UPPER DUBLIN >> Last year, Upper Dublin High’s football team saw its season come to an end in the semifinals of the PIAA District One Class AAAA playoffs at Pennsbury.
Friday night, one season later, at Cardinal Stadium, the Cardinals returned the favor.
Ryan Stover ran for one touchdown and threw for another as Upper Dublin held off Pennsbury, 24-14, to earn a berth in next weekend’s District One Class AAAA championship game at Souderton High School.
There they will meet North Penn, a 28-7 winner over Neshaminy in the other district semi.
“Everybody, all week, was taking about revenge,” said Cardinals head coach Bret Stover, “but for us it was just another opportunity to finish what we didn’t finish last year.”
And finish it they did, building a 21-7 lead midway through the third quarter, then holding off a late Falcons charge.
The game began well for the Cardinals, who stopped Pennsbury on the game’s opening series, then went 66 yards on seven plays, with Stover beginning the drive with a 19-yard strike to James Lampmann, then finishing it with a 24-yard touchdown run.
Pennsbury’s defense keyed the Falcons first score when they forced a fumble that was recovered by the visitors on the Upper Dublin 21.
Five running plays later, Chris Rupprecht powered in from the 1-yard line, and the game was tied.
Upper Dublin responded by piecing together a drive from its own 43 that twice reached inside the Falcons 5. But both plays were nullified by penalty.
“I didn’t have any problem with either call,” Stover said. “I thought they were good calls.”
But then after stopping Pennsbury deep in its own end, the Cardinals took the lead after Michael Sowers returned a punt 23 yards to the Falcons 38.
It took the Cardinals seven plays to score from there. A Stover-to-Danny Boggs completion got the Cardinals to the Falcons 15. Four Kalief Lee carries later, the final one from the 2-ard line, the home team was in the lead again.
“In the backs of our minds, we were thinking about revenge,” the quarterback said. “But really, we just came in here with a good game plan that we were able to execute pretty well.”
The Cardinals extended that lead to 21-7 on their first drive of the second half, a 14-play, 6:06 monster that ended with an 11-yard pass from Stover to Jack Rapine to make it 21-7.
The Falcons answered right back, going 68 yards on six plays, with quarterback Mike Alley hitting Greg Lichtenstein on a 15-yard pass play to pull the visitors within a touchdown once again.
It was almost as if the teams had traded uniforms, as the run-happy Falcons were throwing the ball and the Cardinals, known more for the passing proficiency of Stover, that took to the ground.
Upper Dublin had a real chance to put the game away early in the fourth quarter after it drove to the Pennsbury 26. But Stover was intercepted by Lichtenstein in the end zone, and the Falcons had life.
“I should have checked out of the pass and called a running play,” Ryan Stover said. “There was nobody in the box.”
“Ryan should have run the ball,” agreed Coach Stover. “He knows it.”
Pennsbury was in position, with some momentum on its side, to drive the ball down the field to tie the score, but the Cardinals defense would have none of it.
The Falcons quickly went three-and-out, and would not threaten again.
“Every week that’s what this defense talks about, this is our house, and we’re going to guard it as best we can,” said Cardinals lineman Isaiah Henrich, who was a force all night. “That’s a great team we played tonight, easily the best team we’ve seen this year.”
The Cardinals put the game away with another 14-play drive that ended with placekicker Todd Spirt calmly nailing a 34-yard field goal with 2:11 left in the game.
The field goal was a risk, but Spirt, whose family moved back into the Upper Dublin school district just this year, stepped up and calmly nailed it.
“It’s tough to watch,” Coach Stover said, “but Todd’s been itching to make some big kicks for us, and tonight he got his chance.
“He’s got a great foot, there’s a lot he can do. He can kick off deep, or high, like he did tonight. He’s a weapon.”
Now chasing 10 points with 2:00 left, the Falcons simply faced too tough a chore.
They did get as far as the Cardinals 42, but back-to-back sacks, the first by Naiim Huff, the second by Henrich, ended it.
And the Cardinals were looking at their first trip to a district final.
“I really haven’t seen them play,” said Ryan Stover, a football junkie who has put more than a few miles on his car watching potential foes. “I didn’t get a chance to see the blue jerseys (of North Penn) this week, I was too busy watching the black ones (of Pennsbury).”
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