NEWTOWN SQUARE >> Behind a solid running game, Marple Newtown claimed a share of its first league championship in 39 years, prompting fans to storm the field.
Nothing about Friday night’s game seemed ordinary — especially that first part.
A team built on its elite passing game suddenly had to rely on its ground attack, and the strategy paid off. Marple Newtown took down Strath Haven, 33-14, to win its first Central League crown in nearly four decades. The Tigers finished atop the league standings along with Springfield and Ridley.
And Marple Newtown (9-1 overall, 8-1 league) did it on the strength of Marlon Weathers’ powerful legs. The sophomore running back totaled a career-best 260 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
“I guess I had a pretty good game,” Weathers said, grinning ear to ear.
— Christopher A. Vito (@ChrisVito) October 29, 2016
Marple Newtown will head into next week’s District 1 Class 5A playoffs as one of the top three seeds. Unofficially, the Tigers sat at No. 3 in the power rankings heading into this weekend, trailing only Academy Park and Springfield, both of which won Friday.
The Tigers needed everything Weathers gave them, particularly early on.
Strath Haven’s Hunter Mazur found the end zone on a 58-yard run on the game’s opening drive, putting Marple Newtown in an early hole.
“Honestly, against a team as good as theirs,” Mazur said, “it was good to get something going early.”
And while quarterback Anthony Paoletti still managed a characteristically productive night (13 for 20, 228 yards), something about the Tigers’ passing game seemed off.
“It was just that kind of night, I think,” said Weathers. “I just had a feeling that I’d have to keep pounding the ball.”
With the score level at 7-7 midway through the second quarter, momentum looked to be swinging toward Strath Haven. The Panthers pinned Marple Newtown at its 6-yard line with stellar punt coverage. But the Tigers wouldn’t stay there long. Weathers had other plans. On the first play of the drive, Weathers shed two would-be tacklers and sprinted for a 94-yard touchdown to help the Tigers take a 14-7 lead into halftime.
“As soon as he breaks the hole, he’s out,” said Marple Newtown defensive end Cooper Maas. “Blocking was great tonight, as it always is. But Marlon — as soon as he sees daylight, you can count on him being gone.”
Strath Haven again tried to spoil Marple Newtown’s plans, with a third-quarter touchdown by Mekhi Hill to draw the Panthers within 17-14. It was Reilly Fillman who immediately followed with a 23-yard field goal, his second of two on the night, before Paoletti delivered a 56-yard touchdown pass to Dash Dulgerian, and then Weathers capped the scoring one drive later with a 40-yard jaunt.
“I thought we were going to be passing the ball a lot because that’s the kind of offense we run, but I don’t know,” Weathers said. “To be a running back in this offense, it takes a lot of patience. I sit back and let it flow. I was just waiting for my time, and tonight was my time.”
Maas also had a big night. He logged four tackles for loss, including a sack of Strath Haven quarterback Evan Atsaves.
The smile on Tigers coach Chris Gicking’s face couldn’t be wiped away. Winning a league championship was something even he couldn’t accomplish during his record-setting career as Marple Newtown’s quarterback in the mid-1990s.
“You just did something that was 39 years in the making,” Gicking told his players.
A moment later, he opened up one of the cardboard boxes that had been placed behind him on the field. Inside were dozens of orange T-shirts with black printing that declared the Tigers as Central League champs.
“Tonight,” Weathers said, “was a great night.”
And not just for him, either.