(Photo: Malvern sophomore Drake Hutchison scores a touchdown for the Hornets)
The Malvern Hornets football team faced their fair share of adversity in their second game of the season, on the road against the Conotton Valley Rockets.
Malvern moved to 2-0 on the season with a 21-20 victory over the Rockets.
“There were times I looked out and we had three freshmen and three sophomores on defense, but they’re learning our way very quickly,” said Malvern head coach Matt Chiurco. “I’ve had quite a few wins, but this one right here might be my favorite…because of the grit, adversity and all of that. We had young guys growing up.”
The Hornets didn’t waste anytime before jumping out to an early lead Friday night before the Hornets’ suffered a devastating blow in the second quarter. Their starting quarterback, Jared Witherow, went down with an apparent wrist/lower arm injury.
It didn’t take Malvern long to get on the board at all, and at that point it looked as if the game was going to be one-sided.
The game’s first play from scrimmage was a trick play by the Hornets. Witherow took the snap, handed the ball off to Dylan Phillips who tossed a 59-yard strike down the field to a wide open KJ Wafler who trotted into the end zone, putting the Hornets ahead 7-0 only :15 into the game. That would be Wafler’s only catch of the night, but not his only touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, Conotton Valley chewed up over five minutes off the clock before Evan Rice scored on a four-yard touchdown run for the Rockets. The two-point try was no good and Malvern retained a 7-6 lead; that would be the score going into the second quarter.
Less than three minutes into the second frame of action, Malvern executed a drive that was capped off by sophomore Drake Hutchison. The youngster rushed the ball in from 20 yards out to put Malvern ahead 14-6 with 9:07 to play in the quarter. Hutchison racked up 56 yards on the ground on 10 rushes.
On the Rockets next drive, they were unable to move the ball and were forced to punt. Malvern’s Wafler was lined up as the punt returner, with his heels on his own 25-yard-line.
Wafler hauled in the punt, weaved in, out and around defenders as he sprinted 75 yards to the end zone to put Malvern ahead 21-6 with 6:50 left in the opening half. Those would be Malvern’s last points of the game.
Before halftime, Rice scored his second touchdown of the night on a 4-yard dash. He also ran the ball in for a successful two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 21-14 at the half. Rice finished the contest with 159 rushing yards on 39 carries with two touchdowns.
Conotton Valley received the ball to start the third quarter, and they chewed up the clock like it was their job.
The Rockets used strategy to march down the field, taking six minutes off the clock before Zach Putnam connected with Gaige Galligher for a five-yard touchdown. Conotton Valley lined up for two to take the lead, and they did just that. But the two-point conversion was quickly erased from the board after a holding penalty moved the ball back 10 yards. Conotton Valley was unable to convert the longer two-point try. Malvern remained in the lead at 21-20.
The teams entered the fourth quarter separated by one point. The game was setting up to be a complete dog fight.
Malvern was driving the ball halfway through the fourth quarter, but was forced to use their final two timeouts with about seven minutes left in regulation. They turned the ball over on downs, and it set up an opportunity for Conotton Valley to try and take the lead.
Both teams had one more possession, but the drives came up empty.
As time ticked under a minute, the Rockets had one last chance to move the ball. Putnam dropped back for CV, planted his feet and made the throw, but Malvern’s defense was ready for the play. The ball went threw the hands of Hutchison and bounced off his helmet, but his teammate Rocco Marinucci made a spectacular diving catch to haul in the interception to seal the win for Malvern.
Marinucci dropped an earlier interception, but made up for it with the game-sealer.
“He should have had the one, I think he knew it, but he made this one count and that’s all that matters,” Coach Chiurco said.
Malvern moves to 2-0 on the season with the win and will host Waterloo next Friday for their first home game on the season.
“Getting two road wins to start the season is big, especially when you’re a young team,” Coach Chiurco stated. “Now we get to go home, and try to get ready for Waterloo.”