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Penncrest fumbles away everything but a win

LOWER MERION >> Penncrest coach Rick Stroup’s final remarks Friday night summarized what had transpired over the previous three or so hours.

“There’s not a lot to say,” he said.

Penncrest beat Harriton, 21-6, in a game that will certainly not go down in Central League or Delaware County lore.

The teams combined to fumble the football 19 times — most coming on poor Harriton snaps — while not reaching 300 yards of total offense. Six of those fumbles were lost. One resulted in a safety. The game’s leading rusher, Penncrest’s Caleb Mahalik, had just 63 yards.

But Penncrest did win. It is now 2-1, 1-1 in league play (Harriton drops to 0-3, 0-2). The Lions do have that, at least.

“A win’s a win,” Stroup said. “It’s better to win ugly than lose good. That’s all.”

The veteran coach wondered if the steaming hot weather, or the fact that it was the first week of school, contributed to the sloppiness. He knew the Lions didn’t practice well enough. He knew a performance like this likely would not have resulted in a win against any other team in the league.

The players heard that and saw that, too. They figure they can rebound and re-focus.

“We’re pretty committed with each other, we’re a family,” senior leader Mike Wilson said. “We have good chemistry, team chemistry. I think once we got everything together, once we start getting focused — no mistakes. We need to have continuous plays and go down the field.”

That’s what hurt Penncrest in this one. Mark Ullman’s 80-yard touchdown return was called back for a penalty on the opening play of the game. Drops stalled the following drive. A fumble ended a series early in the second quarter. A lack of communication between quarterback Chris Mills and wide receiver Manny Ruffin put a stop to a quest for points before halftime.

Kicker Patrick Hughes couldn’t attempt a 22-yard field goal because of a fumbled hold in the third quarter. Mills fumbled inside the 20-yard line later in that period.

The Lions, seemingly, could not get out of their own way. They had seven fumbles, three were lost. Of course, Harriton had 12 (with three also lost).

“It was sloppy; it was just sloppy,” Stroup said. “We need to play better.”

In-between those mistakes, Penncrest did do some damage. It earned a safety to start the scoring late in the first quarter. It immediately added a 15-yard touchdown run from Mahalik, making it 8-0. Zack Kaut and John Cosgrove scored on a four-yard runs in the second half, both following fumbles.

Harriton’s Tajie Wright-Rooney had a 12-yard touchdown run to put his team on the board midway through the fourth quarter. Even though they got the ball back twice more after that, the Rams didn’t really threaten the final count.

“It was good to get those fumbles, I think we need to finish on everything,” Wilson said. “We have good skill players all around. We have good players, we just need to finish on stuff.”

Penncrest allowed just 42 rushing yards and 140 yards of total offense, more than half of came on broken plays late in the second half. Stroup was happy with that.

He knows, however, the Lions offense can’t come out like this next week against Haverford.

“Defensively, overall, we played pretty well,” Stroup explained. “But they helped us, obviously. Offensively, we did not play well. We need to play better.”

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