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Parkland rallies past Upper Dublin in PIAA Class AAAA semifinals

FRANCONIA >> Ryan Stover bought time, bumped into a wall of linemen, bolted to his left, and weaved his way down the sideline.

Upper Dublin’s elusive senior quarterback — with one more defender to beat — put on a juke move that faked Parkland defensive back Frank Guida out of Franconia, then raced the rest of the way to the end zone, scoring on a 43-yard run to put the Cardinals in front, 14-7, early in the third quarter.

But instead of tilting control to the Cardinals, the play served as one final moment in a record-breaking season for Upper Dublin. The Trojans would even the contest on their ensuing possession then take the game over in the fourth quarter, pulling away to a 30-14 win in the Class AAAA semifinals at packed Souderton Area High School.

Mark C Psoras--The Reporter  Upper Dublin quarterback Ryan Stover ,16, is sacked by a host of Parkland defenders during first half action of their PIAA 4A football semifinal contest at Souderton Area High School on Saturday December 12, 2015

Upper Dublin quarterback Ryan Stover (16) is sacked by a host of Parkland defenders during first half action of their PIAA AAAA semifinal contest at Souderton Area High School on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. (Mark C Psoras/The Reporter)

“They’re the best to ever wear the football uniform at Upper Dublin,” Cardinals coach Bret Stover said of his team, which finished the season 14-1, winning its first District One crown and reaching the Eastern Final for the first time in school history. “We thought we had a shot there in the second half — we were up. But hats off to (Parkland). They wore us down and they made the plays when they needed to.”

The Trojans (14-1) advance to next Saturday’s state final at HersheyPark Stadium, where they will square off against perennial power Pittsburgh Central Catholic, a 24-7 winner over Cumberland Valley.

After Ryan Stover’s go-ahead score, Parkland embarked on a 13-play drive, moving the ball 78 yards and tying the game when Nolan Ridgway took the direct snap and squirted through the middle of the line for a nine-yard score.

With quarterback Devante Cross losing some of his running ability to an injury sustained last week in the win over La Salle, Ridgway was responsible for several QB draws, and he made the most of them, gaining a steady 45 yards on 10 attempts.

Cross did the rest with his arm, completing two passes on third down and one on fourth down to extend the drive. With 5:04 to go in the third quarter, the game was even at 14 apiece.

“We just came out and kicked it up a notch,” 6-foot-5 receiver and corner Kenny Yeboah, who is headed to Temple next year, said of the second half.

After each team punted, Parkland came up with the first and only takeaway of the game, as Yeboah intercepted a pass by Ryan Stover on 3rd-and-3, setting up the Trojans at the Upper Dublin 45.

Four plays later, Erik DiGirolamo crashed in from four yards out, putting the Trojans in front, 21-14, as time ran out in the third quarter.

After the long TD run by Ryan Stover, Parkland’s defense forced a pair of three-and-outs and a turnover on Upper Dublin’s next three possessions.

“They were throwing a lot of hitches, so we had to contain the receivers,” Yeboah said.

Mark C Psoras--The Reporter  Upper Dublin reciever Jack Rapine ,9, is upended by Parkland defender Justin Lessel ,24,  during first half action of their PIAA 4A football semifinal contest at Souderton Area High School on Saturday December 12, 2015

Upper Dublin receiver Jack Rapine (9) is upended by Parkland defender Justin Lessel (24) during first-half action of their PIAA AAAA semifinal contest at Souderton Area High School on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. (Mark C Psoras/The Reporter)

And with tight coverage downfield, the Trojans’ big defensive front — which included 6-foot-5, 265-pound giant Noel Brouse — began rolling in. A sack on 3rd-and-27 backed up the Cardinals even further, forcing a 4th-and-36 from their own five.

A low snap on a punt attempt went out of the end zone, giving the Trojans a 23-14 lead just seconds into the fourth. Two plays later, Cross launched a 48-yard bomb down the right sideline to Yeboah, extending the lead to 30-14 and sending Parkland on its way to Hershey.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Yeboah said, “and we want to make the best of it.”

The senior caught seven passes for 100 yards and a score while Cross would complete 16 of 24 throws for 240 yards and the one TD.

Parkland took a 7-0 lead on its first series of the game, capping a nine-play drive with a two-yard run by DiGirolamo.

Both defenses kicked in, but Upper Dublin tied the contest at seven apiece when Ryan Stover scrambled to evade the rush, then found a wide-open Danny Boggs in the end zone for a 20-yard score and a 7-7 tie at the half.

On the first series of the third, the Cardinals pushed ahead 14-7 on the run by Ryan Stover, a 43-yard score that came on a day when the Cardinals — finding little running room — were held to 40 net yards on the ground.

“It definitely shifted momentum,” Bret Stover said of the play. “But to (Parkland’s) credit, they converted (three third downs and a fourth down) on their drive and put it back in the end zone to answer.”

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