UPPER MORELAND >> Cole Kitchen knew it was going to be a pass.
As Upper Moreland’s senior safety lined up in the end zone as Upper Dublin prepared for a potential go-ahead two-point conversion, Kitchen expected pass. The Cardinals had to attempt the conversion from five yards back and as quarterback Julian Gimbel scrambled around, Kitchen made his move.
The throw went up, Kitchen leapt in front of it and came down on purple turf with the ball in his hands.
After a frantic onsides kick, the Golden Bears recovered as time expired and they celebrated what it meant. Upper Moreland could put a fifth number on its wall and it wouldn’t have to share the SOL American title with anyone after topping UD 21-20 Friday night.
“I knew they were going to pass the ball, I saw it in the air and went and got it,” a jubilant Kitchen said. “I ran from the other side and got to the ball. Their quarterback was scrambling around all game, we just had to find the receivers and I was able to go up and get it.”
FOOTBALL 3.2 Q4: Upper Moreland 21, Upper Dublin 20
Cole Kitchen picks off Gimbel’s two-point throw. Flag on play but declined pic.twitter.com/zDUuGqI70a
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) October 28, 2017
The Bears finish the regular season a perfect 9-0 and won on their gorgeous new turf field for just the second time this season. However, senior tailback Sterlen Barr figured it was going to be a game that came down to the final seconds.
Upper Dublin would have claimed a share of the American title with a win and the Cardinals were trying to lock up a home playoff game, so they had all the motivation in the world going into UM. Barr, one half of the Bears’ dynamic running back combo, rushed for two scores in the first half as UM built a 14-0 lead.
“It’s a great, great feeling right now,” Barr, who was also named Homecoming King, said. “We had to play our game on offense and defense, be fundamentally sound. It came down to the last second. We had to stay together and play as a team.”
The first half was a defensive battle between the two teams and UM needed a couple of clutch throws from quarterback Brendan Olexa to set up both scores. Olexa hit Kitchen for 14 yards on a third down pass on the first quarter scoring drive, then on 3rd-and-11 from his own 44, found Ronnie Perrelli for 39 yards to move the chains and set up Barr’s nine-yard run.
The other half of that running back monster, Caleb Mead, broke the first play of the second half for a 60-yard touchdown that put the Bears up 21-0.
With its own offense struggling to get going at the point and facing a Bears offense that has run a number of teams off the field this season, the Cardinals could have folded. But coach Bret Stover knew his team had fight left in it.
“It’s easy to fold and go away and we lose 35-0 with a running clock,” Stover said. “Not this team. My guys basically said no and rose up. I couldn’t be prouder of the way they played. At the end, going for two was decided when we got to their 20 going in. I went into the huddle in a timeout and said if we score, we’re going for two.”
The Cardinals also felt like they were rallying against more than just the Bears. Twice, a penalty flag took a UD passing touchdown off the board, the first coming after Barr’s second touchdown and the second early in the fourth quarter.
Even after Gimbel scored on a 14-yard scramble with 3.2 left in the game to bring UD within one point, the Cardinals were hit with a five-yard flag for celebrating that forced their two-point try to come from the seven-yard line.
“That five-yard penalty was (garbage), it’s high school football, let the kids have some emotion,” Stover said. “These guys are so worried about being graded they forgot about the game. They forgot about the kids. It’s not about them and they made it about them tonight and that’s troublesome.”
FOOTBALL 4:17 Q2: Upper Moreland 14, Upper Dublin 0
Sterlen Barr 9 run pic.twitter.com/9PzRhCtYbA
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) October 27, 2017
Stover was proud of his team’s resiliency and composure and also gave plenty of credit to Upper Moreland head coach Adam Beach and all of the Bears players.
The Cardinal who showed perhaps the most guts on Friday was Gimbel, who overcame a 1-for-10 start with three picks to help engineer three scoring drives in the final 16:27 of the game. His one completion in those first 10 tries, a 12-yard hit to Brody Balasa, picked up a first down and helped set up Lucas Roselli’s 29-yard jaunt with 3.1 left in the third quarter.
UD’s defense, spurred by a tremendous effort from senior Max Winebrake (17 tackles, sack), firmed up in the second half and got the stops that gave the offense a chance. Malik Bootman scored on an eight-yard run with 2:41 left and after the defense got a stop with 1:07 left, Gimbel led them down the field.
“He was a one-man wrecking crew and would not be denied,” Stover said. “It’s easy when you throw a couple picks to put your head in the sand and that’s just not his makeup. He keeps fighting, keeps winning and keeps learning. It’s just a great high school football game.”
Both teams are in the District 1-5A playoff field and the win sealed up at least one home game for the Bears. While they’re looking forward to the postseason, Friday night was about celebrating their fifth conference title.
“It’s one of our goals every year, every time we leave the locker room, there’s a UM with ‘SOL champs’ and four numbers on that wall, well now we have a fifth,” Beach said. “I know it means a lot to the kids. It’s something they’re going to take with them the rest of their lives and let’s see how far we can take this into the playoffs.”
Kitchen and Barr have been teammates going back way past high school to their youth football days in Willow Grove. Both of them made some huge plays on both sides of the ball Friday, as did many of their teammates.
“We said we’re not sharing this league,” Kitchen said. “All we wanted was that number on the wall and we got it tonight. We’re not sharing it with Quakertown or Upper Dublin and it’s the greatest feeling.”
“I’m speechless,” Barr said. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling. We’ve wanted this our whole lives and to be in this position was amazing.”
UPPER MORELAND 7 7 7 0 – 21
UPPER DUBLIN 0 0 7 13 – 20
UM – Sterlen Barr 4 run (kick good) 3:26
UM – Barr 9 run (kick good) 4:17
UM – Caleb Mead 60 run (kick good) 11:42
UD – Lucas Roselli 29 run (Chris Barbera kick) 3.1
UD – Malik Bootman 7 run (Barbera kick) 2:41
UD – Julian Gimebl 14 run (two-point fail) 3.2
First downs 9 12
Rushes-Yards 42-169 30-154
Passing 3-5-0-1 8-18-0-3
Passing Yards 56 76
Total Yards 225 230
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Punting 2-27 4-27.8
Rushing: UM – Sterlen Barr 24-91, Caleb Mead 14-105, Brendan Olexa 3-(-30), Billy McKenna 1-3; UD – Lucas Roselli 9-72, Julian Gimbel 9-50, Malik Bootman 12-32
Passing: UM – Olexa 3-5-0-1-56; UD – Gimbel 5-13-0-3-50, Mike Slivka 3-3-0-0-26
Receiving: UM – Cole Kitchen 2-17, Ronnie Perrelli 1-39; UD – Brody Balasa 1-12, Selvin Haynes 4-34, Ryan Beschacio 2-13, Jack Jamison 1-7
Interceptions: UM – Sterlen Barr, Cole Kitchen, Brett Brossman; UD – Mike Slivka
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