The Rustin High School football team charged out of the lockerroom and took control of their destiny in the second half to deliver a convincing 30-28 victory at J. Oscar Dicks Stadium Friday night and retain citywide bragging rights over archrival Henderson.
Crisp execution in the running game produced 10 points in a dominant third quarter as the Golden Knights got it done without help from standout receiver Anthony Nash, their most potent offensive threat. The winners ran 24 players to Henderson’s two in the first 10 minutes of the third quarter, taking a 23-14 lead and seizing the momentum for the rest of the game.
“Hey, we see each other all year long. At the mall, WaWa. It’s a backyard football game and we want to win it,” gushed Cordairo Taylor, who emerged as one of several offensive stars, contributing a key 46-yard run that set up one touchdown and gobbling up big yardage on a series of left end sweeps that enabled Rustin to impose its will in that crucial third quarter. “They were blitzing from the right side, so we ran away from it,” added the senior, who ripped off runs of 15, 5, 11 and 9 in the 11-play drive that swung the game in the Golden Knights favor following intermission.
The other offensive standouts were running back Joe Palladino, who iced the game with a seven-yard TD scamper with 5:36 remaining, and Connor Burke, who gave Rustin an early 6-0 lead with a 12-yard run and then bulled his way into the end zone from five yards out to culminate that early third quarter drive that put Rustin ahead to stay.
“Winning West Chester is the #1 priority,” offered Rustin coach Mike St. Clair. “Whatever happens after that happens.” What happened last year was a second meeting in the post-season and with both teams in the upper echelon again this year, a rematch again in the post-season is not impossible. “We were lucky to be down only 14-13 at the half. Their offense is tough to stop,” added St. Clair. “A rematch is possible. I hope it doesn’t happen.”
“They hurt us with basic stuff,” stated Henderson coach Joe Walsh, whose team now turns its attention to Friday’s road game against Coatesville, a battle for control of the Chest-Mont National Division. “We didn’t control the ball on offense. We committed turnovers.”
The Warriors had their way on the game’s opening drive, covering 61 yards in 14 plays with quarterback Jake Richard executing the option smartly. On third and eight from the Rustin 16, his pass to the end zone was tipped and picked off by Rustin’s C. J. Steinmatz, who returned it to the Henderson 42. The Knights’ offense stalled in that first drive, but they pulled off a fake punt on third and five at their own 42, with quarterback Mike DeLancey taking a direct snap and hitting Tommy O’Neill over the middle for 19 yards. Three plays later Burke was in the end zone and Rustin led, 6-0.
Henderson’s best moments followed as Richard again used his deft ball-handling skills to ride fullback Derek Mattonti and halfback Zack Jones in a nine-play, 63-yard drive that ended with a Jones’ six-yard run. Later in the second, Jones got the sideline on an option pitch and raced 27 yards to paydirt, giving Henderson a 14-6 lead and belief that they could end Rustin’s run of victories.
Taylor’s 10-yard touchdown run brought it to 14-13 at the half and Rustin proved to be the better team in the second half, pushing its record to 6-1, with a Ches-Mont battle at home against Oxford on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Other key contributors for Rustin were placekicker Dylan Jenkins, who hit a 29-yard field goal to give his team a 23-14 edge in the third quarter, and Tommy Tomlin, whose fumble recovery set up that 13-play drive.
St. Clair also praised Nash, Sean Steinmetz and Malcolm Roberson for their roles in paving the way for Taylor’s and Burke’s big runs.