By NEIL GEOGHEGAN
LONDON GROVE — With its top offensive weapon at less than 100 percent and playing on the road against an inspired opponent, the West Chester Henderson High School football squad could have been in some trouble on Friday at Avon Grove.
But versatile junior Noah Richard responded with some big plays all over the field to help the Warriors outlast the Red Devils, 28-7, in Ches-Mont National action and secure a berth in the upcoming Class AAA playoffs. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder wound up scoring three of Henderson’s four touchdowns on runs of 79- and 43-yards, as well as a catch and run that covered 45 yards. And Richard very nearly added a fourth on a long interception return, but a penalty wiped out the score.
“They took that defensive one away from him,’ Warriors head coach Steve Mitten said. “That was a shame. I want to see that one on film. But that just shows that Noah is probably our most versatile athlete. He plays on offense and defense in a variety of positions and can make plays from anywhere on the field.’
Richard wound up with 174 yards on the ground on 12 carries (a 14.5 average), and finished with 219 yards in total offense, which was more than half of Henderson’s total. It was a timely breakout performance as senior standout Garrett Giarfalco was limited to 55 yards on the ground, including just two runs of more than four yards.
“Garrett’s a little dinged up but Noah sure filled in,’ Mitten said. “He practices about six positions for us on offense and he made it happen when we needed it.’
With Downingtown East up next, the Warriors improve to 3-2 in the league (5-4 overall). Avon Grove (0-5, 1-8) has now dropped eight straight, but head coach Doug Langley was encouraged to see his team put together the kind of four quarter effort that was elusive until recently.
“I thought we played pretty hard the whole game,’ Langley acknowledged. “We’ve actually put together two complete games in a row, which is something we hadn’t done previously. So the kids are starting to understand what we are trying to do.’
Henderson converted a trio of critical fourth downs in the opening 15 minutes of action and it led directly to a pair of touchdowns, which accounted for the game’s only points in the first three quarters. The first came when quarterback Matt Dinacci hit Richard on fourth-and-7 on a play-action pass that covered 45 yards.
Giarfalco successfully converted a pair of fourth downs in the next possession -- including a risky play from its own 37 that moved the chains, and another from near midfield. It all led to a two-yard scoring plunge by Tre Green that put the Warriors in front 14-0 at the break.
“When (Henderson) got to fourth and short, they are just a bit bigger than we are and we couldn’t stop their push,’ Langley explained.
“We have a lot of confidence in our offensive line, we have good running backs and if you’re going to be a playoff team you need to make plays when you need to,’ Mitten pointed out.
The first half was a microcosm of Avon Grove’s season, as the Devils marched into Henderson territory three times and failed to score a point. Quarterback Tanner Peck turned the ball over four times in the first half, including a first period pick in the end zone with the team threatening. The Warriors’ Brian Armstrong grabbed the interception to thwart a 57-yard drive.
The Red Devils also had another prime scoring chance following a botched punt by Henderson, but Richard grabbed an errant Peck pass. He returned it 79 yards for an apparent TD, but it was called back when Henderson was whistled for a personal foul.
Early in the fourth quarter, Richard went the distance from his own 21 to give Henderson a little breathing room, but Avon Grove came right back with a quick strike that featured two passes from Peck to wideout Austen Radecki for a total of 61 yards, with the touchdown coming from 11 yards out. Richard later wrapped up his big night with a 43-yarder with less than two minutes on the clock.
“It wasn’t an easy win,’ Richard said. “But we knew we weren’t going to roll over them. We were looking at it as a playoff game.
“It’s unfortunate that Garrett (Giarfalco) was banged up but the offensive line stepped up and had a crazy push on the line. It just happened that I ended up with the ball on some of those plays.’
Green chipped in with 67 rushing yards and the Warriors finished with 346 on the ground. But the Devils rolled up 324 yards of offense and had a 14-13 edge in first downs.
“Credit Avon Grove. They are a proud team and they came out ready to play on Senior Night,’ Mitten said. “We were fortunate to make some plays at important times and get the win.
“We think of the playoffs as gravy for playing a very tough Ches-Mont National schedule. But we have Downingtown East next week so I am not even thinking about playoffs. They are going to come ready to play and that’s what our number one focus is.’
W.C. Henderson 28
Avon Grove 7
W.C. Henderson 7 7 0 14 -- 28
Avon Grove 0 0 0 7 -- 7
WCH — Richard 45 pass from Dinacci (Thompson kick)
WCH — Green 2 run (Thompson kick)
WCH — Richard 79 run (Thompson kick)
AG — Radecki 11 pass from Peck (Scarpato kick)
WCH — Richard 43 run (Thompson kick)
First downs 13 14
Yards rushing 346 109
Yards passing 54 215
Total yards 400 324
Passing 2-6-1-1 15-28-3-1
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 3-2
Penalties 6-35 6-50
Punts-Avg. 0-0.0 2-34.0
RUSHING — WCH: Giarfalco 15-55; Richard 12-174, 2 TDs; Green 8-67, TD; Armstrong 5-6; Dinacci 10-44; Thompson 0-1. AG: N. Jones 5-32; Peck 17-48; Kim 2-2; Parola 3-14; D. Jones 1-13.
PASSING — WCH: Dinacci 2-6-1-1, 54 yards. AG: Peck 15-27-2-1, TD; Skulski 0-1-1-0.
RECEIVING — WCH: Richard 1-45, TD; Green 1-9. AG: Kim 3-62; Grant 1-6; Aquanno 6-64; Radecki 5-83.
Sacks — WCH: Vogel, White,
Interceptions — WCH: Armstrong 2, Lind, AG: Lawrence