MALVERN, PA – The mark of a very good team is to win a game handily even though it didn’t exactly play a great game.
With that logic, Malvern Prep must be a very good team.
In the Inter-Academic League season finale Saturday afternoon, Malvern dispatched visiting Springside Chestnut Hill, 52-21, and clinched the league crown. After winning only one of its five non-league affairs, albeit against rugged competition, the Friars orchestrated a perfect 5-0 record in the Inter-Ac and seized their second straight title (shared with Germantown Academy last year) and first outright since 2011. Malvern has now won five outright championships and shared three others since 2005.
Did Malvern see this coming after going 1-4 before league play?
“I thought it was possible based on the talent that we had,” said Malvern coach Dave Gueriera. “The competition was really good but we couldn’t get it together. I think we knew after our first win over Penn Charter that we have a real good team. From that point on, we kept believing.”
The 23-9 victory over Penn Charter – the 9-1 Quakers’ only loss this fall – indeed served as the springboard for a Friars team that outscored their five Inter-Ac foes by 154-51. After then beating Episcopal, Haverford School, and Germantown Academy, the only obstacle blocking Malvern’s golden pursuit was Springside Chestnut Hill.
Despite the final score, the Blue Devils (6-5, 2-3) proved to be a worthy opponent.
One play after SCH fumbled on the game’s opening drive, senior O’Shaan Allison busted loose for a 25-yard touchdown run. On SCH’s next possession, Malvern junior Ryan Iacone intercepted a pass. Again, one play later, junior quarterback Drew Gunther connected with junior Quincy Watson for a 43-yard touchdown pass. Just 3:15 into the first quarter, Malvern led, 14-0.
“We let up a little bit,” said senior defensive end Dom Massimo. “We got a little cocky.”
The Blue Devils, now with senior Jack Elliott replacing injured junior Aaron Angelos at quarterback, took advantage.
Elliott tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to his brother, junior Pat Elliott, with 30 seconds left in the opening stanza. With 2:12 remaining before halftime, Jack Elliott snuck home from the one-yard line, shocking the jam-packed crowd into silence.
Inside the locker room, Malvern coaches didn’t exactly yell and scream. But they relayed a specific message.
“The coaches reminded us of what was on the line,” said Gunther. “Everyone got fired up.”
McCabe described a palpable change of attitude once halftime was over.
“We definitely came out with more intensity,” said McCabe. “We were more fired up, and we were ready to go.”
Any remaining suspense evaporated quickly.
Just 3:03 into the third quarter, Gunther tossed a perfect slant pass in stride to Watson, who took it the distance for a 48-yard score. Immediately following a Springfield Chestnut Hill punt, Gunther unloaded a 58-yard strike to junior Keith Maguire.
With the game quickly becoming out of hand, SCH’s next possession resulted in an interception by senior Cole McCabe, who returned it 55 yards for a touchdown before a penalty during the runback nullified the TD but gave the Friars the ball at the SCH 33.
Four plays later, Gunther matched his career-high fourth touchdown pass, this one a three-yard flip to senor Quinn McCahon.
The fourth quarter wasn’t much different. After a two-yard TD pass from Elliott (17 of 26 for 182 yards and two touchdowns; nine passes for 117 yards and a score to aforementioned brother Pat Elliott) to senior Nick Logue cut Malvern’s lead to 38-21, McCabe corralled his second interception, and this time his 23-yard jaunt to the end zone stood up.
“Our defense tries to keep it consistent,” said junior nose tackle John Turley. “Our motto is family. Kids would rather make a different play to let someone else make the play basically. It’s not all about one person. We love to share it.”
Turley said the Malvern defense jelled in a 27-9 loss to Maryland’s McDonogh School in the Friars’ fourth contest.
“The defense was playing as a team and having fun,” said Turley. “That’s kind of what we are all about. Just having fun, going out there, and being a family on defense.”
Malvern’s offense wasn’t too shabby, either. Gunther completed 8 of 12 passing attempts for 205 yards and the aforementioned four TDs. Watson caught three passes for 90 yards, and his pair of touchdowns increased his two-touchdown streak to three games.
However, Allison has been Malvern’s marquee performer. Fittingly, Allison ended the game’s – and season’s – scoring with a five-yard burst with 3:55 remaining. The Ohio University commit’s final career play elevated his stats to 120 yards on 18 carries, giving him 1,030 yards and 11 touchdowns for the year.
More importantly, he and his teammates’ collective contributions resulted in an Inter-Academic League championship, Malvern’s 33rd overall and 23rd outright.
Malvern has now won five outright championships and shared three others since 2005 - PSD Photo by Patty Morgan
“In the beginning of the season, we set a goal for ourselves to win the Inter-Ac,” said Massimo. “We knew the games before the league would really prepare ourselves for it. We knew we had to work for it, and we worked for it really hard.
Malvern Prep Friars lift their helmets in celebration of a perfect league season - PSD Photo Taken by Patty Morgan
“We got what we deserved. We feed off each other’s energy. It’s everyone. It’s the sideline. When the sideline’s getting up, us on the field, we’re getting up. We love it.
Perhaps Gunther put it best.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” said Gunter. “It’s a great team season. We’re a tight-knit team. Malvern itself is a brotherhood. We’re a brotherhood within a brotherhood.”
Anything after that sentiment would be superfluous.