UPPER MORELAND – A cheer went up when the flag came out. Initially, the players and coaches on Marple Newtown’s sideline expected an infraction against Upper Moreland.
“Then I see them (signal) that it’s on us,” said Chris Gicking, Marple Newtown’s coach.
A pass interference call kept the Tigers’ defense on the field late in the fourth quarter, and kept alive a go-ahead drive for Upper Moreland, in the Golden Bears’ 28-20 victory over Marple Newtown.
The sixth-seeded Tigers (9-3), who a week earlier had earned the program’s first playoff win, were cut short in the semifinal stage of the District One Class AAA playoffs. They had led by as many as 10 points against the No. 2 Golden Bears (10-2).
Upper Moreland’s Rodney Morgan rushed for two of his four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put away Marple Newtown. He finished with 273 yards rushing on 36 carries.
“Upper Moreland deserves all of the credit,” Gicking said, “but it’s a shame that it comes down to a call.”
Marple Newtown led, 20-14, with 3:33 left in the fourth quarter when the Tigers’ Abel Hoff made a play on a pass by Upper Moreland’s Casey Decker. Hoff nearly picked off the underthrown ball and, when a flag was thrown in his direction, he had thought it was because the Golden Bears’ Ryan Norton had pulled on his jersey.
Instead, the call went against Hoff and turned a potential third-and-9 scenario at the Upper Moreland 33-yard line into a first-and-10 near midfield. On the next play, Morgan reeled off a 53-yard touchdown that put the Bears ahead for good.
“That’s our cover-2. That’s where Abel walks on to a tight end,” said Marple Newtown senior linebacker Marcus Weathers. “The tight end (Norton) did a 10-step route, and Abel undercut the route. He’s smaller than the guy. That guy was covering him. Abel batted the ball down, but they said he was holding him. You can’t call him for that. That late in the game, it just doesn’t make sense.”
“Came down to a call,” Gicking said.
Marple Newtown went 4-and-out on its ensuing possession, but when Upper Moreland got a first down to ice the game, Gicking had other plans. The coach called for his defensive line to part, in order to allow Morgan through. He scored his fourth touchdown with 1:27 to play, ensuring the Tigers would get the ball back in a one-possession game, 28-20.
“Didn’t expect that at all,” Morgan said.
“I liked that call,” said Weathers, who had a second-quarter touchdown connection with quarterback Anthony Paoletti. “I have trust in our offense just like (Gicking) does. I trust everyone on this coaching staff. They know what we’re capable of.”
It was too little, too late for Marple Newtown. Paoletti, on fourth down, threw an interception on a desperation heave with 11.9 seconds to go.
The Tigers, in the early going, had a stranglehold on the game. They overcame a fumble on the opening kickoff, and a subsequent touchdown from Morgan, to stake a 17-7 lead. Weathers had a touchdown reception, junior Carmen Christiana returned a punt 48 yards for a score, and by the time George Lambritsios booted his second field goal, Gicking’s crew held a 20-14 halftime lead.
His defense forced four fumbles of Morgan, with Gino DiCamillo, Hoff, Christiana, and Luke Lozowicki helping the Tigers win the turnover battle.
“I’m just proud of these kids,” Gicking said. “They could’ve quit. There was a fumble on the opening kickoff and they scored a touchdown in front of their fans in their stadium. But that’s not us. That’s not Marple Newtown football. We don’t roll over for anybody.”