By ANDY EDWARDS
KENNETT SQUARE -- Saturday was Homecoming for the Kennett High School football team.
It certainly felt like it for Jordan Lardani. As often as the Blue Demons’ fullback has been in the end zone lately, he should probably consider buying a timeshare.
Lardani rushed for 220 yards and three touchdowns to lead Kennett to a 35-13 victory over Sun Valley in a clash of much-improved American Division foes. Quarterback Jordan Jones accounted for 93 yards and a touchdown and C.J. Lowe reeled off a 16-yard scoring run just minutes after being named Homecoming King as the Blue Demons (1-1, 4-2) bounced back from a disappointing loss at West Chester Rustin the previous week and handed the upstart Vanguards (2-1, 4-2) their first league loss of the season.
“Today was just a really good overall day, not just for Kennett football but for the Kennett community,” Kennett head coach Scott Green said. “It was just a happening place to be today. We had a great football environment on a great day to play football against a good team. Sun Valley was 4-1 coming in, and we knew we really had to perform against them. I thought our kids executed well.”
None more so than Lardani. The electrifying senior scored on runs of 18, 42, and 34 yards on Kennett’s first three drives to put the Blue Demons up 20-0 less than a minute into the second quarter. The area’s leader in rushing yards entering the weekend, Lardani kept the Blue Demons’ triple-option attack humming all afternoon. When the dust settled, Kennett had racked up 358 yards on the ground, averaging nearly seven yards per play.
“Our line was pretty much getting to the linebackers, so they made it easy for me,” said Lardani, who now has 892 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year. “All I had to was make a safety miss.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
Despite its best efforts, Sun Valley was unable to keep up with its high-powered adversary. The Vanguards managed just 196 yards of offense, more than half of which came on a pair of long runs by Juwan Chandler (111 total yards), who scored on a 47-yard burst down the left sideline to pull his team within 20-7 early in the second quarter. Quartback T.J. Mancini struggled throughout, completing 8 of 19 passes for 72 yards and throwing a pair of interceptions to Kennett’s Brett Rose.
“We just came out real flat,” said Sun Valley head coach Jim Grugan. “It seems like every week we have a 15-minute lapse for whatever reason. It happened to be the first 15 minutes today.
“On defense, we just didn’t tackle anybody...It can’t be any simpler than that. They’re a good football team, but we didn’t take enough advantage when we had the ball.”
The Vanguards didn’t take a second of game time to get off to an inauspicious start. Mancini, who doubles as the place-kicker, tried to surprise the Blue Demons by going onsides with the opening kickoff. The ball took several hops before coming to a rest six yards short of the 10-yard marker, giving Kennett the ball in plus territory. The Blue Demons took just five plays to cash in, Lardani taking an inside handoff and shaking off a tackler before rumbling into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
The Blue Demons forced a three-and-out on the next possession, then traversed 62 yards in six plays, Lardani capping the drive with an electrifying 42-yard score off an option pitch from Jones. The senior star made one cut and was off to the races as Kennett jumped out to a 13-0 lead midway through the first quarter. After Kyle Werner sacked Mancini on fourth down, Lardani once again took a pitch and rumbled 34 yards untouched down the right sideline for a 20-0 lead.
Jones answered Chandler’s long touchdown with one of his own, keeping it on third down and fighting his way across the goal line from seven yards out to put the Blue Demons up 27-7 midway through the second. Dan Griffin pounded his way into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to pull the Vanguards to within 27-13 just before halftime, but that was as close as they would get. Sun Valley had a golden opportunity on its first drive of the second half, but Mancini overthrew a wide-open Ryan Riddle down the seam on fourth down, a play that likely would have been a touchdown. Instead, the Blue Demons took over, and Lowe put the game out of reach, capping a 15-play drive with a burst off left tackle late in the third quarter. Kennett was 9-for-11 on third down Saturday, while the Vanguards finished the game just 1-for-7.
“We did move the ball when we had our chances, but we missed a lot of opportunities,” Grugan said. “We left at least two touchdowns on the field today.”
That wasn’t the case for Lowe, who was named Homecoming King during a halftime ceremony and celebrated with his second touchdown in as many weeks.
“It’s all a credit to my line and my peers,” said Lowe, the president of Kennett’s senior class. “They’re the greatest friends I could ask for, and my coaching staff just does it all for me.”
“We didn’t know until he came out for the third quarter,” Green said. “He’s just a great kid, a great personality. He’s a great kid to have.”
Kevin McQuiston also turned in a solid all-around game for Kennett, rushing for 46 yards and catching all three of Jones’ completions for 45 yards.
Kennett’s performance was impressive considering the circumstances. The Blue Demons had an 18-7 lead late in the third quarter last week against Rustin, only to watch a chance at a signature victory slip through their fingers. Kennett was also without wide receiver Maalik Rochester, who sustained a concussion in that game and was unavailable on Saturday. In years past, the Blue Demons might have allowed the previous week’s disappointment to linger. Not this time for Green’s bunch, who are doing their best to prove that times have changed in mushroom country.
“Kids are resilient,” Green said. “They’re more resilient than us. I had a tough weekend last weekend dealing with the loss, but they came in the day after ready for Sun Valley. I think it’s a credit to our coaching staff making sure they stayed focused for this game.”
Playing on Homecoming Day, in front of a passionate crowd, certainly didn’t hurt.
“It’s always nice to get a win on Homecoming,” Lardani said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Kennett 35, Sun Valley 13
Sun Valley 0 13 0 0 -- 13
Home Team name 13 14 8 0 -- 35
K-Lardani 18 run (Rose kick)
K-Lardani 42 run (kick failed)
K-Lardani 34 run (Rose kick)
SV-Chandler 47 run (Mancini kick)
K-Jones 7 run (Rose kick)
SV-Griffin 1 run (pass failed)
K-Lowe 16 run (McQuiston run)
First downs 8 22
Yards rushing 124 358
Yards passing 72 45
Total yards 196 403
Passing 8-19-2 3-4-0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-2
Penalties 2-20 7-50
Punts-Avg. 3-23.7 1-38.0
RUSHING - SV: Chandler 5-97, TD; Griffin 8-35, TD; Riddle 3-4; Mancini 4-(-12). K: Lardani 25-220, 3 TDs; Jones 15-48, TD; McQuiston 10-46; Lowe 9-43, TD; Luebe 2-1.
PASSING - SV: Mancini 8-19-2, 72 yards. K: Jones 3-4-0, 45 yards.
RECEIVING - SV: Chandler 2-14; Riddle 1-13; Griffin 1-12; Cusumano 1-11; Gordon 1-11; Hunter 1-11. K: McQuiston 3-45.
SACKS - S: None. K: Werner, Rook.
INTERCEPTIONS - SV: None. K: Rose 2.