By: Jeremy Park
Talk about a home game finale.
This past Friday, the Garnet Valley Jaguars and the Coatesville Red Raiders faced off in their 4th matchup in 4 consecutive District playoffs (excluding 2020 for COVID-19 year). The story of each of their last 3 meetings was Coatesville getting the better of Garnet Valley, however, 2021 finally saw the Jags turn things around in blowout fashion. The Jags’ defense held what had been a high-scoring Coatesville offense (40 points per game average) to a measly 15 points, and the offense, even though missing star wideout Sean Gallagher (knee), powered through everything Coatesville had en route to 54 points.
It was a cold and windy night, but both teams started off hot. With the Garnet Valley offense taking the field first, a 70-yard run by RB Shane Reynolds led to a 2-yard rushing TD also by Reynolds. Coatesville struck back, marching down the field and capping off their first drive with a 3-yard rushing TD from RB Ashon Wesley. The next Garnet Valley drive featured 2 successful 4th down conversions, but a 3rd attempt that came up short gave Coatesville the ball. The Raiders gave it right back to the Jags on a wild pass from QB Harrison Susi that was tipped by Ndozi Okolo into Max Busenkell’s hands. Two of the most highly-powered offenses in the state finished the first quarter with only one touchdown each.
A 57-yard rush from RB Jack Westburg just inches away from a score started the second quarter off with a bang. Shane Reynolds took the next handoff into the endzone to give Garnet Valley the lead. The next Coatesville drive started with a familiar play, a quarterback sneak by Harrison Susi which he could have taken for a touchdown had Max Busenkell not punched the ball out of his hands. Luckily for Coatesville, the ball was knocked out of bounds, and the Raiders were able to continue their drive. Susi connected with WR Tommy Ortega for a touchdown, which continued the streak of 20 straight District 1 playoff games in which an Ortega family member has scored a touchdown, dating back to 2016, with former Coatesville QB Ricky Ortega. The PAT was no good, and Coatesville’s offense wouldn’t score a point for the rest of the night.
Garnet Valley, however, wasn’t so stagnant. A 65-yard TD from Shane Reynolds gave him his third score of the night. A failed 4th down attempt by the Raiders gave the Jags the ball at Coatesville’s 25-yard line. Garnet Valley capitalized on their favorable field positioning with a 30-yard bomb from Max Busenkell to TE Joe Halloran for their first touchdown together. Coatesville turned it over yet again with another interception by Max Busenkell. Another touchdown from Shane Reynolds, 43 yards out, gave him his 4th score on the night, and the Jaguars a 22-point lead. Coatesville’s offense racked up another turnover on downs, this time a fumbled pitch that gave Garnet Valley the ball at their own 45. A 3rd & 23 for Garnet Valley gave the Coatesville defense an open opportunity to make a stop, but a 22-yard QB keeper from Max Busenkell put the Jags in scoring position. Kicker Zach Liberatore drilled a 45-yarder to extend the GV lead to 38-13 going into the half.
Coatesville started the second half off with the first punt of the game. Garnet Valley’s following possession ended with a 25-yarder from Busenkell to Halloran for their second touchdown connection of the night. A Matt Collins sack led to another by Joe Halloran in the Coatesville end zone, giving Garnet Valley the safety, which awarded them two points and possession of the ball. Another successful 4th down conversion (Busenkell to Halloran on 4th & 5) and 3 rushes from RB Joe Checchio (3, 7, and 2 yards) led to Ryan Saunders’ first touchdown of the game and 23rd of the season, tying the school record for total touchdowns in a season. His score put the mercy rule into motion, effectively sealing the win for Garnet Valley.
Neither team did much in the fourth quarter, with the only points coming from a safety on Garnet Valley. The Jags’ only punt attempt of the night resulted in an errant snap over Zach Liberatore’s head out the back of the endzone for Coatesville’s final 2 points of the season. The Garnet Valley offense, with Sean Gallagher, ended the game in victory formation, and the Jags celebrated their first District Championship since 2007.
With a 54-15 victory, Garnet Valley surprised many with a dominant win over an opponent who had haunted their playoff expeditions for so long. The Jags had been knocking on the door for the last 5 years, and they finally kicked the door down.
The offense played one of their best games of the season, Shane Reynolds finishing the game with 231 yards rushing along with 4 touchdowns, Max Busenkell throwing 2 of his own to Joe Halloran, Jack Westburg stepping into an increased role in the absence of Sean Gallagher (74 yards on 7 carries), and the offensive line (Ben Nash, Austin Sorokanych, Nick Mahoney, Sam DiTrolio, Nolan Brennan) clearing space for big plays as they’ve done week in and week out.
The GV defense also had one of their best games of the year, with two sacks from Matt Collins and Joe Halloran (also a safety), 2 interceptions from Max Busenkell, and holding Coatesville’s offense to 13 points, their first game under 31 points this season.
Garnet Valley finally completes the revenge tour and sends off head coach Mike Ricci’s last home game at the Moe with a long-awaited win against Coatesville and one last District championship. The 2021 Jaguars cement their legacy as one of, if not the greatest team in school history, but they’re not done just yet.
The Garnet Valley Jaguars will take on the Hawks of Saint Joseph’s Prep at neutral site Ridley High School. The PIAA Class 6A State Tournament is now narrowed down to the final 4 teams, Garnet Valley, St. Joe’s, Mt. Lebanon, and State College, and if Garnet Valley advances, they will play the winner of the latter two teams in the state championship final. GO JAGS!!!