WEST CHESTER — In the second half of a regular-season ending 24-7 victory on Friday in front of a Senior Night crowd at J. Oscar Dicks Stadium, West Chester Henderson cranked up its bread-and-butter on offense, continued to clamp down on defense, and now the Warriors head into the postseason feeling a bit more comfortable and confident.
With senior runner Garrett Girafalco leading the way, Henderson's option generated 190 rushing yards in the second half to hand Ches-Mont rival Downingtown East its sixth setback and first losing season since 2003, which was the Cougars' first fielding a varsity team. The Warriors' defense limited East to a mere 56 yards after halftime.
"That's Warrior football — that's what we want to come out and try to do,' said Henderson head coach Steve Mitten. "When we can run the option, we are usually pretty successful.
"We would have liked to score a little more, but we did hold the ball, ran it and controlled the clock. That's pretty much our game plan throughout.'
At 6-4 overall (4-2 in the Ches-Mont), the Warriors certainly won't deviate from that plan next Friday in the Class AAA Playoffs against a team to be determined. East falls to 4-6 (2-4) to halt a nine-year streak of winning football.
"It's been a tough year,' said Cougars' head coach Mike Matta. "I am surprised the way it went. We've had some bad breaks but we played to the bitter end. We just didn't play well.
"We have to get better in all facets, including the coaches. And it starts with me. I have to take a hard look in the mirror, and that's going to be some serious reflection in the next couple weeks.'
Girafalco rolled up 134 of his 155 yards on the ground in the second half. And even though Henderson only managed to score just once — on a short run by Tre Green — Girafalco set it up with a 27-yarder, and was the main reason the Warriors were able to dominate the time of possession as well as field position.
"It was just smash-mouth football, which is the way we want to play,' said Girafalco, who toted the football 28 times. "Coach stressed at halftime that we needed to step it up, play our game and finish it off, and that's exactly what we went out and did.
"That's option football. One player gets eight yards, so the defense keys on that guy, and then we give it to somebody else. Plus, we have a big offensive line that can really get some push and that makes it easy for the runners.'
Henderson took an early lead on a 35-yard Steve Thompson field goal, and then the defense forced a pair of turnovers in East territory. The Warriors needed a couple fourth down conversions but eventually found the end zone both times to open a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The first was a four-yard burst by Girafalco and came moments after defender Nick Rizzo picked off a tipped pass. The second happened soon after the Cougar's bruising runner Ryley Angeline -- wearing a cast on his injured left hand — coughed up the football, leading to a 15-yard keeper by quarterback Matt Dinacci.
"I know some of (East's) guys are dinged up but our defense played very, very well,' Mitten said.
With a slew of costly holding penalties, East sabotaged several of its first half possessions, including negating a score by wideout Cary Angeline. But the Cougars took advantage of a break in the final minute of the half after recovering a Girafalco fumble, and this time Cary Angeline's 23-yard toss from Ryan Rumer counted, slicing the Warriors' lead to 10 at the break.
"Henderson is always physical and they always play us well,' Matta said. "We had a couple breaks that went against us and they capitalized when we turned it over deep in their territory, which didn't help.
"Plus that option is hard to defend. You try to practice for it but you can't simulate the speed. When you head into this one, you know you have to get off the field and we couldn't do it.'
Matta later confirmed that Ryley Angeline (49 yards on 18 carries) has a broken thumb. In addition, Rumer did not start due to a bum knee and top lineman, Alec Petrillo, missed the game with an injury.
"East is a very proud program and I have no doubt that next year they are going to be right back on top where they've always been,' Mitten said.
Dinacci only attempted three passes, but chipped in with 78 yards on the ground. And even though Henderson had just 11 yards through the air, it walked off the field on Friday with some momentum.
"This is high school kids so you want to make sure you have momentum,' Mitten said. "We don't know who we are playing but we will worry about it Sunday after the seeding meeting.'
West Chester Henderson 24, Downingtown East 7
Downingtown East 0 7 0
W.C. Henderson 3 14 7
WCH — Thompson 35 field goal
WCH — Girafalco 4 run (Thompson kick)
WCH — Dinacci 15 run (Thompson kick)
DE — C. Angeline 23 pass from Rumer (Brennan kick)
WCH — Green 2 run (Thompson kick)
First downs 10 15
Yards rushing 74 288
Yards passing 110 11
Total yards 184 299
Passing 8-25-2-1 1-3-0-0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties 4-35 7-50
Punts-avg. 6-34.1 3-43.0
RUSHING — DE: R. Angeline 18-49; Fay 3-3; Rumer 1-3; Kincade 4-19. WCH: Armstrong 6-35; Dinacci 15-78, TD; Girafalco 28-155, TD; Green 5-2, TD; Richard 5-15; Oakes 2-4; Smiley 1-(-5); Fuller 1-4.
PASSING — DE: Hudson 2-8-1-0, 28 yards; Rumer 6-17-1-1, 82 yards. WCH: Dinacci 1-3-0-0, 11 yards.
RECEIVING — DE: C. Angeline 4-54, TD; Chisena 1-15; Fay 2-27; Reichwein 1-14. WCH: Armstrong 1-11.
Sack — DE: Clark. WCH: Patton.
Interceptions — WCH: Rizzo, Armstrong.