NEWTOWN SQUARE >> Mike Miller pumped his fist and let out a loud yell as he approached teammate Cooper Maas in the Upper Moreland backfield. The Marple Newtown defensive linemen had just combined on a quarterback sack to snuff out another Upper Moreland drive.
“Just another night for us,” Miller said.
Marple Newtown’s smothering defense kept Upper Moreland on edge all night, and the Tigers coasted to a 35-7 win Friday in the first round of the District 1 Class 5A playoffs.
In all, Marple Newtown’s defense accumulated 14 tackles for loss, including three sacks, and forced three fumbles. And sophomore running back Marlon Weathers had three rushing touchdowns to lead the offense.
The third-seeded Tigers (10-1) rode the performance of their defense to match a program-best single-season win total, and they earned their first home playoff victory in school history. They’ll go for two in a row next week when they host 11th-seeded West Chester East (5-6), which is coached by Dave Gueriera.
“I’ve known Dave since we were kids. We played JT together — Junior Tigers,” said Marple Newtown coach Chris Gicking. “They’ll be ready for us. Dave will have them prepared, and we’ll have our hands full.”
Upper Moreland, which eliminated Marple Newtown from the district playoffs a year ago, suffered a brutal loss in the revenge game. The Golden Bears, who got 110 rushing yards from Sterlen Barr, managed only 165 yards of total offense. And 32 of those yards came on their final drive, which produced a touchdown after the Tigers had removed their first-team defense.
The strong showing started up front with Marple Newtown’s three-man line of Miller, Maas, and Kyle Tobin. Maas registered five tackles for loss, Miller had three, and Tobin recovered two Upper Moreland fumbles in the third quarter.
Miller credited Harry Gicking, the team’s defensive coordinator and the father of head coach Chris Gicking, for having the Tigers prepared.
“Coach Harry Gicks always tells us to keep our heads up, even if the other team scores. He’s just a great coach,” Miller said. “He makes sure we don’t mess up. He’s just a great guy. He’s hard on you, writing down stuff on his clipboard, and then he’s joking around with you.”
Said Tobin: “It starts with great coaching. He spends 10 hours a day just doing Harry things. He’s always got papers and a clipboard around, showing us what we could be doing better.”
Marple Newtown took a little while to get going, with quarterback Anthony Paoletti misfiring on all but two of his first nine attempts. Nonetheless, the Tigers went into halftime ahead, 21-0, thanks to touchdown connections from Paoletti to Dash Dulgerian and Reilly Fillman.
Weathers had the first of his three rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. He added two more in the third, including a 51-yard scamper down the left sideline to open the second half.
“It’s crazy to think he’s only a sophomore,” said Chris Gicking.
The Central League co-champions will aim to keep their season alive next week, with a trip to the district semifinals at stake.
“We’re ready,” Tobin said. “We’ve been playing all year for this moment.”