano 2-38, TD; Schmitt 2-32. CR – Horton 2-39; Wicks 2-69.
Sacks – DW: Nanni (2), Coyne.
Interceptions – DW: Wolf. CR – Miles.