LOWER MERION >> Marple Newtown had plenty of reason to celebrate Friday night.
The Tigers defeated Harriton, 36-14, to push their record to 8-1 overall. But a result away from the Rams’ home turf is what made the visitors so jubilant.
The score came in just before the final whistle: Garnet Valley had beaten Springfield, 21-14. That win put the Tigers back in contention for at least a share of the Central League crown. A victory against Strath Haven next week would do the trick.
And so, Marple players danced in the rain after shaking hands with their opponents. They held their helmets in the air as coaches attempted to debrief the squad.
“That’s a great feeling,” coach Chris Gicking said of the Garnet score, which reopened the Tigers’ title chase. “Our mind and focus was on Harriton tonight. We knew we had to take care of our business.”
At first he insisted that his team put away the phones, so-to-speak, for the duration of its contest: “It’s exciting to know that after the game, we found that out.”
A little needling revealed the truth.
“We had the radio crew giving us updates,” admitted Gicking. “They’re the best radio crew around.”
Gicking and company could afford to move their attention elsewhere once Marple (8-1, 7-1 Central) rolled up a 36-0 halftime lead. Anthony Paoletti, still limping with his left ankle heavily taped, threw touchdown strikes of 54 and 21 yards to Cameron Mathes and Dash Dulgerian, respectively, in the first quarter. The defense added a safety, and special teams contributed a touchdown when Kyle Tobin blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone.
With the score lopsided, Gicking sent in backup quarterback Alden Mathes. The move set up a dream scenario late in the second quarter: Mathes, a sophomore, dropped back and lofted a deep ball for older brother Cameron. The wide receiver slowed his route, snagged the pass and bodied his way into the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown.
“It’s something you dream about. You always play backyard football with your brother, messed around in the yard,” said Cameron, a senior committed to play baseball at Villanova next year. “I never thought that one day he’d be throwing balls to me on varsity, playing in a real game.”
He was just glad he hung on.
“I saw the ball in the air. I thought, I’ve got to catch this,” Cameron said. “I have to do this. Luckily, I got into the end zone.”
He finished with 113 receiving yards on four catches, while his kid brother completed seven of 10 passes for 109 yards and two scores. Alden had thrown a touchdown pass to Dulgerian earlier in the quarter.
There was a plenty of joy to go around and, thanks to the Mathes bros, some sentimentality, too.
Even the Rams (0-9, 0-8 Central), winless on the season, got in on the act. They found the end zone twice in the second half. Shamod Spruill took a wide receiver screen from Michael Stewart 13 yards to pay dirt early in the fourth quarter. Stewart tossed his second TD pass of the evening, this one to Tajie Wright-Rooney, with six seconds remaining. The celebration belied the scoreline, but the Rams deserved their moment: These were the first points they had scored since Sept. 9.
On the other side, the Tigers escaped the showers for a dry bus. They heard rumors that Interboro was playing Academy Park close in Glenolden. (The Bucs would beat the Knights sometime on that drive home, leaving Marple in the running for the top seed in District 1 5A playoffs).
Of course, there’s still a game left to play.
“We’re just saving up for next week,” senior defensive back Carmen Christiana said. “We just got to stay focus and go out there and win.”