By ANDY EDWARDS
ASTON -- Unionville got an unexpected fight from an unexpected source on a chilly Friday night at Sun Valley.
The teams traded punches for the better part of three and a half quarters, the much-improved Vanguards refusing to go down without first making the Indians pay. In the end, Unionville had Tom Pancoast, and Sun Valley didn’t. Every time the Vanguards got up from the mat, Pancoast was ready with a knockout punch.
Unionville’s stellar senior quarterback scored six total touchdowns, including a pair of daggers late in the fourth quarter as Unionville (3-0, 5-2) rode a stretch of 21 unanswered points in the second half to a hard-fought 49-34 victory at Sun Valley. Pancoast ran for 204 yards and three touchdowns, threw for two more, and returned an interception 50 yards for another score to give the Indians a two-score cushion with five minutes remaining in the game. When the Vanguards (2-2, 4-3) threatened to get the ball back with a chance to tie, Pancoast rumbled 45 yards to the end zone on third down to put the final nail in the Sun Valley coffin and keep the Indians in first place in the Ches-Mont American Division.
“Tommy Pancoast,” said Unionville head coach Pat Clark, “is a special player...He certainly stepped up his game tonight.”
Pancoast’s phenomenal performance overshadowed an equally impressive one from Sun Valley running back Juwan Chandler, who finished with 260 yards of offense and three touchdowns on the night, including a 61-yard burst on the first play of the second half that put the Vanguards ahead, 28-21. The electric tailback missed most of the final quarter with an ankle injury, though, and was forced to watch Pancoast answer each of his highlight-reel efforts from the sidelines.
“Boy,” Clark said of Chandler, “is he good.”
Few would have expected the Vanguards, winless a year ago, to keep up with the Indians, a perennial contender in the American Division. But there they were, answering back every time Unionville looked ready to make a run. T.J. Mancini threw for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns for Sun Valley, but his only mistake proved costly. After Brad Pechin leveled a linebacker and rumbled 70 yards into the end zone late in the third quarter, the Vanguards found themselves trailing 35-28. Facing third down from his own 34-yard line, Mancini dropped back and lofted a pass into the secondary. Pancoast read it the whole way, swooping in from his safety spot to pluck it out of the air, and weaved his way through several defenders to complete the pick-six and put Unionville ahead, 42-28, with the first of his two daggers.
“Their quarterback dropped back and we got good pressure on him with Colin Biggs and Mark Caputo,” Pancoast said. “He just threw it up to his third receiver and I just came under it. It was wide open from there.”
Sun Valley answered with a 14-play, 79-yard drive capped off by a 14-yard strike from Mancini to Leon Hunter with 2:35 to play.
The Indians recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran it twice, Sun Valley using up its final timeouts. On third-and-six, Pancoast powered his way past the first-down marker and shook off a bevy of tacklers before breaking free to cap a virtuoso performance.
“Sun Valley is a good team,” Pancoast said. “They’ve really picked it up since the last few years. Our offensive line was blocking great, picking up their blitzes, and our wide receivers were getting open. The whole offense was really clicking.”
After watching Chandler gash them for three 60-plus yard touchdowns in the first half, the Indians’ defense stiffened in the second half. The holes that Chandler and fullback Dan Griffin were able to exploit in the early going started to clog as the game dragged on. Colin Biggs came up with a pair of sacks and a pass deflection for a unit that received quite a pep talk from its coaches after Chandler rattled off his third long score.
“We did a much better job of making them run sideways, which is where we wanted them to be,” Clark said. “We came out with a little bit of fire in the second half.”
The teams traded punches throughout the first half, each answering the other’s attempts to seize control of the game with one of their own. After Pancoast hit a wide-open Patch Johnson down the sideline for a 45-yard strike on the third play of the game, Mancini fired in a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kevin Mcgarvey to knot the game at 7.
As he did all night, Pancoast had a response, connecting with Tim Christopher on a double move for a 25-yard score to put the Indians ahead, 14-7. That’s when Chandler took over.
On third-and-15, the electric back split out wide and found himself on the receiving end of a slant from Mancini, weaving his way through defenders and all the way into the end zone for a 63-yard score to knot the contest at 14. After Sun Valley forced a punt, Chandler took an inside handoff, made one cut and was gone for a 68-yard score. The Vanguards had the momentum a rare lead against a perennial division power. As usual, though, anything Chandler could do, Pancoast did better.
The senior put the Indians on his back on their next possession, capping an 88-yard drive with a 33-yard keeper. The first of three rushing scores for Pancoast, who now has 775 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season, sent the teams into halftime tied at 21 and capped a breathtaking stretch that was only an appetizer for the late-game heroics to come.
“It’s great,” Pancoast said. “We want to keep staying on top. We have a tough Great Valley team next week, and it’s great to get some momentum going into that game.”
At 3-0 in the league, Unionville controls its own destiny. Win out over the final three weeks, and the American Division is theirs. Despite a less-than-perfect performance, that’s all the Indians ever wanted.
“With three weeks to go, we have a shot of still winning the championship, and that’s the most important thing,” Clark said. We have some stuff to clean up, some stuff to work on, but we’ve got three weeks to go and we have a shot to be champions.”
Unionville 49, Sun Valley 34
Unionville 14 7 14 14 -- 49
Sun Valley 7 14 7 6 -- 34
U-Johnson 45 pass from Pancoast (A. Pechin kick)
SV-McGarvey 20 pass from Mancini (Cioeta kick)
U-Christopher 25 pass from Pancoast (A. Pechin kick)
SV-Chandler 63 pass from Mancini (Cioeta kick)
SV-Chandler 68 run (Cioeta kick)
U-Pancoast 33 run (A. Pechin kick)
SV-Chandler 61 run (Cioeta kick)
U-Pancoast 4 run (A. Pechin kick)
U-B. Pechin 70 run (A. Pechin kick)
U-Pancoast 50 interception return (A. Pechin kick)
SV-Hunter 14 pass from Mancini (kick failed)
U-Pancoast 45 run (A. Pechin kick)
First downs 17 21
Yards rushing 374 281
Yards passing 84 172
Total yards 458 453
Passing 3-7-0 12-24-1
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 3-1
Penalties 6-65 6-55
Punts-Avg. 5-37.0 3-31.0
RUSHING - Unionville: Pancoast 17-204, 3 TDs; B. Pechin 9-121, TD; DiBaggio 7-22; Stradling 3-15; Scargill 3-12. Sun Valley: Chandler 15-186, 2 TDs; Griffin 22-80; Riddle 4-16; Gordon 1-9; Mancini 4-(-10)
PASSING - Unionville: Pancoast 3-7-0, 84 yards, 2 TDs. Sun Valley: Mancini 12-124-1, 172 yards, 2 TDs.
RECEIVING - Unionville: Johnson 1-45; TD; Christopher 1-25, TD; Scargill 1-14. Sun Valley: Hunter 4-39, TD; Chandler 2-74, TD; McGarvey 2-27, TD; Riddle 2-17; Villano 1-9; Griffin 1-6.
SACKS - Unionville: Biggs 2, Ankney. Sun Valley: Song.
INTERCEPTIONS - Unionville: Pancoast.