CONCORD — Some 30 minutes before kickoff of Friday night's Central League clash of the unbeatens, Penncrest and Garnet Valley's student sections started a chant war that seemed to escalate in volume and intensity by the minute.
Moments before kickoff, the playoff-type atmosphere had settled in at Moe DeFrank Stadium, with both sides' stands filled to capacity and beyond as late arrivals set up camp on the hills around the field. Penncrest athletic director Chip Olinger said his school had sold 600 tickets to the road game, a testament to what was expected to be a classic showdown between a team that was undefeated in five games for the first time since 1964 and a budding rival who is always near the top of the league standings.
Forty-eight minutes later, it had become abundantly clear that one team was perfectly comfortable on the big stage. And the other? Well, consider it a small step in the maturation of an inexperienced team. Jake Irving ran for 140 yards and a touchdown and Vince Razzano scored four times as Garnet Valley throttled Penncrest, 47-7.
"I know how these guys are,' Penncrest coach Rick Stroup said. "I know they're a good team and we're just not quite there yet. Hopefully, (we) learn something and grow from it. We did some good things, but we're not quite there yet. These guys have never been in that situation, so they need to grow up a little bit and mature from it.'
Garnet Valley (6-0, 5-0 Central League) established its superiority from the start. Quarterback Christian Portale waited until the last possible second to make a perfect option pitch to Vince Razzano, who got a superb block from wide receiver Aaron Parenti to clear his path to the end zone from 59 yards out. Razzano then added a 1-yard rumble off of a direct snap, Jake Irving broke a tackle for a 74-yard scoring scamper and Razzano added another direct snap touchdown to give the Jaguars a 28-0 halftime lead.
And, to hear some say it, a win before the second half was even played.
"We've been here before,' said defensive end Joey Granahan, who should have been billed rent for the amount of time he spent in the Penncrest backfield. "We talked about that this week. We know what we've got to do in these types of games and we used that to our advantage. They've never been in this situation, so that definitely gave us a big advantage. Once we got rolling, we knew that we had the momentum on our side and that's just a huge advantage in a game like this.'
If that wasn't bad enough, Razzano made sure to put the finishing touches on it with a perfectly-run counter where he was never accosted in his 49-yard jaunt to paydirt. John McGrogan later added a 41-yard catch and run for another score and Derrick West capped things off with a 1-yard plunge. Penncrest (5-1, 4-1) came in with a defense that had allowed all of 583 yards and 33 points all year and walked out limping after a 457-yard, 47-point drubbing put on it. But with the way the Garnet Valley defense was flying around to the ball, 14 points would have been plenty.
Generally cast in the shadows of the perennially-explosive Jaguars offense, Garnet Valley's defense has carved out a reputation for itself as a fast, nasty shutdown unit. Even without standout defensive end Jesse Miceli, who sat out the festivities with a strep throat, Granahan, monster inside linebacker Tyler Shankle and active lineman Gavin Woods spearheaded a group that limited the young Lions to 221 total yards of offense. Lions quarterback Danny Fisher performed admirably, going 10-for-13 for 137 yards and a touchdown toss to fullback Joe Volciak, but the Jaguars got all the stops they needed.
"Our goal is always to have a shutout,' Woods said. "We did good. We played together and we stuck together the whole time. ... We've got some good depth. Our goal was to show everyone who was the No. 1 defense, make a name for ourselves and show what we could do against a pretty good team.'
The message was loud and clear, too. Much like the defense, the Jaguars' offense missed a key component in running back Mike Bruette, who was out with a hamstring injury. But Irving went off for his second 100-yard game of the year, Razzano found the end zone four times for the second time this year and Portale connected on two passes for a total of 75 yards. Next man up, right?
"In big games, I definitely like to prepare a lot,' Irving said. "I think I perform better because of all the hype and everything. I think it aids me a little bit, but I can do that in any game. It just depends how I feel. It definitely did (feel like a playoff game). It's a big win. Our offense and our defense are just killing it out there. I'm so proud of those guys. I couldn't do it without them.'
There's no doubt that Garnet Valley is the team to beat in the Central League and one of District One's elites in the AAAA classification. Where Penncrest will end up standing, though, remains to be seen. Stroup will need his team to bounce back — and quickly — to not let one bump in the road affect things long-term. The Lions have already matched their combined win total of the first two years under Stroup's steadying hand, so keeping an eye on the future won't be the toughest thing.
Come to think of it, Garnet Valley's doing pretty well. Maybe just try to emulate what the Jaguars do. That could work.