By Paul Vanderveer, News of Delaware County
November 18, 2008
Sometimes a season can see two rapidly different patterns. The Marple Newtown Tigers football team saw exactly that for their 2008 season. After starting the year with a 0-5 record, they were able to finish 6-6 and edged the Academy Park Knights, 17-16, in the season finale Friday night at Harry R. Harvey Stadium in Newtown Square.”I think the kids and coaching staff do an outstanding job,” said Marple Newtown head coach Ray Gionta. “Senior leadership helps. Dan Giordano played hurt. Phil Graziano, Steve Reynolds and Nick Stephens came along.”
Marple Newtown entered this final game of the year looking to secure the victory. It knew it needed it in order to continue its streak of winning seasons that it has been on since 2004. And all that it took was for Graziano to get his hands on the ball and send it high when Academy Park’s Devin Hunter attempted the extra point to tie it in the final 52 seconds of action.
“It was a big game for us,” said Gionta. “We wanted to make it 6-6. We beat a good football team.”
“They played tough defense,” said Graziano. “We had our game plan. It worked to our advantage.”
Academy Park finishes with a 7-5 record with its loss.
“They out disciplined us,” said Academy Park head coach Jason Vosheski. “I think we started well. We moved the ball deep. Defense played well.”
The Tigers won the coin toss and started at their own 41-yardline. Kevin Johnson completed a 6-yard pass to Stephens before Johnson was forced to punt. The Knights began at their 25-yard line. Laquan Frazier carried it to the 48-yard line. Eric Gilbert also carried it but was tackled by MN’s Kevan Strigle. The first quarter continued to go in the direction of both teams and neither one was able to score.
Marple Newtown began the last drive of the quarter at the Academy Park 32-yard line. Mario Dioguardi gained 13 yards and a first down and the quarter ended when Gilbert tackled Kevin Johnson for a two-yard loss. However, Adam Fender kicked a 33-yard field goal to begin the second quarter with a 3-0 lead. Academy Park took hold of the ball for most of the remaining first half. After recovering a fumble, Frazier carried it to the Tigers 8-yard line and Gilbert ran it in for the touchdown followed by Devin Hunter’s extra point. Marple Newtown gained 13 yards on the return and started at the 20. Graziano made it to the 37, the 48 and then into Knight territory at their 46 before Nazeeh Brown recovered a fumble. Academy Park held on and Hunter kicked a field goal to lead 10-3 at halftime.
The Tigers regained some momentum going into the second half. They kicked off from their 35-yard line but Ryan White recovered a fumble on the return. Marple Newtown hung on up to a Kevin Johnson touchdown with 5:15 left in the third quarter. Fender’s extra point tied the game, 10-10.
Marple Newtown took a time out early in to the fourth quarter. This definitely got things going in the right direction as Stephens completed a 21-yard run for the touchdown with 10:10 in regulation. Fender’s extra point was good. Academy Park fumbled on the return but was able to recover and started at their 26. Frazier stopped by Strigle and Gilbert carried the ball to the 49 and 21 more yards in to MN territory. The Tigers took over at their 20 but the Knights recovered at the MN 13.
This allowed for a very critical time as Academy Park was down by seven and looking to take advantage of the chance to tie or take the lead. Gilbert made it to the eight and gained five more yards. He then made it in for the touchdown with 52 seconds to play but that is when Graziano allowed for the most critical play of the game and stopped Hunter’s kick and the Tigers maintained a 17-16 lead to win it.
“Persistence that we showed did it,” said Gionta. “We turned the ball over. We hung in and hung tough. Stephens made a great run.”
Despite the loss for Academy Park, it had a lot to be proud of. This was the Knights first winning season since 2001. Both Eric Gilbert and Laquan Frazier completed 1,000 rushing yards.
“Kids played well and fought hard,” said Vosheski.
Despite losing several seniors, Marple Newtown has plenty of underclassmen that have stepped up throughout the season.
“We are going to miss Phil, Danny and Steve,” said Gionta. “We have experience on offense. Tenth graders have experience.”
At this point all the Tigers can do is work during the off-season to prepare for next year. They will kick off their regular season Friday, September 4, 2009.