NETHER PROVIDENCE — Garnet Valley did what it had to do Friday night at Strath Haven's George L. King Field.
The county's only undefeated team emerged victorious, 33-7, extending its winning streak to seven straight games.
When you're a team that's perfect and striving for greatness each week, sometimes a big win over a storied Central League program like Strath Haven isn't enough. You wouldn't know it by the final score, but the Jaguars could have been better.
Actually ... that's a scary thought if you're a player on Harriton, Haverford or Conestoga, the three teams remaining on the Jags' schedule before the District One Class AAAA postseason starts Nov. 8. It was supposed to be the Panthers' homecoming night, but inclement weather ruined everything. The Strath Haven and Garnet Valley marching bands were nowhere to be found. Those thousands of crazy Garnet Valley fans that packed Moe DeFrank Stadium for last week's rout of Penncrest stayed home. Strath Haven usually is a great place to take in a high school football game on a Friday night. On this night, it was a ghost town.
Was the atmosphere at all an issue for the Jaguars, especially in the first half?
"We practice with no people in the stands, but find a way to keep the intensity up,' quarterback Christian Portale said. "It's not an excuse.'
Garnet Valley (7-0, 6-0) produced 392 yards of total offense, scored five touchdowns, including one by Steve Lehman on a blocked punt, disrupted quarterback Bryan Mizell and ... well, looked like Garnet Valley. But even in a 27-point defeat, the Panthers (2-5, 1-5) played their tails off, and for almost the entirety of the second half, kept pace with the explosive Jags.
"I don't think the environment was a distraction,' Jaguars coach Mike Ricci said. "Credit goes to Strath Haven. I don't know if it was so much a letdown on our part, because I thought Strath Haven played really well and a really smart football game. They moved the ball and kept the ball out of our offense's hands. That's what you need to do against us and they did a good job doing it.'
Strath Haven did some nice things in the first half. The Panthers leaned on running backs Anthony Myers and Charles Fryson with sweeps, powers and counters. The Panthers opened the first quarter with an encouraging, nine-play drive that stalled out on the Garnet Valley 36-yard line.
"Early on, there was a breakdown in fundamentals. We weren't being very fundamentally sound,' said impressive senior linebacker Tyler Shankle. "We weren't making the tackles and not being where we were supposed to be. They have a really smart coach (Kevin Clancy) and if he sees something ... he's going to keep running the play again and again if it's working.'
After the Panthers stalled out, the Jaguars needed only five plays to get reach the end zone on their first possession. Mike Bruette did the honors with an 11-yard rush. In the second quarter, Vince Razzano leaped over a sea of humanity at the goal line for a two-yard touchdown run to put the Jaguars ahead, 13-0. The Jags' three-headed running monster of Bruette (73 yards), Razzano (74) and Jake Irving (64) had a brief, albeit very productive day at the office. Strath Haven had a golden opportunity to make things interesting in the waning moments of the second quarter. Nick Milone ran a safe route on fourth-and-10 at the Garnet Valley 12-yard line. Mizell and Milone hooked up, but the Panthers fell a yard shy of a first down. With the ball back in their hands, Portale drove the Jaguars on a 98-yard scoring drive in just five plays. Razzano caught a six-yard pass from Portale out of the backfield to give Garnet Valley a 20-0 cushion with eight seconds left.Mizell provided the Panthers' lone bright spot, taking a quarterback keeper 96 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter. By then, however, the Jags were already well on their way to victory.