MIDDLETOWN – For all the spread principles of Chris Gicking’s offense, the Marple Newtown coach won’t pretend that the seven carries his team tallied in last week’s loss to Garnet Valley was sufficient.
So Friday’s priority was simple: Establish the run, early, often, by any means necessary.
The Tigers’ 47 carries and 207 yards on the ground didn’t fracture any records, but it controlled the clock long enough for the defense to backstop a 20-17 Central League victory over Penncrest.
Airing it out is one thing; forcing sophomore quarterback Anthony Paoletti to hoist up 47 passes like last week’s 40-17 loss to the Jags is suboptimal, even in catchup mode after a 26-3 halftime deficit.
Friday, the Tigers got proactive. And if they required a proponent of offensive balance, they needn’t look further than Paoletti.
“I love running the ball,” said Paoletti, who relished lowering his shoulder into contact on eight carries for 58 yards. “I know our running backs love running the ball. Our linemen like to run block. We’re a hard, pounding football team, and we like that mentality.”
Clock control helped Marple Newtown (7-2, 5-2 Central) grind out 20 first downs. Yeah, the big plays came in the passing game — a 16-yarder to Abel Hoff that set up Hoff’s 2-yard scoring run, then a 62-yard swing pass to Hoff with 5:13 left in the third quarter that represented the game’s final points.
But establishing the run built the foundation to launch those big plays.
“Being able to establish the run, our O-line had a great push,” Paoletti said. “Our guys hit the holes hard. We made blocks, we broke tackles. That was the key to the game.”
The 207 net total was only so low for a pair of bad snaps that caused big losses. Otherwise, the Tigers consistently gained yardage. Marlon Weathers carried 18 times for 97 yards, though the last tote was fumbled at the 11 as the Tigers appeared poised for a back-breaking score. Jack Fallows amassed 47 yards on five carries, and Hoff finished with 43 on 11 runs, in addition to three catches for 95 yards.
They needed all those yards against the Penncrest ground game led by Ryan Kinnard. The senior Hofstra lacrosse commit pounded out 15 carries for 130 yards, including touchdown runs of 39 and 62.
The first score, early in the second quarter, featured a devastating cutback to evade his pursuers. On the second, he sprinted around left end and appeared to be wrapped up by Noah Turner, only for him to spin out of the defensive end’s mitts and use it as a catapult down the sideline.
“We were typically a little slow to start off the game, but once we got the big plays going, it worked out for us,” Kinnard said. “We just need to keep that momentum in our favor.”
“I’ve known him ever since sixth grade,” Turner said. “He’s a hard hitter and he never quits. He just kept running and running. We had to rally to him. We ended up doing the best we could and it was good enough.”
The problem for Penncrest (2-7, 2-5) was that balance proved elusive. After Kinnard’s touchdown at 9:04 of the third, he touched the ball just five more times, three times on the ill-fated final series. The Lions got nothing from the passing game, where Manny Ruffin was a paltry 3-for-12 for 26 yards and two interceptions.
Forcing Penncrest into pass-only situations favored the Tigers’ aggressive front seven.
“When it’s a passing situation, we know we’ve got to get pressure on the quarterback so he’ll throw it up,” Turner said. “We leave the rest to our secondary for them to make a play on the ball.”
“It’s tough. It really narrows us down,” Kinnard said. “We don’t have as many options there.”
Marple didn’t help its case with three turnovers. A shotgun snap rocketed over Paoletti’s head in the first quarter, pounced on by Jack Quinn. But the Marple defense only relented a 32-yard Pat Hughes field goal.
Another errant snap found the turf for Shane Breckenridge to recover, setting up Kinnard’s first score. Despite moving the ball at will, Marple stalled in Penncrest territory twice, settling for George Lambritsios field goals of 26 and 33 to send Marple into half leading, 13-10.
The big defensive plays in the second half came from Marple. Marcus Weathers picked Ruffin at the 26 in the Lions’ most threatening drive of the fourth. On the play after Kinnard corralled Marlon Weathers’ fumble, Carmen Christiana atoned by hauling in a pick at midfield that essentially sealed the game.