They didn’t cross paths in high school, but Academy Park coach Jason Vosheski and Marple Newtown coach Chris Gicking come from the same 1990s era of Central League football.
Vosheski excelled at Ridley, where he earned All-Delco honors as a wide receiver. Gicking had one of the greatest careers of any quarterback in Delco history, and still owns the county’s career passing record, 21 years after his senior season.
Vosheski and Gicking face off for the second time Friday night in the District 1 Class 5A semifinal at Knight Park in Sharon Hill. Gicking made his head coaching debut in 2014 against Vosheski’s Knights, a game that signaled the start of a turnaround at Marple Newtown. The Knights, coming off their district championship season, picked up a 19-14 win.
“To be honest, it’s kind of crazy when you think about it. Three years ago, our first game, of course I remember it like it was yesterday,” Gicking said. “We were still learning the offense, still learning the defense. We were still learning so many things. Jason does a great job there. They’re very well-coached and they’re an unbelievable program. Any time you play them, you know you got your work cut out for you, whether it be the talent they have on the field or the talent they have with their coaching.”
While it required years of talent development, Vosheski has built a district powerhouse on Calcon Hook Rd. With three Del Val League titles and two District 1 Class 3A titles to his resume, Vosheski has done at Academy Park what Gicking is in the process of accomplishing at his alma mater. Coming from Conestoga, Gicking needed one year to get the Tigers back into the district playoffs, guiding the squad to its first postseason victory last fall. In 2016, Gicking has piloted Marple to its first Central League title since 1977 and its first 11-win season in team history. The second-seeded Knights and No. 3 Tigers both enter Friday’s semifinal showdown with 11-1 records.
Gicking appreciates the comparison of his on-the-rise program to Vosheski’s proven track record of success, but the Tigers are still aiming for loftier heights.
“He’s been doing this for over 10 years and they’ve been successful year in and year out,” Gicking said. “We’re hoping we can get to that level. When you set goals, you want to have a program like that where people start talking about our program like they do theirs.”
If you’re looking for key battles, it will be interesting to see junior quarterback Anthony Paoletti, with a county-leading 2,579 yards and 24 touchdowns, against the Knights’ athletic defensive front and how the Tigers’ collection of standout wide receivers — Cameron Mathes, Dash Dulgerian, Carmen Christiana and Reilly Fillman — fare against the Knights’ ball-hawking secondary.
“I think they spread the ball pretty well, whether they give the ball to the running back (Marlon Weathers) or they throw it. They do a good job of spreading the ball around, so you can’t focus on one person,” Vosheski said. “Their quarterback is really good. Their receivers run good routes. To me, it’s definitely a matchup to look for.”
In the other District 1 Class 5A semifinal:
Henderson (9-3) at Springfield (11-1), 7
Last week the Cougars’ tough-as-nails defensive unit matched up with a high-powered passing attack in Great Valley. Top-seeded Springfield limited the big-play production of quarterback Robert Geiss, the leading passer in Chester County, wide receiver Ryan Hubley. You can thank the outstanding play of Justin Shields (two sacks), Joe Kennedy, David Strawley, Dwayne Snipes and others for a 24-10 victory. Moreover, quarterback Johnny Fanelli was 9 of 10 for 99 yards and a passing score to Kennedy, while Ja’Den McKenzie ran for 117 yards and a TD.
Next up is another Ches-Mont League power, West Chester Henderson, the No. 5 seed which disposed of 2015 District 1 Class 4A champions Upper Dublin, 21-14.
“They’re not a mirror image to us, but they’re kind of small like we are,” Britton said. “They get after it, they’ve got a lot of team speed. They run the ball very well, they’re fast and aggressive. They play with a lot of energy, they scrap and they kind of stick to their game. They aren’t crushing teams, they’re just staying around and next thing you know, they get another win.”
Springfield’s defensive unit, arguably the best in the county, will have to contend with CJ Preston, the leading rusher in Chesco, who has 1,362 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Cougars defense have allowed just 77 rushing yards per game.
Henderson is team that grinds out wins, and does so by winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. This method of success actually plays perfectly into the hands of Springfield. So, don’t be surprised to see a low-scoring slugfest Friday night on Leamy Ave.
In any case, Britton has been impressed with his players’ maturation throughout the course of an 11-win campaign. He believes they are prepared for any challenge — whether it’s a fast-paced aerial attack or an offense such as the Warriors that depends on a grinding ground game.
“They’ve been getting more confidence game by game. I think we have a lot of seniors who have been around, they were around two years (when Springfield advanced to the District 1 Class 3A final). And it all helps,” Britton said. “You can see as the season has gone on, the seniors have been taking on a bigger and bigger role in just how practice is run, making sure guys stay focused. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see how much they’ve grown from not knowing what’s going on to now, they’re basically running practice by themselves”
The intriguing possibility an all-Delco district final rests on the shoulders of the Cougars.
To contact Matt Smith, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DTMattSmith