By Neil MGeoghegan, PA Prep Live
NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA – It took a couple overtimes to extend it, but Marple Newtown’s historic football season continues, and now it’s on to the District 1 5A semifinals.
Cameron Mathes grabbed a double overtime touchdown pass, and teammate Reilly Fillman booted the extra point to give the Tigers a dramatic come-from-behind, 38-37, double-overtime triumph over visiting West Chester East in a quarterfinal clash on Friday at Crozier-Keystone Stadium.
“I don’t even know where to start, but what a game,” said Marple Newtown head coach Chris Gicking. “We were very fortunate to come out one point ahead. At this point it is survive and advance.”
For the first time in program history, the Tigers have won 11 games in a single season, including a pair in the postseason. Third-seeded Marple Newtown (11-1 overall) advances to the semifinals next Friday to play No. 2 Academy Park, a 26-13 winner over Bishop Shanahan.
“This is the first time this program’s ever had 11 wins,” said Mathes, who hauled in six catches for 151 yards. “It’s amazing playing for this team, and every week we go in knowing we have to do whatever we can to make it last another week.”
It was a gutsy performance, but, ultimately, a disappointing end to the season for the 11th-seeded Vikings (5-7 overall). A week earlier, West Chester East notched its first playoff victory in a decade.
“Our seniors changed the culture of this program,” East head coach Dave Gueriera said. “We look forward to a bright future.
“I think now that our underclassmen got a taste of what it’s like to win a playoffs game and play in an environment like this one, it will propel them. Once you get a taste of it, you want more.”
There were a seemingly endless array of twists and turns in this one, including a huge blocked extra point by the Tigers’ Nick Dicrecchio in double overtime, which would up giving Marple Newtown a chance to win it on its possession in the second OT. Mathes proceeded to grab a 10-yard TD pass from wideout Carmen Christiana that knotted the score at 37-37, setting the stage for Fillman’s game-winning PAT.
“We practice a bunch of those types of plays for these situations,” Gicking said. “Carmen and Cameron both made great plays.”
In the first overtime, Tigers’ quarterback Anthony Paoletti scored on a 10-yard keeper, but West Chester East back Jared Cooper tied it with a short run. It came moments after Marple Newtown thought it had won the game when a fourth-down pass went incomplete, but the Tigers were flagged for roughing the passer.
“We have faith in our kids,” Gicking said. “We told them to keep grinding, keep battling and good things will happen.”
Cooper opened the second OT with a 10-yard strike, giving the junior four touchdowns on the day. He rolled up a game-high 150 yards rushing on 32 grueling carries.
Deadlocked at 14 at halftime, Marple Newtown opened a 10-point margin with a Fillman field goal and a four-yard scoring run by Marlon Weathers. But East fought back, cutting the deficit to 24-21 on an 11-yard run by Cooper.
And then, with time running out, East put together a 10-play, 65-yard march to set up a game-tying 23-yard field goal by senior Jake Bonnett, who was the hero at the end of regulation a week earlier in the win at Unionville. Cooper gained 57 yards in the drive, and had 114 of his total after the intermission.
“It was crazy,” Mathes said. “We knew coming in (West Chester East) was going to battle, but we didn’t know it would take that long. We just did whatever we could to make sure we won the game.
“They always came back no matter what we threw at them.”
The Tigers opened the scoring with a 74-yard first quarter march, and running back Marlon Weather logged 58 of it on nine carries, including the final three yards. A bad snap led to an unsuccessful point after attempt.
The Vikings came back to grab a 14-6 lead after two big special team plays in the second quarter. First, Austin Pitt blocked a Marple Newtown punt, and a few plays later Michael Gray hauled in a seven-yard pass from Johnathan Thompson. And later Jack Phelan pounced on a muffed punt deep in Tigers’ territory, and Cooper scored from six yards out on the next play.
In the waning minutes of the half, however, Marple Newtown came back to tie it, thanks to a 13-yard pass from Paoletti to Dash Dulgerian. And Dulgerian grabbed a pass from Christiana for the two-point conversion.
Paoletti finished with 203 yards passing and Weathers wound up with 106 yards on 25 attempts, and scored twice.
“I’m just really proud of our kids,” Gicking said.
“We’ve had a resolve and resiliency all season,” Gueriera added. “In this one, despite some of the mistakes we made, we battled back and had an opportunity to win the game. I am just so proud of my team.”