With stricken coach back, Strath Haven rallies past Garnet Valley

They knew nothing, just that their coach collapsed and had to be rushed to a hospital.

What the Strath Haven Panthers had in front of them was a major test in Garnet Valley Friday night. What they didn't know was whether longtime coach Kevin Clancy, one of the most successful coaches in Southeastern Pennsylvania, would be on the sideline with them.

What looked like a very distracted team in the first half of the Central League showdown suddenly came to life in the second half - when Clancy arrived after being discharged from the hospital. The revitalized Panthers responded with 15 unanswered points to beat Garnet Valley, 21-20, in a thriller.

The victory puts Strath Haven (6-1, 6-0 Central League) in position to win the Central League, while Garnet Valley fell to 5-2, 4-2.

Junior James Griffin led the way for Strath Haven, rushing for a career-best 150 yards and two touchdowns, and the Panthers' defense clamped down on what had been a high-octane Garnet Valley attack in the first half.

But all anyone wanted to focus on was Clancy's return. Everyone except Clancy, who collapsed Thursday morning and was taken by ambulance to Riddle Memorial Hospital, where he underwent several tests. The fall was so severe, his face was slightly bruised and he lost a front tooth. His nose was marked up; he also wore a bandage on his right hand.

But Clancy didn't want to talk about himself; he wanted to address his team's marvelous comeback.

"It's not about me," Clancy said. "It's about the kids. I'm all right, I'm OK. I appreciate the concern of the players, and my coaching staff, but I'm OK. I let them run the show and my staff did a great job."

Jim Connor, Strath Haven's longtime defensive coordinator and the father of former Strath Haven great and current Carolina Panthers linebacker Dan Connor, took over for Clancy during Thursday's practice and for the first half Friday night.

"This was a tough week," said Connor, a bear of a man who became tearful, his lower lip quivering, as he talked about his friend. "There was no way Kevin was going to miss this game. That's what the man is all about - coaching kids. He loves this. Once the second half started kicking in, you saw that Irish gleam in his eye. He was ready to go."

So were the Panthers. Playing without senior standout tailback Thurman Fortune (sprained ankle), Griffin took over. His 66- and 78-yard TDs kept the Panthers in the game, and Brent Collins' 17-yard score late in the third quarter proved to be the difference.

"We were somewhere else the first half, and I think it had to do with coach Clancy not being there," Griffin said. "It affected us all. We spent [Thursday] and [Friday] wondering where he was and how he was doing, and were getting ready for a big game, against a really good Garnet Valley team. We were struggling, and when coach Clancy came back, you saw a different team. We knew he was all right, and we played better."

Clancy recorded his 260th career coaching victory, tops among active coaches in Delaware County, and it was his 193rd at Strath Haven.

The Jaguars ran out to a 20-6 lead and looked as if they could do no wrong. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Corkery, making his first varsity start in place of the injured Jake Helmes, was masterful over the first two quarters, directing the Jags to scores on their first three drives.

The loss wasted a great effort from Jags senior tailback Alex Warden, who rushed for a team-high 99 yards and touchdowns of 4 and 5 yards. By halftime, Garnet Valley had rolled up 220 yards of total offense to Strath Haven's 115 - 66 coming on Griffin's first touchdown run.

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