By Matthew De George, PA Prep Live / Delco Times
NEWTOWN SQUARE – A week ago against Upper Darby, Conestoga was the team forced into a halftime readjustment, the side that came roaring out of the break looking completely different from the one that trudged into the locker room.
Friday, the shoe was on the other foot, as the feet of Marple Newtown running back Abel Hoff churned out carry after carry on the Tigers’ scoring drive to start the second half.
That would be all the Pioneers would relent, though, holding firm for a 13-9 win that handed the Tigers their first loss of the season.
Marple Newtown (6-1, 4-1 Central League) entered halftime with 56 yards of offense. They ground out 83 on the first possession of the second stanza, 80 from Hoff on nine totes, capped by Anthony Paoletti’s 1-yard sneak into the end zone.
“The adjustment at halftime, there really wasn’t much strategy said,” Hoff said. “We just went into the locker room, we knew we didn’t play our best half and we went in there, not even just the seniors, everyone was fired up. We knew we needed to play a better second half if we wanted to beat a team like that.”
That tally, which cleaved the deficit to 13-9, represented the final points of the day for either side. “We just had to stay calm,” linebacker Peter Jean said. “We knew that we could hold them like we did in the first half. That one drive, they did really well, they held their blocks. But we were able to stop them for the rest of the game.” Beyond the zeroes posted by the Conestoga defense, the Pioneers produced big plays time and again. Jean and Dondre Ross picked off Paoletti on consecutive dropbacks in the first half. Ross’ pick with 1:58 to half set up a short field, and after quarterback Tim Miller hit Jean for 17 yards to the one, he dove across the goal line to make it 13-3 at the intermission.
“Our goal every week is to get an interception and a fumble recovery,” Jean said. “We had four turnovers overall, so that’s awesome. The word all week was passion, and we came out with it and that led to those turnovers.”
Conestoga caused two fumbles, including a strip of Hoff on the series after the Paoletti score, recovered by Jon Locantore. Hoff gained 139 yards on the ground, but was limited to three catches for 23 yards — two in the desperation of the final drive — as Paoletti was 8-for-19 through the air.
The Pioneers also rose to the fourth-down occasions. Will Gradisek dropped Paoletti for a three-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Tigers’ 28 on the second series of the game, a gamble that proffered a short field for a drive culminating in Brandon Manning’s 16-yard scoring scamper.
In the fourth quarter, Wes Alexander and Dima Ackerman penetrated into the backfield to sniff out a Hoff jet sweep on fourth-and-4 at the 37.
“Everyone knew their responsibilities,” Ackerman said. “We knew that they would get some yards, but we would get together and calm down and from there on, we knew what we had to do to stop them.”
The offense did little for Conestoga (4-3, 3-2). Manning was largely contained, his return of 82 yards from 26 carries fairly palatable for the Tigers, though he had a 61-yard touchdown burst in the fourth nullified by a flag. Miller completed five of his 15 attempts for 55 yards, though a handful of drops damaged his line.
Marple Newtown had just a 44-yard George Lambritsios field goal to show for the first-half toils, and a handful of botched shotgun snaps dented the Tigers’ progress.
They had a shot at the end, taking over at their 30 with 35.4 seconds left and no timeouts. Paoletti hit Marcus Weathers for 39 yards on a seam route, and a spike (and some finagling of the clock) gave the Tigers one shot at the end zone from the 24. But as the clock expired, Paoletti, flushed from the pocket, could only loft a hopeful pass batted away by Zach Kravitz well short of a Tiger in the end zone.
The loss leaves Marple Newtown in a new place this fall: Facing the prospect of recovering from a defeat.
“We just have to forget about this,” Hoff said. “Our motto is ‘never too low on a loss; never too high on a win.’ This week, we got in with a new mindset, forget about this game, learn from the mistakes and just work harder to try to go and beat Garnet Valley next week.”