PENNSBURG >> With Upper Perkiomen off to its hottest start in a decade, Upper Moreland coach Adam Beach knew a fast start would be crucial to his own team’s chances of continuing their own unbeaten start to 2017.
He just had no idea how fast that start would be.
Fourteen seconds into the game, junior Sterlen Barr took the opening kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown, spurring the Golden Bears to a 34-20 victory and a 3-0 start to the campaign.
“They tried to squib it,” said Upper Moreland coach Adam Beach, “but [their kicker] got a little too much of it. Sterlen has great speed, he has great football sense, and that got us pointed in the right direction.”
“It got our team off to a strong start and that’s what matters,” said Barr. “We knew we had to get out fast.”
For his encore, Barr intercepted Upper Perk quarterback Tyler Keyser’s would-be game-tying pass just before halftime, this time returning the ball 97 yards to send Upper Moreland into the break with a 21-7 lead.
“We were in the wrong formation,” said Indians coach Tom Hontz. “That’s on me — I should’ve called a time out.”
“But from the opening kickoff, we were on our heels,” he lamented. “We just didn’t get things clicking tonight.”
Barr’s heroics overshadowed a sloppy first half that featured three total turnovers and over 150 yards in penalties. After Upper Moreland QB Brendan Olexa extended the lead to 14-0, Upper Perk took advantage of 45 yards in defensive penalties on Upper Moreland to open their own scoring on a Keyser TD pass to Trevor Stephen.
Barr nearly came down with a Hail Mary catch to end the first half, but unfortunately appeared to twist an ankle on the play. He came back strong after halftime, however, contributing to the Golden Bears’ strong defensive effort in the secondary.
After Upper Moreland stymied an Upper Perk drive deep into Bears’ territory, Barr got his squad out of trouble with a 68-yard run. The drive stalled, however, and Upper Perk’s Tyrese Reid started the 4th quarter by besting Barr’s run with a twisting, turning 73 yard TD to cut the deficit to 21-14.
On the ensuing drive, however, Upper Moreland senior QB Olexa turned in a gutsy 4th-down sneak to extend the drive, setting the stage for Caleb Mead’s 52-yard scamper to re-extend the lead to two scores.
A 60-yard Austin Tutolo run set up a short plunge from Tyler Whary to bring Upper Perk within 27-20. Again, however, Olexa made big plays when it counted, extending Upper Moreland’s next drive with a 13-yard pass to Mead on 3rd and 11, a 7-yarder to Bryan Mowery on 3rd and 6, and an 11-yard pass on a 4th down to Cole Kitchen before Mead carried another one over from 26 yards to close out the scoring.
“Upper Perk had a solid scheme against the pass, but (Olexa) made the plays he needed to, added Beach. “Smart, intelligent plays — that’s what we expect from him, and that’s what he gave us.”
In all, Barr and Mead combined for 221 rushing yards (Barr 113, Mead 108) on the evening. Barr wasn’t done, however, intercepting Keyser a second time to seal the victory.
For Upper Perk, the loss put a slight damper on a night that saw the school open its football Hall of Fame by honoring the 1966 Bux-Mont League championship team.
“It’s great to honor those guys – it creates a strong connection through the entire program,” said Hontz.