Everything is different for the Upper Dublin football team this postseason. Except its expectations.
“We’re not approaching it any differently. We’re looking to come out and defend our district title and that’s it,” Cardinals quarterback Justin Horn said after UD’s 41-21 win over Upper Moreland last Friday.
Horn and UD are aiming for another long playoff run after last year’s team won its first District 1 title — beating North Penn in the Class AAAA final — before ending the year in the state semifinals with a 14-1 record. Along with new cast of leaders, the Cardinals are chasing a new title. With PIAA bumping the number of football classifications from four to six this season, Upper Dublin can not repeat as 4A champion but can claim the inaugural 5A title.
“All year we’ve been saying, ‘So what we’ve lost all those players,’” Horn said. “We don’t use that as an excuse and we expect to come out and win another district championship.”
After an 8-1 regular season that ended with the Cardinals earning a share of the Suburban One League American Conference title with Plymouth Whitemarsh — UD’s third straight conference title, claiming the previous two outright — Upper Dublin earned the fourth seed in the 16-team 5A field and opens at home Friday night against 13th-seeded Strath Haven (4-6), which is making its first district appearance since 2012.
Another layer of newness for Upper Dublin is in the teams it will face or could face in the 5A tournament. As opposed to 6A which has eight of its 16 teams hailing from the Suburban One League, the Cardinals and Upper Moreland are the SOL’s lone representative in 5A.
“Carrying the flag for Suburban One at this point,” said Upper Dublin coach Bret Stover after last Fridays’ Upper Moreland win. “That’s what (Upper Moreland coach) Adam (Beach) and I talked about before the game, we both want to go as far as we can and represent Suburban One. It’s nice that you’re defending champs but it’s a whole different team.
“Different teams, I like that about playoffs, I like playing different teams — teams I haven’t played before.”
Seven teams from the Chest-Mont made the 5A field, the Central League has five — including Strath Haven and Marple Newtown, Upper Moreland’s first round opponent.
The Cards are also not the only district champ from last year aiming for a 5A crown. Academy Park won the AAA title last season — the Knights’ second in three seasons — and are seeded second behind only No. 1 Springfield-Delco.
“Definitely not the big teams we’re used to hearing, but definitely good football teams,” Horn said. “Just like we are and it should be very competitive.”
Knights No. 1 in 6A
If North Penn has its way, the road to the District 1-6A title runs through Crawford Stadium.
After a 10-0 regular season — NP’s fourth under head coach Dick Beck — the Knights’ earned the top seed in the 6A field and with it a chance to have home field throughout, including the championship game.
North Penn opens the playoffs Friday against No. 16 Haverford. The schools have met just twice — 1921 and 1922 when NP was Lansdale High. Lansdale won both games.
The Knights have been stingy defenders of Crawford, the team not having lost a playoff game there under Beck since he took over the program 2002. North Penn has dominated postseason visitors on its home turf, the last team finishing with single digits of NP in district play was Central Bucks East, which lost 19-16 in 2005. The last 12 playoffs game since then at Crawford, North Penn has won by an average of 24.4 points.
This year’s district opponents may have a hard time keeping up with the Knights yet again. NP’s offense is racking up 40.7 points per game with its passing attack — lead by quarterback Reece Udinski and receiver Ricky Johns, Jake Hubler and Justis Henley — producing 266.3 yards per contest in 2016.
Udinski is coming off his second-most passing yards of the year in last Friday’s 45-7 win over Abington, going 14-of-22 for 337 yards and four touchdowns — connecting with Hubler six times for 205 yards and two scores.
Along with North Penn, second-seeded Neshaminy and No. 3 Perk Valley enter district with unblemished 10-0 records.
SOL National Conference champ Neshaminy has beaten teams by an averaged of 24.4 points and begins districts hosting No. 15 Pennridge (5-5) in a rematch of their Week 2 encounter at the Rams’ Helman Field that ended in a 31-24 Redskins victory.
Perk Valley, which claimed the Pioneer Athletic League Conference title, won its 10 previous games by an average of 21.7 points a game and opens with No. 14 Penn Wood (7-3).
Big Red Back In
Souderton earned its first district appearance since 2010 with the help of a strong start to — opening 3-0, including a 38-23 win over Plymouth Whitemarsh in Week 1 — and a rebounding finish — winning its last two after a 1-4 skid.
The Indians (6-4) earned the 11th seed, giving them a matchup with No. 6 Downingtown East (8-2) Friday night. Its the third postseason meeting between Big Red an the Cougars since 2006. The teams battle in the first round in both 2006 and 2007 — Souderton wining in ‘06 42-14, East earning the victory the next season 14-13.
Souderton’s win over the Cougars in ‘06 was the program’s last in the playoffs. The Indians fell to Abington 25-22 in that season’s quarterfinals, then lost first-round games in three of the next four years — East in 2007, North Penn in 208 (35-7) and Council Rock South in 2010 (24-17).
Top Photo: Upper Dublin quarterback Justin Horn gets ready to pass to Nick Sonetto in the end zone during the Cardinals’ game at Hatboro-Horsham on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)