Upper Dublin’s clutch defense faces biggest challenge yet in Springfield Delco

UPPER DUBLIN >> In the first two rounds of the District 1 Class-5A playoffs, Upper Dublin’s defense has made game-winning plays when it needed to the most.

Against Radnor in the first round, the Cardinals defense was on the field for three possessions after the offense tied the game at 21. The first was four plays and a punt. The second and third drives — both coming after the Cardinals took a 27-21 lead — were three-and-outs.

“One of the things we say is, ‘In crunch time, you get a chance to show what a great defense you are,’” defensive coordinator Dave Sowers said. “That’s when you have to rise to the occasion. When your back’s against the wall … we have to do our job. Our job is to defend the end zone and don’t let them in.”

Senior defensive lineman Chris Smith forced one of the punts with a sack on 3rd-and-11 and — on Radnor’s final possession — senior linebacker Max Winebrake made back-to-back tackles on 2nd-and-5 and 3rd-and-7 to force another punt.

In the quarterfinals against Academy Park, sophomore safety Mike Slivka grabbed an interception in the end zone with 4:14 remaining in the game and the Cardinals holding a 17-6 advantage.

Academy Park made it 17-12 when it returned a fumble for a touchdown and took over at Upper Dublin’s 25-yard line when the Cardinals snapped the ball too high on a punt.

Winebrake sacked Academy Park’s quarterback on first down at the 15-yard line and junior cornerback Selvin Haynes knocked away a fourth-down pass in the end one to seal the win.

“They didn’t go out and point fingers,” head coach Bret Stover said. “Sometimes you see that. Our kids just went out and knew they had to stop them, they knew they wanted to stop them and they went out and stopped them. It’s a 50/50 ball (Haynes knocked away). We didn’t make that play against Quakertown (earlier in the season). We did make that play against Academy Park and it’s why we’re still playing.”

Upper Dublin is getting contributions from every level of its defense. Smith on the line, Winebrake and Malik Bootman at linebacker and Haynes and Slivka in the secondary are just some of the players making game-changing plays.

“(Everyone on defense believes) in each other,” Sowers said. “Our motto is this simple — you do your job because the guy next to you is doing his. They made plays but that’s what their job is. Each individual guy just has to step up when it’s their turn to step up.”

The Cardinals defense — which allows 15 points per game — will face its biggest test yet in the semifinals against Springfield Delco Friday night.

The top-seeded Cougars are 12-0 this year. They’ve scored more than 40 points five times and less than 28 just two times.

Springfield’s offense features two running backs — bruising senior Ja’den McKenie and speedy senior Philip Shovlin.

“They have a good line and their running backs,” Winebrake said of the Cougars’ offensive strengths. “They’re just pretty good overall.”

“They’re so well-balanced,” Sowers added. “A lot of seniors and they have a great scheme — great coaching staff. They’re rock solid. It causes nightmares. It causes havoc in trying to figure out. I won’t lie — some sleepless nights so far. That’s what we’re trying to do — put our kids in the best spot that we can and let’s play some football.”

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