UPPER DUBLIN >> Upper Dublin led Radnor by seven points late in the first half Friday night at Cardinal Stadium.
The Cardinals defense forced a three-and-out deep in Radnor territory and took over at the Raiders 45-yard line to add to their lead. On the second play of the drive, Radnor’s Jack Connolly sacked Upper Dublin quarterback Julian Gimbel and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Ifeyan Gavin.
On the ensuing possession, Sean Mullarkey threw a touchdown to Kieran Sheridan as the half expired to send the teams into the locker room tied at 14.
Gimbel wouldn’t make any mistakes after that. He led the No. 5 seeded Cardinals to two 97-yard touchdown drives in the second half to highlight a 27-21 win over the No. 12 seeded Raiders in the first round of the District 1 Class-5A playoffs.
Radnor scored on the opening possession of the second half to take a 21-14 lead and a mishandled kickoff had the Cardinals backed up at their own three-yard line going against a strong wind. Gimbel ran for a first down on 3rd-and-7 in the shadow of his own goalposts and completed first-down passes on 3rd-and-11 and 3rd-and-7 to set up a two-yard Malik Bootman touchdown run to tie the game at 21.
“(Gimbel) made some really good decisions and threw some catchable balls,” Upper Dublin coach Bret Stover said. “The biggest play of the night was the third down where he ran it for the first down … We’re going to punt the ball into the wind if we don’t get it and he somehow manages to get (the first down). That sparked us and we went down the field five minutes into the wind and put one in to tie the game. Then our kids just settled in.”
“I just know what we have to do,” Gimbel said of his 3rd-and-long mindset. “We have to get the first down, keep the clock running, keep the score going. We had to get back into the game. We had to get those third down plays going.”
Radnor followed with a three-and-out and a beautiful punt rolled to a stop — again — at the Cardinals three.
“I just tell them when I get into the huddle, ‘Listen, this is where we scored the first time, let’s do it again,’” Gimbel said. “We went down and did it again. It’s all we had to do.”
On the first play of the fourth quarter and sixth of the drive, Gimbel connected with Bootman for 24 yards on 3rd-and-7 and then hit Brody Balasa on the next play for 11 more yards. Bootman finished off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run — his fourth score of the game — to put the Cardinals ahead, 27-21, with 10:02 to go.
Gimbel had one more trick up his sleeve.
The Cardinals faced a 4th-and-1 at Radnor’s 48-yard line with 2:07 remaining and leading by six. After a timeout, Gimbel got under center in a tight formation and got a few Raiders to jump offsides and give Upper Dublin the first down.
“There was no play called,” Stover said. “I went out in the huddle and we sold it up a little bit, getting everybody juiced. Take a chance on that. You don’t want to give them the ball at midfield, you don’t want to say we can’t get a yard … That was fun.”
Bootman picked up another first down on the next play and the Cardinals were on their way to a date with No. 4 Academy Park in the quarterfinals next Friday.
“We played defense really well all year,” Radnor coach Tom Ryan said. “My hats off to their staff and their players. They had the ball — good time of possession — and they grinded it out. At times we bent. It’s a good football team right there. I’m proud of my guys.”
Gimbel finished the game 8-for-14 for 153 yards and a touchdown and 14 rushing yards. He threw for 130 of those yards after halftime.
Radnor faced a 4th-and-goal from the three-yard line before halftime. The Raiders, trailing 14-7, called timeout with 3.8 seconds left and sent the offense back onto the field.
Mullarkey took the snap and rolled right. Nothing was there and he reversed his field and ran all the way to the left side, keeping his eyes in the end zone. When the one defender between Mullarkey and Sheridan stepped up to stop Mullarkey from running, the quarterback threw the ball to his wide open receiver to tie the game at 14 going into the break.
“We put that play in all season and we were waiting for the right time to use it,” Ryan said. “Kieran did a good job getting through the middle and Sean scrambled really well. He’s a gamer. They both came up big and it was great to go in 14-14 and have some momentum. The ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight.”
Upper Dublin’s defense had to make two stops after the offense took a 27-21 lea with 10:02 remaining.
On the first drive, the Cardinals defense forced a three-and-out. Holding and false start penalties put the Raiders in a 3rd-and-11 situation at their own 20 and defensive lineman Chris Smith ran down Mullarkey for a sack.
The next Radnor possession was shut down by senior Max Winebrake. The linebacker found a crack in the offensive line to break through and force a two-yard loss on 2nd-and-5. On the ensuing 3rd-and-7, Winebrake kept an eye on Mullarkey and made a one-on-one tackle four yards shy of the first down to force a punt.
Radnor never got the ball back.
Radnor’s two most impressive players in the district opener — Mullarkey and receiver Jahmair Rider — are juniors and will be back next year.
Mullarkey threw for 131 yards and two touchdowns and Rider caught four passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.
That’s not to mention all the defensive talent that the Raiders will bring back in 2018.
“I tell my players I’m really proud of their character and the way they practice,” Ryan said. “It’s just unfortunate you lose in the playoffs, but this program is heading in the right direction. We’re just going to try to keep getting better and better.”
Stover — who coached Upper Dublin to a district title in 2015 — sees good things ahead for Radnor.
“They’ve got a really good team,” Stover said. “They’re young. I see so many similarities in that teams and teams we’ve had here. They’re going to be a force in the future. They’re all juniors coming back. They knocked on the door tonight. We’ve been there. They’re going to take the step.”
Radnor totaled 11 penalties for 100 yards and Upper Dublin was flagged eight times for 78 yards.
Each team had a penalty take points off the board.
Cardinals senior Jack Jamison returned the game’s opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown after receiving the ball on a reverse. The play was called back for a personal foul, resulting in a Cardinals first down at their own 15-yard line and the drive eventually ended in a punt.
Radnor’s Mullarkey connected with Rider for a 58-yard touchdown after the Raiders fell behind, 7-0, but the play was called back for holding. They punted three plays later.
“That’s so uncharacteristic of us,” Ryan said. “We’ve played very sound football all year. Unfortunate that it happened in a playoff game.”
Upper Dublin 27, Radnor 21
Radnor 0 14 7 0 — 21
Upper Dublin 14 0 7 6 — 27
UD – Julian Gimbel 3-yard pass to Malik Bootman (Chris Barbera kick) 5:07
UD – Malik Bootman 12-yard run (Chris Barber kick) :58
R – Taylor Margolis 3-yard run (Dylan Van Dusen kick) 8:38
R – Sean Mullarkey 3-yard pass to Kieran Sheridan (Dylan Van Dusen kick) :00
R – Sean Mullarkey 48-yard pass to Jahmair Rider (Dylan Van Dusen kick) 9:07
UD – Malik Bootman 2-yard run (Chris Barbera kick) 4:08
UD – Malik Bootman 13-yard run (kick blocked) 10:02
Passing: R: Sean Mullarkey 9-22-141-2-0. UD: Julian Gimbel 8-14-153-1-0.
Rushing: R: Jahmair Rider 5-12-0, Matt Cohen 9-28-0, Taylor Margolis 4-8-1, Sean Mullarkey 3-2-0. UD: Malik Bootman 31-125-3, Julian Gimbel 7-14-0, Lucas Roselli 6-30-0.
Receiving: R: Jahmair Rider 4-97-1, Vernon Harper 2-23-0, Teddy Girton 2-18-0, Kieran Sheridan 1-3-1. UD: Malik Bootman 2-27-1, Lucas Roselli 1-14-0, Jack Jamison 1-13-0, Ryan Besachio 2-49-0, Selvin Haynes 1-39-0, Brody Balasa 1-11-0.
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