Defenses win championships.
The Central Bucks South defense forced five turnovers and yielded its stingiest playoff output yet on a cold Friday night in Warrington. No. 5 CB South (13-1) went wire-to-wire to beat No. 6 Downingtown West 27-7 and win the District One 6A title game.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said linebacker Sean Moskowitz, a first team All-SOL National pick. “All of that hard work has paid off. We’re so happy.”
“This is the greatest feeling of my life. It means the world to us,” added co-captain and two-way lineman Rolan Hess. “In my speech before the game, I said ‘We put the last 12 months into this. We bled for each other and sweated for each other.’”
In South’s four playoff games, the defense has yielded increasingly fewer and fewer points: 20 in the first round to Coatesville, 19 to Spring-Ford, 14 to Central Bucks West in the semifinal and finally seven in the title game.
Downingtown West quarterback Quinn Henicle managed just 126 yards in the air on 25 attempts.
“It was a completely different week,” said Moskowitz, who had nine tackles on the night. “(Henicle) is a great scrambler. He can extend plays. Our D backs were able to stay on their men as long as they could so we could get pressure. We got lined up right, made our calls and were in the right place at the right time.”
Yet the Whippets’ defense was equally effective until 9:00 left in the game. That is when Titans running back Anthony Leonardi burst 79 yards, nearly untouched, for a touchdown. Corey Moore added the 2-point conversion and South went up 21-7.
Danny Gies picked off a Downingtown West pass on the subsequent drive and returned it 62 yards to the West 8. Moore punched in a score to make the game 27-7 and effectively end it.
The Titans could not have opened the game any better. South assembled a 15-play, 85-yard drive that ate up over 8 minutes and ended with Owen Pinkerton’s 3-yard touchdown run.
“(Head) coach (Tom) Hetrick said that it comes down to three things: penalties, who goes harder, and facing adversity. Before Anthony broke that touchdown, we reminded ourselves to do what we do. Because it’s all we can do. I think it was facing adversity and overcoming that,” Hess pointed out.
After that initial drive, both defenses settled in. Downingtown West only ran 11 plays in the game’s opening 22 minutes.
The Whippets’ special teams did not prove to be too special. Downingtown West fumbled a punt on the South 18 that was recovered by the Titans’ Matt Harmon with 2:00 left in the half. On the next play, Leonardi ran an 18-yard reverse for a touchdown. The blocked point after gave South a 13-0 lead.
Downingtown West connected on a fourth down 16-yard touchdown pass on the first half’s final play for its lone score.
Leonardi led the South rushing attack with 164 yards on 16 carries; he could go over the 2,000-yard mark next week. Moore (16 carries, 61 yards) did break the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the fourth quarter.
The runners “make each other better because when you have three of them, you can keep each other fresh. I think they each appreciate and understand the role that they play,” said Hetrick after the CB West semifinal. “Pink is the one who will spread you out and maybe catch you off guard. Corey is the one who is going to run for 3 or 4 more yards after the contact. Leo is the threat to take it if he gets beyond the second level.
“Each one complements each other and each brings something a little subtle and different to what we do,” Hetrick added. “And I think anyone would like to run behind that offensive line.”
“From our tight end and tackle to tackle, I think the O line just goes as hard as they can every single play,” Hess noted. “We have great running backs. All of them can do spectacular things and have their own strengths. We just try to open as many holes as we can.”
The Titans, who claimed their first-ever football district title, face St. Joseph’s Prep in this week’s PIAA semifinal.
“It’s one of the most special groups I’ve been around in 30 years of doing this,” Hetrick praised. “They are just good people. My coaches are good people. This program is full of good people and that is where it starts. Culture is everything. Xs and Os matter and the Jimmys and Joes matter but the culture that our coaches create is a special thing.
“These guys had an unbelievable ability to simply play this season one week at a time,” Hetrick concluded on Friday.
South has earned the chance to play for yet another week, this time with a big, new trophy on display.
Looking ahead: The Titans have a tough, tough out ahead of them in opponent St. Joe’s Prep. The Prep has been to the last seven state finals, winning five. According to Rivals.com, the Hawks have four of Pennsylvania’s top 15 seniors and three of the top 12 juniors. Regardless of how CB South handles that firepower, they can’t take away a hard-earned impressive District One trophy.