PHOENIXVILLE >> No words made Upper Merion’s players more cheerful than “see you on Monday.”
The Vikings’ effort on Friday is well deserving of a two-day rest as defense and special teams paved the way to the team’s 27-14 victory over Phoenixville on the Phantoms’ “Play 4 the Cure” night at Washington Field.
Linebacker Jake McGrath finished with an interception and blocked field goal as the Vikings used two special teams touchdowns to silence Phoenixville with 13 unanswered points in the second half. The win is the Vikings’ second in the past three games and should move the No. 21 ranked team up the ladder in the District 1 Class 5A power rankings, with the Phantoms (No. 18) and Kennett’s (No. 18) loss to Oxford. Sixteen teams advance to the Class 5A playoffs in two weeks.
“Upper Merion played very tough,” Phoenixville head coach Evan Breisblatt said. “We had trouble moving them off the ball. We haven’t had trouble like that pretty much throughout conference play. Give them credit. They made plays and we didn’t.”
Big plays made the difference.
McGrath’s blocked field goal was an instant momentum swing as the Phantoms threatened to take the lead with both team’s tied at 14 late in the third quarter. With the ball at the 15-yard line, Phoenixville kicker Nick Sinapius lined up for a 32-yard field goal. The snap and hold were without error, but the low line drive kick went right off the face mask of a leaping McGrath, sending the ball skittering along the wet turf. With the ball slipping out of the grasp of Upper Merion and Phoenixville players falling to the turf, Upper Merion’s Dave Brown finally picked it up and raced 65 yards for the score to make it 21-14.
“The hole just opened up for us,” McGrath said. “Coach called a Mike blitz and the hole just opened up and I got a good push. The ball right went off my face mask actually. I got my hands up, ball hit me right in the face and he (Brown) picked it up and took it the rest of the way.”
“I didn’t even know if I was supposed to pick it up,” Brown added. “It was bouncing for a minute, my team kept hitting everyone who tried to pick it up so I just grabbed it and ran.”
McGrath wasn’t finished yet.
The 5-11, 215-pound senior came up big on the next defensive drive, picking off a Troy Rossman pass and racing 60 yards to the Phoenixville 20.
“Running back came across so the other linebacker hugged up and I was supposed to drop to hook curl, went right into my lap,” McGrath said. “Dave Brown was lead blocking. I don’t have the legs like he has so I got hawked down. Could have taken it the distance.”
It turned out just OK that he didn’t. The Vikings’ offense, limited to just 170 yards of offense, stalled and was forced to punt. The punt, however, was muffed by the Phoenixville returner at the 4-yard line and was quickly pounced on by Upper Merion’s Jared Skidds for the game-sealing score.
Senior running back Matt Garcia was the lone bright spot for the Phantoms. Garcia rushed for 151 of the team’s 177 yards of total offense and shattered the school’s single-season rushing record of 1,507 yards set by Jimmy Johnson in 1966. Garcia, who leads the PAC with 1,567 rushing yards, finished with two touchdowns, his 69-yard sprint to the end zone for his second score tying the gam at 14 early in the third.
Otherwise for Phoenixville, it wasn’t pretty.
The team stalled out on its first three possessions, losing 11 yards in three three-and-outs. A Nasir Green interception set up the Phantoms with the ball at the UM 7 on the next possession, but the Phantoms couldn’t cash in then either. Three run plays from inside the 2-yard line yielded nothing for the Phantom offense, which ended up with three turnovers in the loss, all in the second half.
Keep Those Legs Churning
Zach Desanto’s heads-up play gave the Vikings a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. The running back took a toss and broke a few tackles before he was seemingly down at the 4-yard line. Or so it was thought. Desanto, realizing his knee or elbow never touched the ground after being dragged down on top of a Phoenixville defender, quickly regained his footing and raced into the end zone to cap the 19-yard score.
Desanto led Upper Merion with 30 yards rushing on nine carries.