By: John Knebels
Photos: Kathy Leister
MALVERN, PA – During the final two minutes of the second quarter, Lonnie White, Jr. supplied more highlights than most players can produce in a month.
That’s no exaggeration.
The Malvern Prep senior provided an interception, a 30-yard touchdown jaunt, a second interception, and a 20-yard scoring snare to help the Friars overwhelm visiting Salesianum School (DE), 35-0, in Saturday afternoon’s long-awaited football season opener.
“I knew it was going to be a special day when I woke up,” said White, a receiver and defensive back who next year will continue his football career at Penn State University. “We were fired up coming into this game. We wanted this really badly.”
A wunderkind in football, baseball, and basketball, White is accustomed to post-game interviews. Affable and focused, he understands the need to ask him questions about his individual plaudits.
In this case, it was about the two touchdowns . . . and the two interceptions . . . and the six catches for 154 yards . . . and the eye-popping hurdle over an air-grabbing safety that resulted in a 21-yard gain during the Friars’ first drive, punctuated three plays later by junior Isaiah Wright’s five-yard scamper behind the left side of Malvern’s dominant offensive line.
White, however, tends to gently swat aside personal accolades.
That’s precisely what makes the Friars a consistently special program – a focus on the plural “we” instead of the singular “I.”
“One of our team philosophies this year was to make sure we did all of the little things,” said Malvern coach Dave Gueriera. “That interception return was a disciplined linebacker getting into his zone.
"Our offensive line did a fantastic job of finishing blocks. It was a culmination of the little things.
“We have a couple really special players, and when you play a good fundamental game like that, the big players also show what they can do.”
Gueriera’s mention of an “interception return” referred to a highlight reel pick by seniorJake Brownley late in the first quarter. Malvern had just increased its lead to 13-0 on junior quarterback Jack Capaldi’s 24-yard scoring pass to junior Andrew Connolly, who outleaped a cornerback at the eight and ran the rest of the way untouched. It was the first varsity touchdown for both teammates.
“It felt awesome,” said Capaldi. “We have been playing together for three years, and I have a lot of confidence throwing to him. He made a great play on the ball, and it was good to see him take it in for his first varsity touchdown as well.”
On the second play of Salesianum’s next possession, Brownley snared an interception with his right hand at the 40-yard line and cradled the pigskin to the end zone behind blocks by senior Kellen Mathias, junior D’Angelo Stocker, and junior Dale Law for his first varsity TD.
“With the extended camp, we had a lot of time to prepare and a lot of time to bond,” said Brownley, a Harvard University-bound lacrosse standout. “The senior leadership and the camaraderie are like no other.
“I’ve been on a lot of teams here at Malvern and a lot of successful teams. This one’s top notch.”
Brownley offered kudos to Malvern’s defensive coaches for helping him learn the intricacies of the linebacker position. He said he benefited from being in the right place and reacting quickly.
“I stuck my hand out there and I had good lead blocking and went as fast as I could to get into the end zone,” said Brownley. “It was a good feeling. At first I’m like, ‘No flags, no flags.’ It was awesome.”
Annually among Delaware’s top football programs, Salesianum was suddenly trailing, 19-0, and despite tremendous size, Sallies had no answers to counter Malvern’s speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball.
The second quarter remained quiet until the final two minutes. That’s when White literally took over and turned a comfortable edge into necessitating a mercy-rule running clock throughout the second half.
With 1:41 seconds remaining before halftime, White jumped in front of a Sallies receiver and returned the interception to the Sallies 42. After two six-yard runs by Wright, Capaldi found White with a short pass at the 30. Behind a key block by Connolly, White raced downfield, deked a Sallies defender out of his cleats and pushed him out of bounds, then cut to his right for the score.
A two-point conversion pass from Capaldi to senior Joe Walheim made it 27-zip with 26 ticks on the clock. On the first play following a squibbed kickoff that was returned to the Salesianum 38, senior Steven Rose, Jr. jumped high and tipped a pass that a diving White seized inches from the ground at the Malvern 35.
A 14-yard scamper by Capaldi moved the ball to the 49. Penalties advanced the drive to the Salesianum 20. From there, Capaldi lifted a high arcing spiral that was corralled by White over an undoubtedly frustrated defender near the right corner of the end zone. Capaldi’s third touchdown strike and Wright’s two-point conversion run on the final play of the half would end the scoring.
“Lonnie’s a beast,” said Capaldi, who completed 11 of 15 attempts for 216 yards and three touchdowns. “There’s a reason why he is committed to play at Penn State next year. It makes it easy for me throwing to someone like Lonnie as well as all of the other great receivers that we have this year.”
Brownley (interception, sack, three solo tackles, one assist), junior Ryan Davis (five solo tackles, three assists), junior Luke Gueriera (interception), the aforementioned Mathias (five tackles), and, of course, Rice (two interceptions) were the major obstacles for a Salesianum offense that amassed only 99 yards and five first downs in the first half despite eight possessions (five punts and three picks).
After the game, Gueriera was almost, well . . . speechless.
“It’s hard to quantify feelings,” he said. “As soon as the ball was kicked off, it was a win for us because since April, we’ve been wondering, ‘Are we going to play? Are we not going to play?’
“I thought we did a fantastic job on all three phases. Defensively, we were really stout against the run. On offense, we converted third downs. We won the turnover battle, which I think is how you win football games. I’m happy for these guys. It’s a great group of guys. They worked their butts off for this. It was a great win.”
Malvern’s victory was unforgettable for several reasons. It occurred during a historic pandemic and had been delayed for more than a month. It was the epitome of a team win because so many players contributed. And then there was White’s sovereignty over the final 100-plus seconds of the second quarter.
“It’s incredible,” said Brownley. “I can’t say enough about the kid. His work ethic is insane. The kind of kid he is, his character . . . it’s exhilarating. That kid’s going to the NFL. He’s one of a kind.”
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)