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By Dillon Friday (Special to The Times)

SHARON HILL — Considering Jeremy Dembry’s second-half performance against Marple Newtown Friday night, it’s hard to believe the Academy Park junior entered the game week as his team’s third choice at running back. But starter Jermaine Wesley picked up a hip pointer and backup Deandray Covert struggled to break out in a scoreless first half against the Tigers at home.

Dembry got the call to start the second half and made the difference in a 19-14 Knights win.

“I was just trying to help my team win,’ Dembry said. “I knew I wasn’t going to get carries going in, but once I got in, I went my hardest. I treat every play like it’s my last.’

The 6-foot, 200 pound tailback battered the Marple Newtown defense with physical runs. He broke as many tackles as he doled out on the other side of the ball, where he was stellar at linebacker.

Academy Park head coach Jason Vosheski knew he could rely on the veteran Dembry, especially on an offense that featured 10 new starters.

“Once Wesley got the hip pointer, everybody got bumped up a slot,’ Vosheski said. “We wanted a change of pace in the second half. (Dembry’s) been with us since he was a freshman, so he’s used to the game.’

Still, Dembry’s importance to the defense caused some hesitation among the coaches to make the switch.

“We worried moreso about him playing linebacker because our other inside ‘ backer went down with a leg injury,’ Vosheski said of the possibility of Dembry wearing down. “So we decided to give him a breather on offense a bit.’

Dembry produced 145 tough yards in the second half, including a 49-yard sprint that opened Academy Park’s scoring. He accounted for 29 yards on the Knights’ winning drive that culminated in a Allon Ruffin touchdown strike to Jawan Collins.

Dembry was hardly the star runner of the evening, though. That distinction belonged to Marple Newtown’s Adrian Sapnas. He fumbled twice in a forgettable first half but easily made up for it in the second.

On his first carry of the third quarter, the senior running back took an inside handoff 75 yards for a score to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead. Academy Park, however, responded. Dembry scored on his long run before Clarence Buchanan, who had an interception in the first half, found the end zone from nine yards out on an end around.

Trailing 12-7, Sapnas restored Marple Newtown’s advantage in the blink of an eye, this time with an 88-yard sprint that was a mirror image of the first.

“He was running tough,’ Dembry said of his opposing number. “We had to stick together, try to get him on gang tackles. There were a few breakdowns and he found holes.’

Sapnas finished with an astounding 257 yards on the ground on 23 carries.

“We know what Adrian can do,’ Marple Newtown coach Chris Gicking said. The Tigers were going to ride Sapnas to the end, regardless of the two early fumbles. “You have to move on either way. He coughed the ball up twice. Forget about it. Take the next play. He ran for a long touchdown. Same thing. You have to keep running.’

Sapnas’ performance wasn’t enough, though. Ruffin found Collins midway through the fourth, and the receiver stretched the ball across the goal line to close the scoring.

“It was a dogfight,’ Buchanan said. “It certainly wasn’t easy.’

Marple Newtown was undone by turnovers and miscues. Quarterback Marcus Weathers threw two first-half interceptions to stall Tiger drives. A high snap on a punt attempt set up Academy Park with a first-and-goal for Buchanan’s score.

“You can’t expect to beat a champion when you turn the ball over five times,’ Gicking said. “You know, our kids played with great energy. I’m proud of their effort. We just have to correct our mistakes.’

Academy Park wasn’t much better in an ugly first half. The Knights gained only four first downs, and failed to threaten the Marple Newtown end zone. It’s all part of August football, according to Vosheski.

“This isn’t the NFL. In our preseason you get to run like 30 plays, which is not enough for us,’ the coach said. “But I think our team battled. It wasn’t the prettiest game.’

Dembry will take his and his team’s performance and ride into next week when the Knights visit Bonner-Prendergast.

“It was a tough game,’ he said. “Now we’ll be more confident heading into next week.’