NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA – No. 13 Upper Moreland faced a familiar foe Friday night in the opening round of the District One Class 5A playoffs, namely No. 3 Marple Newtown.
Last year, the Golden Bears were the No. 2 seed and earned an eight-point win at home over the No. 6 Tigers in a district Class 3A semifinal, before reclassification moved both teams into the new 5A category.
This time, with Marple Newtown enjoying the home-field advantage, the Bears barely averted being shut out. UM junior running back Sterlen Barr scored on a 4-yard run over the right side with 1 minute, 50 seconds left, and senior kicker Randy Meehl added the extra point to finish the scoring in a 35-7 loss at Crozer Keystone Stadium.
Despite the loss, the Bears (5-6) have one more game remaining: their annual Thanksgiving Day rivalry contest against Hatboro-Horsham, this time on the road with a potential .500 finish for the season at stake.
“At this point, we have to win. We have to do it for the seniors,” said sophomore Caleb Mead, whose third-quarter interception helped the Bears turn away a Marple Newtown scoring threat. “We can’t let them go out like this in the playoffs.”
“We’ll be working extra hard for these three weeks,” Barr said about the Thanksgiving game against the Hatters, scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 24. “We’ll come out and will be ready to play and ready to get this ‘W’.”
Upper Moreland expects to be healthier for that game than it was against Marple Newtown (10-1).
“We’ll get a lot of guys back; we’re really banged up,” Upper Moreland coach Adam Beach said. “We had five or six starters out on both sides of the ball, so a lot of guys are going both ways, and it was a testament to our players. They came out and gave everything they could.
“But if we get some guys back, hopefully we can play a little bit better on Thanksgiving.”
Being without those starters didn’t help the Bears’ cause.
Although the Bears yielded touchdowns in the final minute of the first and second quarters, they tried overcoming the deficit, even after losing a fumble early in the third quarter at their own 20.
Upper Moreland’s Mead ended that Marple Newtown scoring threat with an interception off a tipped ball in the end zone, though his momentum carried him out to the Upper Moreland 1, where the offense took possession.
“It was a goal-line play, and (the Tigers) had hitting us with slants all game, so this time, I followed (the receiver) across the field,” Mead said about his interception with 8:44 left in the third quarter and the Tigers leading, 28-0. “(Upper Moreland junior linebacker) Billy McKenna tipped the ball up in the air, and I got it.”
After Upper Moreland had fallen behind by 35 points late in the third quarter, prompting a running clock for the remainder of the contest, the Bears continued battling.
Upper Moreland allowed no points in the final quarter, even after Marple Newtown had inserted reserves.
Junior Cole Kitchen had set up Upper Moreland’s lone scoring drive, as he fielded a punt at the Bears 18-yard line and returned it 52 yards up the right side to the Marple Newtown 30. Seven plays later, Barr scored from 4 yards out, over the right side.
“We didn’t want to get blown out,” said Barr, who finished with a team-high 95 rushing yards on 24 carries. “We, at least, wanted to put some points on the board … As a team, if we had executed, we could have put a lot more points on the board.”
Earlier in the drive, Mead executed by converting a key third-and-2 from the Marple Newtown 22 with a nifty 5-yard gain over the left side in which he rolled over a defender already on the ground to pick up additional yardage before his knee touched down at the 17.