By: Jeremy Park
A gargantuan crowd featuring Tyrese Maxey of the Philadelphia 76ers gathered to watch the top 2 teams in the Central League duke it out. This was a long-awaited battle, dating back to last year’s CL Playoffs, where Strath Haven just barely missed a chance to play Garnet Valley in the championship game, which the Jags got to celebrate winning on their home turf. However, a new season has come, and both teams have looked unstoppable. None of Garnet Valley’s matchups have gone within 5 touchdowns, however, the Jags had to go into Friday’s game without Navy-bound running back Shane Reynolds (ankle sprain). That being said, their star-studded depth gave them the advantage going into the game. Leading the pack, quarterback Max Busenkell, guarded by the offensive line (Sam DiTrolio, Nolan Brennan, Austin Sorokanych, Nick Mahoney, and Ben Nash). Wide receivers Sean Gallagher, Ndozi Okolo, and Luke Lassik, along with running backs Jay Bernard & Ryan Saunders were sure to do some damage to the Panthers’ defense. However, Strath Haven’s offense wasn’t without stars of their own. Their running game has been stellar, led by the trio of Chase Barlow, Anthony Crawford, and Matt Shuler, who have been incredible for Haven this year. An offensive shootout was inevitable for this game, so it was going to be up to the defenses to decide who would take the victory.
I wrote that first paragraph ahead of time, before the game, so I gave the reader the impression that this game was going to be a nail-biter. Simply put, it was not. The Jaguars tore the Panthers apart, and the Strath Haven offense that had looked so dynamic in games prior couldn’t move the ball at all. The game started off with 3 straight dud drives until a Chase Barlow fumble recovered by Luke Lassik gave Garnet Valley the ball in Strath Haven territory for Max Busenkell to run it in from 46 yards (a run reminiscent of Lamar Jackson’s speed and elusiveness I must say). From then on, back-to-back turnovers by both teams, a Strath Haven fumble recovery, and a Garnet Valley interception (Drew Jackalous), led to Busenkell’s first and only passing touchdown of the night, a 21-yarder to Sean Gallagher. Two rushing touchdowns by Jay Bernard and Ryan Saunders gave the Jags a 28-0 advantage going into intermission.
Things couldn’t have started better for Garnet Valley to kick off the second half. A kickoff return to Strath Haven’s 2-yard line by Sean Gallagher put them in prime position to put up another 7 on the scoreboard, which they did on the very next play, courtesy of Ryan Saunders. A diving, flipping, 19-yard effort from RB Jack Westburg gave the Jags their final touchdown of the night, with about a minute left in the 3rd quarter. A 5-yard Chase Barlow rush saved the Panthers from a shutout, but it didn’t make the loss much less embarrassing. The Jags came fully prepared, and Strath Haven couldn’t do anything about it. The offense ran all over per usual, but the defense truly came to play. Haven’s entire offense was limited to only one score, against a bench lineup defense nearing the end of the game while everybody not in play was getting ready to line up and shake hands. Garnet Valley’s undefeated 5-0 record continues to show Pennsylvania why they are one of the most prestigious high school programs in the state, and why head coach Mike Ricci is the best in the business. Both teams will continue their travels next week, with Strath Haven going to Springfield to take on the Cougars, and Garnet Valley to Ridley to take care of the last undefeated Central League team. Go Jags!