By Bud Weaver, Delaware County Daily Times
October 10, 2009
As midseason approaches, both the Tigers and Panthers were tied for second in the Central League.
More importantly, however, Marple and Haven were No. 8 and No. 9 respectively in the weekly District One AAA standings. Only the top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
But Tigers coach Ray Gionta believes that it is too early to make any judgments as to how the season will play out.
“Going into AAA play (this week), I think there are like six undefeated teams,” Gionta said. “So, we’re not thinking that far ahead. We already lost one, so there’s no playoff implications until the last week.”
Regardless, ramifications for not only the league but the playoffs were on the line Friday night at Harry R. Harvey Field as the host Tigers took down Strath Haven, 14-7, behind a running attack led by junior running back Ryan Duffy and an early special-teams spark.
“We’re just approaching it one game at a time,” Gionta said. “Strath Haven is a good team. Strath Haven, I totally have to say — as far as football is concerned — is a great team …
“Confidence-wise, we beat Conestoga and Strath Haven, and to beat two teams like that is huge. We’re going to keep the one-game-at-a-time approach. We want to be a better football team next week. Our coaches did a nice job. Defensive coordinator Lou D’Alonzo did a good job and the story of the game was that we came up with big stops on defense. Both teams only scored once offensively.”
Duffy finished the game with 83 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown as junior halfbacks Mario Dioguardi and Ryan White combined to average 4.8 yards per carry on 15 rushes.
“We we’re just focused all week,” the 5-10, 180-pound Duffy said. “The line was blocking hard all week. If it wasn’t for them — (tackle) Christian Whiteside, (center) Pat Finegan, (guard) Brian Kelly, (tackle) Kevan Strigle, (guard) Steve De Maria and (guard) Brian Mabry — I wouldn’t have got anything.”
After White got things off to a fast start for Marple (5-1, 4-1) by following his blocks on the way to a 92-yard kickoff return for six to start off the contest, each offense had its first series halted in the red zone.
“It’s huge,” Gionta said of the opening kickoff touchdown. “To jump out to a lead like that helped a lot.”
After a scoreless second quarter, Duffy was able to cap off a 14-play, 77-yard drive that lasted over seven minutes when he punched in a 2-yard score with 47 second left in the third to go up 14-0.
“ (It was a) great block by Ryan White and there was a nice big hole there,” Duffy said of the touchdown run. “Once again, Ryan had a nice block.”
Duffy wasn’t finished just yet.
With Haven (4-2, 3-2) facing a fourth down, Duffy intercepted Panthers quarterback Bryan Downs’ heave from his defensive back position.
“I was just playing my zone and basically got lucky on that one,” Duffy said. “I actually should have dropped it for better field position.”
It didn’t matter, though, as Gionta used his ground game all night to drain out the clock.
The Panthers were able to come within a touchdown at 2:08 in the final quarter when Downs found 5-7 senior Pat Fisher for a 27-yard touchdown pass, but that was all Haven could put up.
Running back Thurman Fortune churned out 78 yards on 16 carries in a losing effort while standout tailback Lonnie Richardson was limited to only seven carries for 30 yards.
“It’s the same as any game,” said Panthers coach Kevin Clancy. “(Our guys) executed real well and didn’t disappoint us. They hung in and gave us a chance. We just couldn’t make the plays in the red zone to win the game.”
While Clancy holds the most coaching wins in Delaware County history, Gionta recorded No. 100 this season. The Tigers are 11-2 since Marple lost five consecutive games to start the 2008 season.
“The kids that are largely responsible for that are in college now,” said Gionta, who acknowledged the experience the stretch run has given the underclassmen of last year and leaders this season.
Defensively, Marple held the Panthers to only 157 yards of total offense. Along with Duffy’s interception, Whiteside recorded a sack of Downs.
“Our defense played well,” Gionta said. “We knew we had to play well against the run. We both run similar offenses (and) there was no secrets. But, we did want we needed to do to win the football game.”
Next week, the Tigers have another tough Central League test when Garnet Valley comes to town. Duffy sees it as an even more exciting matchup than this week.
“That’s even bigger than this game,” Duffy said. “Not only are we going for playoffs, but we’re going for the Central League title. We’re just gonna practice like we did this week and come out strong.”