By ANDY EDWARDS
TREDYFFRIN – Coming off a back-breaking defeat at the hands of Strath Haven the previous week, Conestoga had two objectives on a clear Friday night at Teamer Field.
One was to get a win at all costs to keep its fading district playoff hopes alive. The second was to win big, and rid itself of the bitter taste of squandering a two-score lead the last time it took the field.
Thanks to Joe Viviano and company, the Pioneers were able to accomplish both.
Conestoga’s Harvard-bound quarterback threw for 171 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores, including an electrifying 55-yard sprint just before the end of the first quarter as Conestoga (4-3, 5-3) cruised to a 51-21 victory over Harriton (2-5, 3-5) on Homecoming. Nick Prestipino scored on an 18-yard run and a tip-toeing, sideline-hugging 62-yard screen pass to cap an impressive stretch in which the Pioneers found the end zone on their first four possessions to put the game out of reach before halftime.
“Everybody was really disappointed about last week,” Viviano said. “We didn’t play our best game. We came out strong. We really emphasized getting up on them early and just keep driving it in.”
Conestoga’s balanced offense was working to perfection from the opening kickoff. The Pioneers finished with 485 yards on the night, spread nicely between their equally potent ground and aerial attacks. Conestoga racked up 304 yards in the first half – 154 rushing, 150 passing- as Prestipino sandwiched a pair of touchdowns around Viviano’s two rushing scores to send the Pioneers into halftime with a 30-7 lead, quickly putting the sting of the previous week behind them.
“We were not pleased with the way we played, and we were not pleased with our turnout for that game,” Conestoga head coach John Vogan said. “We tell the kids that there’s nothing we can do about last week; just worry about tonight. Harriton was a great test because their offense is so good. I’m just proud of the way our kids played.”
Rams quarterback Pat Moriarty finished threw for 158 yards and two touchdowns, and Juwan Valentine caught five balls for 96 yards and a score, but Harriton managed only 11 first downs and hardly moved the ball between its three scoring drives.
“This is a very good football team, a very frightening team,” Vogan said. “Their skill players are probably the best I’ve seen in a long time...I’m just proud of the way our defense played. Our defense made plays, and we pressed them.”
Prestipino finished a 12-play, 63-yard opening drive with an 18-yard touchdown burst. The bruising tailback carried seven times for 36 yards on the possession as Vogan began the game looking to establish the run.
Viviano did his part, engineering touchdowns with his legs on the next two drives. The 6-4, 220-pound signal-caller plowed in from a yard out to put the Pioneers up 14-0 with three minutes left in the opening quarter. Conestoga’s 5-2 defense forced a punt on Harriton’s next possession, and Viviano made it 21-0 three plays later with the highlight of the night.
Facing third-and-nine from his own 45, Viviano was flushed out of the pocket by a pair of hard-charging Rams, rolling to the right and turning back up field to sprint past the first-down marker. Then it was a foot race, and Viviano won. Showcasing surprising speed, he turned on the jets and gained the second level, outrunning the Rams’ secondary and into the end zone.
Not to be outdone, Prestipino turned in his own breathtaking play moments later, turning a short gain on a check-down from Viviano into a 62-yard scamper down the sideline. Prestipino looked to be stacked up near the end line, but managed to slither through a group of would-be tacklers and sprinted down the sideline for a remarkable touchdown that put the Pioneers ahead 27-7 early in the second quarter.
“I don’t really know,” Prestipino said when asked how he managed to break free. “I was playing fullback and I came out into the flat for a slide pass. I sort of side-stepped, threw a little stiff-arm down, and I wasn’t as close to the sideline as they thought. I was able to side-step and I was just out from there.”
Blaise Toroni added a 24-yard field goal at the end of the first half for Conestoga, which managed to get whatever it wanted despite a near no-show from star receiver Andrew DeStefano. The area’s leader in catches with 52 entering Friday, DeStefano had once reception for nine yards and couldn’t come up with a pair of passes in the end zone. It hardly mattered. He did his damage on the ground, sprinting around the edge and scoring from 22 yards out on an end-around early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s tough for him, because he’s obviously one of our most dangerous weapons,” Viviano said. “But they double-teamed him all the time, and a lot of other guys stepped up.”
Viviano consistently looked for- and found- his secondary options, hitting Dillon Quinn (four catches, 56 yards) and Martin Dorsey (three catches, 40 yards) on underneath routes to keep the chains moving. Aidan Gallagher added a 16-yard touchdown run late in the game to cap the Pioneers’ scoring.
Now the Pioneers steel for an all-important showdown at Haverford High (7-1) next Friday. Conestoga came into the game in 25th place in the district standings, the top 16 of which qualify for the playoffs. To be one of them, the Pioneers know it’s win or go home.
Conestoga 51, Harriton 21
Harriton 0 7 7 7 -- 21
Conestoga 21 9 7 14 -- 51
C-Prestipino 18 run (Toroni kick)
C-Viviano 1 run (Toroni kick)
C-Viviano 55 run (Toroni kick)
C-Prestipino 62 pass from Viviano (kick failed)
H-Brown 24 pass from Moriarty (Lawson kick)
C-Toroni 24 field goal
C-Burton 10 run (Toroni kick)
H-Valentine 29 pass from Moriarty (Lawson kick)
C-DeStefano 22 run (Toroni kick)
C-Gallagher 16 run (Toroni kick)
First downs 11 28
Yards rushing 83 314
Yards passing 158 171
Total yards 241 485
Passing 11-23-0 10-22-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties 7-47 7-45
Punts-Avg. 7-32.7 1-34.0
RUSHING - Harriton: Jackson 4-32; Valentine 1-22; Pendleton 5-18; Byrd 3-18, TD; Korn 4-7; Davis 1-3; Moriarty 3-(-17). Conestoga: Burton 22-140, TD; Viviano 7-61, TD; Prestipino 7-36, TD; Gallagher 3-27, TD; DeStefano 2-26, TD; Cook 3-11.
PASSING - Harriton: Moriarty 11-23-0, 158 yards, 2 TDs; Rosen 0-1-0. Conestoga: Viviano 10-22-0, 171 yards, TD.
RECEIVING - Harriton: Valentine 5-96, TD; Brown 2-33, TD; Davis 2-26; Morris 1-3; Pendleton 1-0. Conestoga: Quinn 4-56; Dorsey 3-40; Prestipino 1-62, TD; DeStefano 1-9.
SACKS - Harriton: Brown. Conestoga: Cox, Moses.
INTERCEPTIONS - None.