|Photo by Nate Heckenberger/ Kennett's C.J. Lowe takes off during Saturday's overtime victory over Great Valley.|
By ANDY EDWARDS
KENNETT SQUARE -- Faced with the tall task of keeping one of the area’s best rushing attacks out of the end zone from two yards out, the specter of a third come-from-ahead heartbreaker looming over them, Kennett had to rely on its undersized defense to play hero.
The Blue Demons’ underappreciated unit answered the call, then another unlikely figure donned the cape.
Kennett stuffed Cyree Ames on 4th-and-goal on the first possession of overtime, paving the way for Brett Rose to drill a 22-yard field goal that sent the surprising Blue Demons (2-1, 5-2) to a 17-14 victory over Great Valley in a wild contest with plenty of playoff ramifications. The teams came into the game tied for 20th in the district playoff race, with 16 teams making the postseason. Thanks to Saturday’s thrilling win on a crisp fall day on their home field, the Blue Demons have a chance to be one of them.
“This game was very big for us,” Kennett head coach Scott Green said. “I don’t want to put too much emphasis on this being the biggest game of the year, because next week is.
“I just feel that our desire to win, especially our defensive stop in overtime, the will and the desire that they had to win and stop them was what impressed me the most.”
Jordan Lardani rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown for the Blue Demons, who dominated the first half before watching Ames and Patriots quarterback Chris Geiss spearhead an impressive comeback to send the game into an extra session. Once there, Kennett’s defense stood tall.
Great Valley got the ball first in overtime, starting from the 10 on the first alternating possession. The Patriots (2-2, 4-3) ran it three times, Geiss spinning down to the 2 on the last. Rather than attempt a field goal, Great Valley head coach Mike Choi opted to go for the touchdown. It seemed likely that Geiss, who came into the game second only to Lardani in rushing yards, would keep it himself. Instead, the 6-foot-3 quarterback handed off to Ames, who tried to find space outside, couldn’t, and cut back inside, where he was met by a host of Blue Demon tacklers well short of the goal line.
“We watched film after film and studied his moves,” said Kennett defensive end Kyle Werner of Geiss. “We knew we couldn’t let him outside in this game.
“I was backside, and I thought he was keeping it. When I saw him give it, (Ames) was running and tried to cut it back in. I hit him and I fell off, but I just grabbed his ankle. I was holding on for dear life out there.”
Despite the result, Great Valley coach Mike Choi said he has no regrets about the play call.
“We’ve been having success with that play all year,” he said. “I told our guys that I could have kicked a field goal there, but not knowing what they were going to do on the other side and knowing that we have an outstanding offense, you’ve got to go for it in that situation...I wouldn’t second guess that call at all.”
Kennett had its stop. All it needed was a score.
The Blue Demons got it from Rose, who split the uprights after Great Valley attempted to ice him with a timeout. As it turns out, Rose had plenty of ice in his veins.
“I was standing on the sidelines and I was nerve-racked the whole time,” said Rose, who also recorded a sack and a pass break-up on defense. “I knew it was going to come down to that. I just had a feeling. I had to pull it together and just do it.”
“When they called the timeout, I talked to our line, our edge protection, and I just looked at Brett, and he was cool as a cucumber,” Green said of his collected kicker. “I looked down and said, ‘I don’t even have to say a word, you just make it.’ He is cool as a cucumber and I had no doubt.”
There was surely some doubt on the Kennett sideline after a 14-0 halftime lead disappeared. The Blue Demons dominated the first two periods, holding Great Valley to 46 total yards and under four minutes of possession. Lardani broke a scoreless tie four minutes into the second quarter with an eight-yard scamper on an option pitch from Jordan Jones, who turned in a huge play on the Blue Demons’ next drive.
Facing fourth-and-seven from the Patriots’ 27, Jones dropped back and took off, dashing up the middle for nine yards and a first down. Four plays later, he took off the for the corner of the end zone on a boot leg, but had the ball knocked out of his hands at the goal line. Fortunately for Jones, Chris Fleck was Johnny on the Spot. The senior split end fell on the loose ball in the end zone, giving the Blue Demons a 14-0 cushion just before halftime. After the break, the Patriots’ rushing attack got off the ground.
Great Valley covered 62 yards in four plays on its opening drive, getting on the board when Ames bounced off a pile of tacklers and streaked down the sideline for a 39-yard score. After the teams traded several scoreless possessions, Lady Luck finally smiled on the Patriots.
With four minutes remaining, Burgess took a handoff on third-and-goal from the one and found himself stacked up by the Blue Demons’ front. Burgess lost the ball in the scrum, but Ames managed to cover it up in the end zone to knot the game at 14. The Patriots then sidestepped a potential Kennett game-winning drive when Burgess picked off Jones from the Patriots’ 36 with just 30 seconds remaining. The momentum stopped, however, when Ames was in overtime.
“We’re disappointed,” said Choi. “We knew how important this game was to our season...When you get into overtime, it’s one play here and there. They made their play, and we didn’t. I take my hat off to Kennett and their program. They deserved to win.”
What was billed as a battle for district playoff contention between the area’s top two rushers never quite materialzed. The former certainly did, the evenly-matched opponents finishing with 254 yards of offense apiece, but the area’s two best ground attacks never found much running room in a tightly-contested slugfest in the trenches. Lardani topped 1,000 yards on the season and notched his 14th touchdown, but was held well under his average of 7.9 yards per carry. Geiss, meanwhile, managed just 59 yards on the ground, and 74 total. The Patriots had just three possessions in the first half, one of which came with 30 seconds on the clock.
“In the first half, we just didn’t have enough plays,” Choi said. “Their offense did a great job of keeping our offense off the field.”
After getting out to the first 3-0 start in school history, Kennett sputtered with disappointing losses to Haverford High and West Chester Rustin, against whom the Blue Demons held an 18-7 advantage in the second half before falling victim to a late surge by the Golden Knights. Kennett watched another lead slip away, but in the end, the Blue Demons weren’t about to let a victory do the same.
“In our two losses, we were either very close or winning and it fell apart,” Green said. “The kids understood that, and I really believe we’ve learned from those losses, which is a sign of some good character kids we have...We made sure we came out on top today.”
Kennett 17, Great Valley 14
Great Valley 0 0 7 7 0 -- 14
Home Team name 0 14 0 0 3 -- 17
K-Lardani 8 run (Rose kick)
K-Fleck fumble recovery in end zone (Rose kick)
GV-Ames 39 run (Cavanagh kick)
GV-Ames fumble recovery in end zone
K-Rose 22 field goal
First downs 15 15
Yards rushing 239 214
Yards passing 15 40
Total yards 254 254
Passing 1-3-0 4-8-2
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 2-0
Penalties 5-52 8-75
Punts-Avg. 2-33.5 2-31.5
RUSHING - GV: Ames 14-77, TD; Geiss 17-59; Johnson 6-53; Burgess 5-50. K: Lardani 26-114, TD; Jones 17-52; Lowe 6-37; McQuiston 4-11.
PASSING - GV: Geiss 1-3-0, 15 yards. K: Jones 4-8-2, 40 yards; Lardani 0-1-0.
RECEIVING - GV: Burgess 1-15. K: Clarke 4-40.
SACKS - GV: Buchholz 2, Durkan. K: Werner, Rose.
INTERCEPTIONS - GV: Johnson, Burgess.