By Brian Gillian, County Press
November 18, 2008
MN eked out a 17-16 home victory over Academy Park on Friday night to round out its season with a 6-6 overall record.Appropriately, it was twoway player and workhorse running back Phil Graziano who got a hand or few fingers on the Knights’ extra-point attempt after AP had scored what looked at the time like the game-tying touchdown with:52 left in regulation.
“At halftime, we switched Graziano and (Nick) Stephens (on special teams), ” said MN head coach Ray Gionta, explaining how the Tigers sought to exploit an Academy Park weakness on the line.
“We knew (that hole) was going to be there, ” said Graziano, “So I had to try to make my way into there.”
MN had received the opening kickoff but punted after a three-and-out. The Knights found more success moving the ball, reaching the MN 20 before a penalty moved them back and they ended turning the ball over on downs. After a few punts and scoreless possessions, Marple Newtown’s Joe Carinibroke through and partially blocked a punt, helping the Tigers to set up shop at the AP 32. On second down, Mario Dioguardi carried right and made it down to the 16. That’s as far as MN would advance in that drive, and so on the first play of the second quarter, kicker Adam Fender booted a 33-yard field goal for MN’s 3-0 lead. The Knights began driving again, including a stupendous catch by Kabongo Bukasa, who hauled in an Eric Gilbert pass while on his knees near the right sideline for a 25-yard pickup. A few plays later, AP set up for a 40-yard field-goal attempt, but the snap was too high and the play disintegrated. The Knights got it right back, though, as the Tigers fumbled on first down. Academy Park made good on the miscue when Gilbert kept it himself – a running theme throughout the night, as the quarterback led the Knights in rushing with 114 yards on 22 carries. Gilbert’s eight-yard score and Devin Hunter’s PAT gave the Knights a 7-3 lead with 5:39 left in the half.
MN moved the ball into Academy Park territory, but another bad exchange on the snap gave the ball back to the Knights, who took advantage again, perpetuating their drive with a hook-and-ladder play on 4th-and-8 from the MN 29 to advance to the MN 17 with three seconds left, and the period ended the same way it began, with a field goal: this one by Hunter from 34 yards out for a 10-3 AP halftime.
The momentum seemed to switch right at the outset of the second half, when Academy Park’s Brandon Hunter returned the kickoff into MN territory but then fumbled it away; MN recovered on its own 42. The Tigers moved the ball efficiently and quickly, until quarterback Kevin Johnson jammed the ball into the line and the end zone for a one-yard score.
Fender’s PAT knotted the score at 10-10 with 5:15 remaining in the period.
The Tiger defense held the Knights to nine yards in three downs and AP elected to punt. The ensuing Tiger drive extended into the final quarter, when Nick Stephens broke one tackle and then another before romping up the middle for a 21-yard score with 10:10 left.
Now down, 17-10, AP moved into MN territory and faced a 4th-and-8 from the Tiger 26. Gilbert ran with it left but was forced out of bounds at the 20, and MN took over. But the Knights were given another chance to tie it up when Johnson was stripped of the ball while being sacked on second down. Academy Park recovered on the MN 13. Laquan Frazier picked up eight yards (of his 92 on 18 carries) on first down, and then Gilbert ran a keeper down to the three to pick up a first down. A sneak garnered two more yards to the one and the Tigers’ goal-line defense stopped the Knights on second, but on third down Gilbert scored on second effort, setting up the fateful extra-point attempt.
After starting the year 0-5, MN rebounded to win its last four and five of its last six to finish at 6-6 overall and 4-6 in the league. (The team did not face Penncrest, who vacated from a Nov. 7 meeting at Marple Newtown in order to face Pennsbury in districts.)