UPPER MERION >> Everything looked great for Upper Merion Friday night.
Quarterback Dale Clayton just rushed for a one-yard touchdown and running back Zaire Savage converted the two-point conversion to give the No. 8 Vikings a nine-point lead over No. 9 Interboro with 3:05 left in the first half.
The Bucs responded with 20 straight points over the next 4:52 of gametime to take a 33-22 lead that would hold up as the finale scor in the first round of the District 1 Class-5A playoffs at Upper Merion Area High School.
After Upper Merion’s eight-point possession, the Vikings kicked deep to Interboro’s Michael Moore. Moore initially dropped the ball, but once he got it he ran through the coverage team for a 90-yard touchdown and cut the Bucs deficit to two, 22-20.
“As soon as I fumbled I was running off straight adrenaline,” Moore said. “Everything was going double and I was just going off straight instinct. I gave it everything I got and I’m so glad it turned into a touchdown. It really made a difference in the game.
“Momentum is huge with any team, but especially my team. We thrive off each other, connect off each other’s energy and really start going once we start making plays.”
On the second play of Upper Merion’s ensuing possession, Savage lost a fumble at his own 39-yard line. Ten plays later, quarterback Jared Dellipriscoli connected with Tim Convery for a four-yard touchdown with less than 10 seconds remaining in the half. The two-point attempt failed and Interboro went into halftime with a 26-22 advantage.
The Bucs added to that quickly in the second half. Upper Merion received the kick and on the third play Michael Zelli caught a pass at his own nine-yard line and fumbled — recovered by Interboro.
Two plays later, Moore ran for a five-yard score to give his team a 33-22 lead.
“It’s huge,” Moore said of getting turnovers and turning them into points. “My coach says it all the time — those turnovers make the difference in the game and the fact that we get them really hypes us up.”
Interboro’s first score was also set up by a turnover. Moore intercepted a screen pass to set the Bucs offense up at Upper Merion’s 37. Seven plays later Dellipriscoli kept the ball on a bootleg for a 12-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven.
“Those are the things that are the toughest to recover from,” Upper Merion coach Victor Brown said of losing the ball, “especially when they turn into points for the other team.”
Turnovers both ways
It wasn’t just the Vikings turning the ball over.
Interboro fumbled the snap on the first two plays from scrimmage of the game. Upper Merion recovered the second fumble, which led the an Anthony Swenda three-yard touchdown run.
“Our defense has played great all year,” Brown said. “They’ve done a lot of good things. They put the offense in position. Towards the end of the season there we were playing good team football. Unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalize on all the positions they put us in, but our defensive line has been good all year and these guys have come up big when we needed them to. Sometimes it works out that way — you’ve got one unit that’s a little stronger than the other and you find yourself where you have to lean on one more than the other.”
Upper Merion recovered another fumble around midfield early in the second quarter. Marc Clayton scooped it up at his own 49 and took it all the way to Interboro’s four-yard line, where a horse collar penalty put the ball at the two.
Two plays later, Dale Clayton rushed for his first of two one-yard scores.
Rematch up next
The win puts Interboro in the district quarterfinals, where it will face No. 1 Penn Wood. When they met earlier this season, Penn Wood won, 50-29.
“I hope so,” Moore said of the thought of a rematch before knowing if Penn Wood advanced past No. 16 Kennett. “We’re counting down the seconds. We really need redemption and we have a lot of our players back. We’re definitely in the best shape of our life.”
A year to remember
Upper Merion’s season comes to an end with the loss. The Vikings went 6-4 this year after winning just one game in 2017.
“I told my kids I’m proud of them and they shouldn’t be ashamed,” Brown said. “I think these kids have surpassed a lot of people’s expectations. In the preseason polls and the voting with the coaches and stuff, I don’t think anybody would have even come close to putting us in this situation. These guys got better as the year went on and we started playing better team football. That’s what good teams do — good teams get better. Playoffs — good teams are playing their best football. That’s the position we put ourselves in. Unfortunately we are on the losing end of this. We’re 0-1. Tomorrow we’re 0-0, wrap things up for this season and get settled and start looking for next year.”
This was the Vikings first playoff appearance since 2004 and first home playoff game since 2002.
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