ASTON — In its final tune-up before its annual Turkey Bowl against Chichester, Sun Valley hooked-up with Neumann-Goretti for a chance to halt an eight game losing streak and build a little momentum heading into the season finale.
Unfortunately for the Vanguards, the Saints proved to be too much too handle as Neumann-Goretti secured a 34-21 victory. For Sun Valley (2-9), the process of putting this game behind it and focusing on Chichester has already begun.
"I think we played pretty well, but like our coach said, we didn't really play a full game,' said Vanguards senior wideout Mike Villano, who hauled in five passes for 88 yards. "Even though we lost, we played hard. Chi was there in the stands and saw that we were workin' hard, so I think we just keep it going and by the time the game comes we'll be ready for them.'
A Thanksgiving victory would be a positive way to close out a difficult season. The Vanguards opened the season with consecutive victories over Lower Merion and Chester, but struggled versus Academy Park, the rugged Ches-Mont League competition, and the Saints.
"(Thanksgiving) is the big game,' said Villano. "It's the game we look forward to at the beginning of camp. You're talkin' about it since the end of the fourth quarter last year. You'd like to make playoffs, but (a win on Thanksgiving) would definitely take the sting out of some of the losses.'
After Sun Valley jumped out to an early lead behind a 2-yard touchdown run by Brandon Williams, Neumann-Goretti did not waste any time making the Vanguards pay.
Sihimare Morgan scored a 1-yard touchdown before the Aamir Brown show started. Brown was a threat on both sides of the ball and electric with each touch. Brown, a freshman, scored on a 55-yard reverse and later returned an interception 74 yards for another score to give the Saints a 21-7 lead at halftime.
"I just came out and tried to do my thing,' said Brown, who finished the game with four catches for 54 yards. "We want to take the momentum, keep ballin' hard, and get the next team that we can beat.'
Neumann-Goretti coach Charles Szydlik Jr. had been anticipating a game like this for Brown and knew it would come soon.
"To be perfectly honest, we were kind of expecting that (kind of performance) a couple of games ago and tonight he finally got a chance to get in the open field,' said Szydlik Jr., whose team plays Southern High on Thanksgiving Day. "He's a great kid, he works hard, and he's been a starter for us since Day 1. The sky's the limit for that kid. He's a talent, that's for sure.'
Szydlik Jr. noted how vital it was to ensure that his squad played this week to avoid the rust that can accrue waiting around for Thanksgiving to finally arrive.
"Thanksgiving is really important for us and sitting around and waiting 27 days wasn't really an option,' Szydlik Jr. said. "Obviously, playing a class act like Sun Valley and Jimmy (Grugan) and those guys, it was a great thing.'
Morgan added another touchdown run to extend the Saints' lead to 28-7 in the third quarter, but the Vanguards started to show the resilience that they will need to regroup and prepare for Chichester.
"I think our kids played pretty well,' said Vanguards coach Jim Grugan. "We're still fighting the injury bug, but we had a freshman out there on (Saints standout wide receiver Jamal) Custis and a sophomore out there on the other kid, so we did what we wanted to. We moved the ball well tonight, but we had a couple of turnovers and missed some opportunities. When you're inside the 10-yard line you've got to score and that's what has held us back this year.'
Ryan Riddle returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown. Even when Khalil Roane scored on a 35-yard run for Neumann-Goretti in the fourth quarter, Sun Valley responded with a 30-yard scoring strike from T.J. Mancini to Kijana Gordon.
The Vanguards' ability to fight back lifted their spirits and confidence as Thanksgiving inches closer.
"If we can win on Thanksgiving it's a good momentum builder heading into the offseason and it would be a big win for the seniors,' said Grugan. "It's huge for the seniors to go out on something positive. It's a neighborhood brawl; their kids are going to come in and fight their backsides off and we're going to do the same. Records don't matter; it's a Thanksgiving game and that's it. You've got one more game in two weeks and we're going to go out there and try to get our guys as ready as possible to get a win at home.'