HAVERFORD >> Marple Newtown quarterback Anthony Paoletti peeled himself off the turf and limped to the sideline with his hand in the air. Down seven to Haverford High at the half, Paoletti had just escaped the Fords’ pass rush, taken a hit and still managed to find Dash Dulgerian for a 65-yard touchdown.
Paoletti’s end of the play hurt. Well, everything hurt. Was it his knee that was ailing him? An ankle? A groin?
“It’s just bummed,” he said with a laugh in reference to his gimpy left leg. There was a speck of blood on his shoulder as well for good measure.
Still, the pain didn’t stop Paoletti Friday night. Nothing did. He inspired a 26-13, come-from-behind victory for the Tigers (7-1 overall, 6-1 league) that keeps them alive for a Central League title should Springfield falter.
“This quarterback is amazing,” said two-way lineman Mike Miller. “You can trust him to do anything, no matter what happens. If it’s 60-yard bombs down the field while getting sacked or running for a 20-yarder. He’s ridiculous.”
Paoletti was at his best in a second half that started with the long bomb to Dulgerian. He orchestrated three scoring drives, capped by a touchdown pass to Cameron Mathes with 36 seconds left.
“We knew we were going to come out and give it to them,” said Paoletti. “We knew it was going to be a renaissance in the second half.”
Paoletti was speaking of the game, but he could have easily been talking about the Marple program in general. The Tigers dropped a hard-fought contest last week to Ridley. They needed a bounce back effort and got one. Third-year boss Chris Gicking, who celebrated his birthday Friday, has the signature moment of his young tenure.
“This group is just amazing,” said Gicking. “We challenged them all week. We were all disappointed, and they responded. I can’t say enough about the coaches preparing them and the kids executing.”
It looked like the Fords might control the affair, eating up nearly five minutes off the clock on their opening possession. Jake Ruane hit Jordan Mosley three times for 20 yards. Mike Romanofsky pounded the Marple D-line for 11. On fourth-and-seven from the nine, Ruane hooked up with Matt Corbett to put the Fords ahead 7-0.
But an uneven performance followed. On the Tigers’ first drive, Mosley tipped a pass that Romanofsky corralled. He fumbled two plays later. It was one of five Haverford turnovers on the night.
“Turnovers, in big games with two good teams, turnovers were huge,” said Fords coach Joe Gallagher. “And that wasn’t in our favor. Marple made plays when they had to, and we didn’t.”
It was a bend-don’t-break first 24 minutes for the Tigers. Romanofsky added a rushing touchdown, but Haverford failed to capitalize on its time of possession. The totals made for an ominous trip to the lockeroom: 192 yards, 11 first downs and just 13 points.
Marple made the Fords (5-3, 5-2) pay after the break. On the board thanks to a 36-yard, second-quarter Marlon Weathers sprint, the Tigers made their drives count. Paoletti’s toss to Dulgerian got the comeback started. Weathers made sure it stuck with a four-yard rush almost five minutes later. That score was set up by a Miller strip-sack.
“I blew through the line, and I thought it was going to be a screen again,” Miller explained. “We were just playing as a team. We kept our heads up. We didn’t get down.”
The pass rush gave Ruane fits all night. Twice Miller dropped him for a sack. Haverford’s sophomore signal-caller was forced out of the pocket and into two interceptions.
Nursing a 20-13 lead later in the fourth quarter, AJ Katrakazis picked off an ill-advised Ruane pass at midfield. Weathers worked the clock on three consecutive runs, but Marple was still left with a fourth-and-12 and less than a minute to play. Gicking called time out. He put the ball in his quarterback’s hands.
“He goes the extra mile,” Gicking said. “He knows the situation. Total confidence.”
Paoletti scampered out of trouble and fired a dart towards Mathes, a pass that looked more hopeful than intended. But Paoletti knew what he was doing.
“I just let it out there, and Cameron is a great athlete,” he said. “I know if I throw it up to Cameron, he’s going to come down with it.”
Mathes did, only after two Haverford defensive backs knocked it in the air. It was a fortuitous bounce, a joyous one for the visitors, a deflating one for the hosts.
The play gave the Tigers new-life in the Central. And yet Paoletti — 218 yards passing, beaten and battered — stayed cool. Only Harriton and Strath Haven stand between Marple and a one-loss season.
“All business,” Paoletti said. “From now on, everything is business.”