Upper Dublin gearing up for District 1-AAAA final clash with North Penn

UPPER DUBLIN >> It was a hot Saturday morning in August when Upper Dublin made the trip over to Souderton Area High School for its first scrimmage of the season.

Now, on a chilly, rainy day in December, the Cardinals are hard at work, preparing for another trip back to Souderton, this time, for the first district final appearance in the program’s history.

“It’s really exciting. We’ve never been this far ever, and we just want to go out and win,” senior tailback Kaleif Lee said.

The wet weather forced the Cardinals inside on Wednesday, as they held practice on the hardwood, under the lights on the basketball court. No matter where they are on campus, the anticipation and excitement is there with them.

“There’s quite a buzz around here, and considering where we’ve come from, it’s rewarding for these guys,” Cardinals coach Bret Stover said.

For these Upper Dublin seniors, it’s been a determined, upward climb. Three years ago, the Cardinals were 6-4. A year later, they went through the regular season 9-1 but then fell to Abington in the first round of the District One Class AAAA Playoffs.

Last season, the Cardinals again went 9-1 and reached the district semis, falling to Pennsbury. A more experienced and senior-laden Upper Dublin team would get past the Falcons in this year’s district semifinals, 24-14 last week.

“We look at things way different,” Lee said of this season. “We approach each week knowing it could be our last game.”

The third-seeded Cardinals have been perfect thus far, raising their record to 13-0 with an offense directed by quarterback Ryan Stover and a defense that has limited three playoff opponents to an average of 10 points per game.

This week, the Cardinals are preparing for their toughest test, taking on perennial power North Penn.

“We have to be able to hold up up front,” Bret Stover said. “They’re physical, they have very talented backs, and you can’t just load the box the way you used to be able to do against North Penn.

“(Quarterback Reece) Udinski does a great job with play action, and with (Nyfease) West as the tailback and (Ricky) Johns on the outside, they have a number of different weapons and can hurt you from a number of different angles.”

The speedy Upper Dublin offense, meanwhile, has piled up 104 points in three postseason games. Ryan Stover (Sr., 6-4, 210), Bret’s son, has been picking up big yards with his legs, finding Jack Rapine (Sr., 6-1, 200) for key scoring plays, and Lee (Sr., 5-10, 200) has been a hammer around the goal line.

For the Cardinals, it all began some three months ago, on the turf at Souderton. Now they head back, looking to extend their magical season, and all the euphoria along with it.

“The expectations were high,” coach Stover said of the preseason, “but there’s no guarantee. You’re not guaranteed to get back to the playoffs. We stressed that with the kids and they understood that.

“Everyone wanted a shot at you because you beat them the year before. We got through that, and we’re where we want to be. We’ve never played football in December and we’re excited about that.”

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