By Joseph Santoliquito

By Joseph Santoliquito

Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — In certain circles, a running joke over the last decade used to go around that high school football was dead in Delaware County. Basketball always seemed to be the sport Delco was recognized most for this century across the Delaware Valley and throughout the state, primarily on the shoulders of Chester High, which has won more state basketball championships than any other school in Pennsylvania history.

But something happened this fall that has made high school sports fans take notice: Delco is again producing quality football teams. The area does have a strong football tradition, with Catholic League powerhouse Cardinal O’Hara, which is re-emerging again under new coach B.J. Hogan, and Central League perennial power Ridley.

This year, Delco has taken a new dimension. Three of the four finalists in District 1 6A and 5A, the two largest classifications in the new 6A system of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), the governing body of high school sports in Pennsylvania, are from Delco: Academy Park and Springfield will play for the District 5A title tonight at Springfield, at 7 p.m., and No. 10 seed Garnet Valley will play at No. 1 seed North Penn in tonight’s District 1 6A championship.

What’s happening in Delco?

One, the coaching has been very good. Garnet Valley’s Mike Ricci, Interboro’s Steve Lennox, Academy Park’s Jason Vosheski, Springfield’s Chris Britton, Haverford School’s Mike Murphy, Episcopal Academy’s Todd Fairlie, Haverford’s Joe Gallagher, Radnor’s Tom Ryan, Sun Valley’s Ray Gionta, Marple Newtown’s Chris Gicking and Strath Haven’s Kevin Clancy are excellent.

Two, players are staying home, instead of taking other options.

In 6A, Garnet Valley has beaten Neshaminy and Perkiomen Valley, two previously undefeated teams at the time that had a combined record of 23-0 when the Jaguars played them.

“I expected to see an all-Delco District 1 final in 5A, because half of the teams were from Delco, but 6A is where the surprise is this year,” said Delco Times high school writer Matt Smith, one of the best and most informed in the area when it comes to high school football. “Garnet Valley came out of nowhere in the playoffs, went on the road and embraced the role of underdog. They’ve shown the district what Delco football is all about.

“They’re carrying the torch for the area. Regarding Garnet Valley, a lot of the teams that they beat didn’t know what hit them. A lot of those teams were used to spread offenses and Garnet Valley still runs their option, but it’s a little different this year. They call it the split-veer option, and honestly, I don’t think anyone in District 1 runs that offense. With Garnet Valley, once they perfected that thing, they’ve been awfully hard to beat. The Bucks County teams aren’t used to seeing that type of football.”

One other thing that Smith attests to is the quality of coaching in the area.

“Vosheski has built this powerhouse for a decade now, and Britton came from the Dan Ellis [now Great Valley’s coach] coaching tree and he planted his roots there,” Smith said. “Ricci is one of the best coaches in the state. It’s hard to fully appreciate Ricci because he’s never won a state title, but he’s won two district titles at Garnet Valley. I think this has been the best year in Delaware County football this century overall. You had seven teams with 10 wins or more [Ridley, Springfield, Garnet Valley, Marple Newtown, O’Hara, Interboro and Academy Park], and three district finalists. It’s been a great year for football in the county.”

CBS Philly’s Area Top 10 Power Ratings For Nov. 25, 2016
1. St. Joe’s Prep (Record: 11-0)
2. Imhotep Charter (Record: 11-0)
3. North Penn (Record: 13-0)
4. Timber Creek (NJ) (Record: 10-0)
5. Archbishop Wood (Record: 8-2-1)
6. Garnet Valley (Record: 11-2)
8. Lenape (NJ) (Record: 10-0)
9. West Deptford (NJ) (Record: 10-0)
10. Perkiomen Valley (Record: 12-1)

Southeastern PA Top 10 For Nov. 25, 2016
1. St. Joe’s Prep (Record: 11-0)
2. Imhotep Charter (Record: 11-0)
3. North Penn (Record: 13-0)
4. Archbishop Wood (Record: 8-2-1)
5. Garnet Valley (Record: 11-2)
6. Perkiomen Valley (Record: 12-1)
7. Coatesville (Record: 11-2)
8. Malvern Prep (Record: 7-3)
9. Springfield (Record: 12-1)
10. Academy Park (Record: 12-1)
—Joseph Santoliquito