By Christopher A. Vito
NEWTOWN SQUARE — Phil Graziano is a two-way player for Marple Newtown.
It’s partially out of necessity, being that the Tigers dress only 34 players each game.
The other reason why Graziano, a senior, plays both sides of the ball is his undeniable love for the game.
“I just don’t want to come out,” said Graziano, a halfback and defensive back. “Once I get out there, I don’t want to walk off the field unless the game is over.”
Graziano eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark and scored a touchdown Friday night, leading the Tigers to a 35-27 win over visiting Upper Darby in Central League play. Additionally, he was one of a handful of Marple players who chipped in both offensively and defensively.
The Tigers (3-6, 3-6), who lost their first five games of the season, have gained steam late in the season. That carried over into their game against the Royals (5-4, 4-4).
The teams traded scores until the third quarter, when Ron Alf hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Johnson to extend Marple’s lead to 28-19.
On Upper Darby’s next possession, the Royals went four-and-out deep in their territory thanks to another of the Tigers’ two-way players. Johnson, a quarterback and defensive back, batted away two of Royals quarterback Dale Blees’ passes to stall out the drive.
Four plays later, Nick Stephens stiff-armed his way into the end zone for a 12-yard score and a Tigers’ win at Harry Harvey Field.
“There’s only so much I can say about these guys,” Marple Newtown coach Ray Gionta said. “Just for what they’ve been able to do, it’s been great. … To overcome the adversity of losing one of their leaders (Dan Giordano) early on with an injury and to overcome all the losing early on, all the credit goes to them.”
Like Johnson and Graziano, who blocked an extra point for the second consecutive week, Alf made a contribution on the other side of the ball too. Alf picked off one of Blees’ passes to end one of the Royals’ longer drives of the game.
“Part of the credit goes to Giordano,” who also had a pick, Alf said. “He tipped the pass to me and I caught it after that. It just worked out. That’s what happens when things are going good. We’re picking up steam right now and we’re playing our best football.”
Graziano rushed 21 times for 92 yards and a 26-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. His three-yard carry on the second-to-last play of the game accounted for his 1,000th yard of the season. Stephens led the Tigers with 98 yards on eight carries.
In a losing effort, Blees and receiver Tim Brown had solid efforts for the Royals. Blees connected with Brown six times for 97 yards. Blees passed 15-for-25 for 190 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Graziano, who plays in the secondary, can deal with his team’s so-so pass coverage for now. A win, he said, helps him overlook it until next week.
“This feels good to beat a good team like this,” Graziano said. “But we want to get as many wins as we can from here on out and that starts with next week.”