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Adversity, Upper Dublin catch up to Academy Park

SHARON HILL >> Here is the cliff notes version of what happened Friday at Academy Park’s Knight Field…

“They tried to give the game away to us,” Knights coach Jason Vosheski, “but we weren’t good enough to take it.”

Those words sum up the District 1 Class 5A quarterfinal matchup between the fourth-seeded Knights and No. 5 Upper Dublin. The Cardinals made as many mistakes with the ball as Academy Park — the teams combined for 16 fumbles — but escaped with a 17-12 victory.

Upper Dublin (8-3) advances to next Friday’s district semifinal round to play top-seeded Springfield (11-0), which rolled to a 28-7 win over No. 9 Rustin. Academy Park (7-4) saw its quest for a second consecutive district title end in disappointing fashion.

“Coming into this week, we knew it would be cold and we knew it would be a challenge,” said Academy Park defensive back Jermal Martin, referencing the night’s frosty temperature. “Our defense came out ready to play and our offense just … I can’t even tell what was going on. I don’t think anybody was really into it. Too many mistakes for us. But our defense, everybody was into it.”

RICK KAUFFMAN – DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA
Academy Park quarterback Skylor Fillis breaks into open space on the quarterback keeper with Upper Dublin defenders in hot pursuit.

Academy Park only had a pulse in the late stages because of its defense. Upper Dublin’s Mike Slivka intercepted AP quarterback Skylor Fillis on fourth down with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, though, the Cardinals fumbled for the eighth time and the Knights pounced on the opportunity. Defensive back Devon Golds scooped up the loose ball and sprinted 20 yards to the end zone to trim Upper Dublin’s advantage to five points with 3:57 to go.

The Knights forced a three-and-out on the Cardinals’ ensuing possession. A fourth-down snap sailed over the head of punter Chris Barbera and a net loss of 25 yards set the Knights up at the Upper Dublin 25-yard line with less than two minutes to go. Martin caught a wide receiver screen on fourth and inches for a first down.

Alas, with the ball at the 15-yard line with a minute to play, the Knights couldn’t capitalize.

Fillis was sacked for a seven-yard loss. On fourth and 13, Fillis threw an incompletion in the end zone. That sealed the win for the Cardinals.

While the Knights outgained the Cardinals, 284-225, and generally played very well on defense, they couldn’t finish the deal.

“They have some good players on defense and they forced some of our turnovers,” Vosheski said. The Knights committed five turnovers, including four lost fumbles.

“I think we self-inflicted with bad snaps, handoffs. I think it was more mental preparation with our guys then anything else.”

It wasn’t all bad for Academy Park. On its first play from the line of scrimmage, running back Nate Holmes ripped off a 46-yard run, Four plays

RICK KAUFFMAN – DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA
Upper Dublin cornerback Selvin Haynes celebrates with teammates a fourth down stop that sealed the Cardinals’ 17-12 victory.

later, Holmes scooted seven yards to the end zone to give the Knights a 6-0 lead. After a UD punt, the Knights coughed up the ball and lineman Adam Jefferson-Jones picked up and ran 15 yards the other way for a Cardinals touchdown. The Cardinals gave the ball away on a punt return. The Knights handed it right back two plays later.

It was that sort of night.

AP’s defense allowed one too many big plays on third down in the first half. Upper Dublin quarterback Julian Gimbel often connected with his receivers for big gains on short slant routes and screens.

“Because of the weather, I knew I had to throw the ball a little lighter, throw catchable balls to my receivers,” said Gimbel, who was 17 of 28 for 181 yards. “Overall, we were ready. We were pumped up. They were a very aggressive defense and we wanted to take advantage of that. When they’re coming in hard, I knew I could shoot the ball out real fast and use our team speed to take advantage of their aggressiveness.”

Gimbel hooked up with Selvin Haynes for a 32-yard reception early in the fourth quarter to set up his four-yard scoring run to give the Cardinals a 10-point advantage.

Ultimately, Gimbel gave all the credit to his defense for making this win a reality.

“Oh, I’m counting my blessings,” he said, laughing. “I knew that my boys had my back to finish that last drive. All the nerves I had running through my body at that moment was crazy. The defense was amazing. I can’t thank them enough. They hold us together, they fix my mistakes. They were able to point some points on the board, too.”

Holmes and Fillis carried the AP offense. Holmes ran for 149 yards on 16 carries, while Fillis (10-for-17, 45 yards) added 92 yards on 13 totes.

For the Knights, the 2017 campaign was a transition year for the county’s most successful football program this decade. They didn’t win the Del Val League title for the second year in a row, and failed to defend their district crown.

They handled adversity in the months before the season following the tragic death of starting center Jaion Smith last June. They had new faces at several key positions. At times the Knights played like a team that was trying to put all the pieces together.

“Pretty much, from before the season started, we were fighting adversity,” Vosheski said. “We played, at one point, starting six sophomores. That’s not to mention the other youth, whether they’re seniors or juniors who never started before. I think that caught up to us.

“It’s hard when you don’t have that perceived go-to guy that you had in the past, whether it’s a quarterback, running back, whoever. In the games that we lost this year, we had a hard time scoring. That was evident tonight. And we turned the ball over. There’s a ton of talent, but when you turn the ball over that many times, you’re not going to win many games. It caught up to us tonight.”

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