UPPER MORELAND >> Upper Moreland’s been a second half team all season long.
Friday night, the Golden Bears had flashes of it after halftime, but couldn’t quite put together the strong second half they’ve been known for this fall. In a tight game on a frozen night with the rest of their playoff season at stake, it also wasn’t quite enough.
Upper Moreland, the No. 2 seed in the District 1-5A football players wasn’t able to complete a comeback as it fell to No. 7 Marple Newtown 24-18 Friday.
“They made the plays tonight,” Bears coach Adam Beach said. “They made plays when they needed to. I thought our guys made some plays, kept the game close. It came down to a couple plays here and there and they made the plays they needed to in the right moments and it’s how they got the win.”
It was the third straight year the Bears and Tigers have met in the postseason and second consecutive season that Marple Newtown bounced Upper Moreland out of the playoffs. On a night where temperatures dropped into the mid-20s, neither team was especially prolific on offense.
The Bears did a nice job of limiting the Tigers’ prolific passing attack, led by Delaware recruit and Delaware County’s all-time passing leader in senior quarterback Anthony Paoletti. Paloletti, who missed two series late in the game after appearing to injure his right arm, came back for the game’s final drive and drew a false start flag on UM to pick up a crucial first down.
While Paoletti did throw one touchdown, Upper Moreland’s defensive backs did a nice job of defending receivers and broke up a number of passes.
Upper Moreland started the game well, with its running game eating up 40 yards on the first three plays. Then, the promising drive stalled and the Bears had trouble moving the ball for much of the rest of the first half.
The Tigers got on the board first thanks to their emerging second option. Running back Marlon Weathers carried Marple Newtown on Friday. Weathers, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior, ran for 162 yards on 32 carries and shrugged off the cold as little more than an inconvenience.
Marple Newtown kicker Luke Ciavardelli booted a 37-yard field goal that would have been good from at least 10 yards further back with 2:00 left in the first quarter.
FOOTBALL 8:08 Q3: Marple Newtown 17, Upper Moreland 6
Weathers 8 run pic.twitter.com/G4PqNfYtp7
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) November 11, 2017
Upper Moreland responded with an 80-yard scoring drive to take its only lead of the night. The key play was a 26-yard run by senior tailback Sterlen Barr that also drew a late hit flag to add 15 more yards on. Quarterback Brendan Olexa scored on a one-yard keeper but MN blocked the kick to give UM a 6-3 lead.
Getting the ball back with 1:01 left in the half, Paloetti showed what makes him such a dangerous player. He hit Austin Mathes for eight yards, ran for five, hit Luke Cantwell for a 30-yard completion then hit Mathes in the front corner of the endzone for a 10-yard touchdown with 33 seconds left in the first half. In a blink, the senior had put his team up 10-7, a lead it took to the break.
“Give them credit, they came out and played well,” Beach said. “They were able to run the ball and they didn’t throw it as well as we thought they were going to. Some’s a credit to us and the weather played a part in that but they were able to move the ball and score and that’s the difference in the game.”
Marple Newtown went right back to Weathers after getting the second half kickoff. Riding mostly his legs, he picked up 58 of 64 yards on the drive, capping it with an eight-yard touchdown to go up 17-6.
Then came the first flash. Caleb Mead caught the ensuing kickoff at his own two yard line, the momentum carrying him into the endzone where he thought about taking the knee, rethought his plan then took off. Mead, a standout junior running back, wove his way up the field for a 98-yard kickoff return and UM was right back in the game.
Unfortunately for the Bears, that was the only score they would get in the frame. Marple Newtown missed a 42-yard field goal late in the third quarter, but after the Tigers forced UM into a short punt, Weathers came back at them.
Paoletti, who appeared to injure his right arm on the play preceding the missed field goal, stayed on the Tigers sideline with a jacket over his shoulders while Weathers took direct snaps out of the wildcat. On the second snap of the drive, he got the left sideline and went 30 yards for a score, pushing the lead to 24-12.
Upper Moreland followed that with its second flash. Olexa hit Barr and the senior did the rest, cutting right, cutting left, cutting right and running away from everyone to turn a screen pass into a 75-yard score. The Bears forced Marple Newtown to punt and it seemed like the flash was going to be something sustained.
However, after a promising drive got going and the Bears moved down to the Tigers 14, they lost the ball on a fumble and Tigers lineman Sean Standen came up with it. Paoletti returned for the next series as MN picked up two first downs and burned away the last of the clock.
“We get the ball, we get the big run, we think we’re going down and feeling good about things,” Beach said. “They get the turnover and that took us out of the scoring opportunity, they were able to run out the clock and that’s how the game ends.”
Upper Moreland’s postseason may be over but the Bears will have one more game, their annual Thanksgiving Day contest with Hatboro-Horsham. The Bears, who host the Thursday morning duel this year, topped the Hatters by one point in a wild offensive game during the regular season.
“It’s not over and that’s what I told them,” Beach said. “The only silver lining, and they don’t want to hear it now, is they have one more game to play. This doesn’t have to be their last taste of football on this field. This is going to hurt tonight, tomorrow and over the weekend but they have to come back, heal up and play that last game with Hatboro, who is going to be looking to get even after we got them earlier in the season.”
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