UPPER MORELAND >> In the last few years, a couple things have become the standard at Upper Moreland.
Firstly, the Golden Bears aren’t going to go down without a fight, no matter the circumstance. Secondly, no matter the year, they’re going to find some linemen and a really good, athletic running back to propel himself through the holes those linemen open.
Friday night, the new heir to the tailback spot had his breakout game as junior Sterlen Barr Jr ran roughshod over Upper Perkiomen for 211 yards and three scores in Upper Moreland’s 41-34 come-from-behind win.
“My line was blocking, giving me holes and I just had to hit them real hard, run and be the athlete I can be,” the 5-foot-8, 149-pound Barr said. “It turned out to be a success. Upper Moreland has a history of good backs from Tyler Whitmore to Rodney Morgan and now I’m just trying to be the best that I can be and be like them.”
In the first half, it seemed like Upper Perk (1-2) was going to romp its way to a road win. Upper Moreland (2-1) coach Adam Beach said his team had prepared for a power run game, so when the Tribe came out slinging passes, it caught the Bears off guard.
Of course, it helped that wideout Ryan Kendra was catching everything thrown to him, finishing the first half with 137 yards on six grabs. But as the game went on, the heat and the Bears’ tenacity, caught up to Upper Perk.
“This team needs to win games like that to get over the hump,” Upper Perk coach Tom Hontz said. “We just seem to shoot ourselves in the foot, make mistakes and mental errors and physically we just couldn’t keep up. We lost some bodies in that second half and it cost us.”
One of those bodies was Kendra, who Hontz said cramped up badly and could only watch the final minutes from the sideline. Kendra did not have a catch in the second half.
Heat was certainly a factor, with temperatures hovering around 95 at kickoff and “cooling” to 86 by game’s end. Both teams had guys cramping, but Hontz said it seemed that every time a Bear went down, he was back in a few plays later and it just wore his team down.
Still, the Tribe took a 27-14 lead into the break, capitalizing on an Upper Moreland fumble to push the advantage. Even the third quarter started well, with Upper Perk recovering a surprise onside kick to open the half, but Upper Moreland got a stop and things swung in the Bears’ favor for the most part.
“We stopped making mistakes,” Beach said. “I told the team at halftime, ‘we’re stopping ourselves more than anything else. Just calm down and play football’ and I think they settled in and started to play the game.”
After forcing a three-and-out on Upper Perk’s series following the onside kick, Barr cut it to 27-21 with a 65-yard burst down the right sideline on a toss. The Bears forced another punt, then knotted the game up when quarterback Casey Decker made a big pass to Cole Kitchen, and then the QB ran it in himself from five yards out.
Upper Perk answered with a 15-play drive that extended to the first play of the fourth quarter, ending it when Tyrese Reid dove in from a yard out to restore the lead temporarily. The Tribe stopped Upper Moreland on fourth down at Upper Perk’s 33, but gave the ball right back with a botched snap on the next play, the Bears diving on the loose ball.
“They had guys cramping up too but they kept answering the bell and that was the difference, I think,” Hontz said. “What was helping us in the first half, they were over-shifting to (Kendra) which opened up some other things and when we lost him, they packed it in on us.”
Upper Moreland didn’t have the ball long after the fumble, as Decker hit a wide-open Brett Brossman for a 25-yard score on the next snap, again tying the game, this time 34-34 with 7:50 to play. The Bears’ defense rallied, stopping bruising Upper Perk back Tyler Wharley for four yards and stopping quarterback Zeke Hallman for three, setting up a big third down.
On third down, Hallman threw, but Barr was able to get up in the air and knock the ball away from the intended receiver, forcing a punt. Taking over with 6:11 left, the Bears marched down the field, using only Barr and Decker runs before Barr ripped a 29-yard scoring run with 2:27 left for the eventual winner.
“With their intensity and them being big and running hard, it just pumps us up,” Barr said. “We get on each other, tell each other to go smack them back, match the energy and do what we have to do to bring them down.
“I was just happy, I knew we had to come back on defense and stop them but I was so happy we had that chance to get the ‘W’.”
Hallman did everything he could for his team, completing 18-of-34 passes for 245 yards but his last throw of the night sealed the game. Facing a 3rd-and-10 from the Upper Moreland 43, Hallman’s throw was well-read and picked off by Bears safety Nick Pagano, who returned it 15 yards then slid to the ground, sealing the win and sending the Bears into SOL American play at 2-1.
“I told the kids our preseason is over and now the league begins,” Beach said. “(Plymouth-Whitemarsh) knows us real well, we know them. It’s going to be a good football game and we’ll have to improve from tonight.”