Someone has always stepped up this season for Garnet Valley High's football team at crucial times. Like Saturday, when it was Jared Bonacquisti deflecting a pass to save the season, or Ryan "Horse" Canzanese making a big hit to save the season, or Tim Keyser scoring from everywhere on the field, it seemed, to save the season.
Someone has always stepped up. The Jaguars got a little something from everyone in holding off a late charge to beat West Scranton, 27-22, at Coatesville, in the PIAA Class AAA state quarterfinals on Saturday.
The Jags (12-1) advance to the state semifinals on Friday, when they will take on Lampeter-Strasburg in Hershey at 7 p.m.
Garnet Valley advanced using a big-play defense, Keyser's four-touchdown, 120-yard rushing performance, and poise - tremendous poise, after being down early for the second straight week.
"The poise and patience comes from the seniors," Jags coach Mike Ricci said. "We have great senior leadership, but more importantly, we have a strong belief in one another. That goes for the coaching staff, and the kids on this team. It's a special group, and when we were down, we never questioned that we wouldn't come back. We knew what needed to be done, and we did it."
Indeed they did.
The Jags were down, 9-0, even before they snapped the ball the first time, with 3 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first quarter. The Invaders (12-2) opened the game with a nine-play, 64-yard drive, resulting in a touchdown, then recovered a fumble when Garnet Valley turned the ball over on the ensuing kickoff.
Suddenly, Garnet Valley was on the brink of staring down a huge hole, like the Jags had in the opening quarter the previous week in the District 1 championship game against Pottsgrove.
But this team seems to play better under that sort of pressure.
The Jags' Alex Gray made a key stop for no gain on a second-and-eight at the Jags' 19. Dan Duffey sliced through the massive West Scranton front, which featured behemoths like 6-7, 282-pound Eric Shrive and 6-1, 327-pound Brandon Ward, to make an important play at the Jags' 8.
Finally, Eric Warden shoved back West Scranton's Shawn Bodtmann for a 1-yard loss, forcing the Invaders to attempt a 23-yard field goal, keeping the score manageable.
Early in the fourth quarter, Canzanese made a jarring hit that forced a fumble at the West Scranton 9, which resulted in the winning touchdown for Garnet Valley.
"We know the defense needs to make a big play," said Bonacquisti, who rushed for 55 yards on nine carries. "When we're down in that situation, we try to execute, and that's the biggest thing. The defense makes a big stop, that raises the intensity. We weren't even on the field yet, and we had to start making big plays for them, and start to ease the pressure they were facing."
Perhaps no one made a bigger play in the game than Bonacquisti. The 6-foot, 190-pound junior had not played defense all season, though he practiced sparingly with the defense.
With West Scranton trailing, 27-22, and the ball at the Jags' 16, with 46 seconds left to play, Bonacquisti came in to man up on West Scranton's Hubie Graham, an Illinois-bound tight end who had burned the Jags for a 14-yard reception earlier in the fourth quarter that set up a touchdown.
Invaders quarterback Matt McGloin thought he had Graham coming over the middle, only to have Bonacquisti make the play of the season - so far - by batting the ball away before it could get to Graham. The fourth-down play turned the ball over to Garnet Valley to secure the victory - and a berth in the state semifinals.
"I just wanted to stick with Graham, that's what coach Ricci put me in to do," Bonacquisti said. "That was my job. We definitely feel like we can't let anyone else down, but I think the key to that, which is something the coaches preach to us, is each one takes a personal responsibility of what we do.
"If I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, I know I'm not letting any of my teammates down. That's the whole mind-set of this team. It's definitely a big reason why we've gotten this far."
This far means a trip to Hershey. *
E-mail Joseph Santoliquito at