MIDDLETOWN – It has been a football season in which things have happened and coaches and players have accepted their fate and moved on.
At Penncrest High’s Louis W. Scott Stadium Friday night, the Marple Newtown Tigers took the field missing one key piece – head coach Chris Gicking, who was home, following COVID-19 protocols.
Interim head coach Josh Crooks kept reminding his players how much responsibility each carried as they faced another Central League contest with the host Lions.
With a workmanlike effort and persistence, Marple Newtown earned its third consecutive victory, 41-0, sending Penncrest to its third loss in a row.
“We tried to get them to see how hard it was when we fell behind 14-3 (against Strath Haven) last week,” Crooks said. “We worked hard to come back and win that game, but we didn’t want to have to do something like that again here. We knew we couldn’t take anything for granted, so we had to focus on making sure we did all of the little things. Even as far as wearing masks and staying six feet apart was concerned.
“We have seniors who thought they might not have a season, so we’re making sure it can turn into one they will remember.”
Crooks played at Conestoga when Chris Gicking and his father, Harry, coached there, then came to Marple Newtown when Chris Gicking became the Tigers’ head coach.
He had to believe good things could happen Friday when junior Charlie Box got off a 25-yard punt return to the Penncrest 45 and helped put in motion the first MN scoring drive.
Box, who finished with 123 yards on 12 attempts, carried four times in the next seven plays, and finished with a one-yard scoring plunge.
“Our linemen make things so easy for me to run,” Box said. “We knew that if we all did our job, that would be what (Gicking) wanted from us.”
Early in the second quarter, Joey Small’s interception put the Tigers 28 yards from the Lions’ goal line. Box ran the ball into end zone, but a penalty flag wiped out his gain. Quarterback Joe Paoletti scrambled in from 10 yards out six minutes before halftime.
“We knew how much (Gicking) wanted to be here,” Paoletti said. “He’s stayed in touch with us and did whatever he could to help us. We’ve worked hard on what we needed to do to get better from the last game. Just having the chance to play this season has meant a lot to all of us.”
Penncrest used most of those six minutes left in the second quarter with a 10-play drive that ended with a CJ Lane interception for MN. Box dashed nine yards for six points, and Paoletti teamed with Jonny Small on the conversion pass.
Paoletti scored on a quarterback sneak two plays after a Penncrest fumble at its two-yard line early in the third quarter.
One play after Johnnie Ebert’s quarterback sack two minutes later, Eric McKee got another MN interception. This time it was Brian Joslin (67 yards on six carries) getting a Tigers TD.
On Penncrest’s final possession of the third quarter, Ebert had a pass go off his helmet into the hands of the Lions’ Nick Chelo for a seven-yard gain.
“To be honest I wasn’t sure what happened on the play when the ball hit my helmet,” Ebert said. “I know it’s been amazing being back on the field getting to play with this team.
“I know this team is (Gicking’s) life, so we had to do this for him tonight.”
Ebert had another sack to force Penncrest’s third punt, and Box ran 66 yards to score 12 seconds before the period ended.
Senior Ryan Lain was one of the Marple linemen who helped the Tigers pick up 227 yards on 29 rushing attempts (7.8 average).
“(Box and Joslin) are great runners and (Paoletti) does a good job,” Lain said. “We know if we stay on our blocks, they can make the plays. It’s a great feeling being able to get out here and work together to do what we’ve been doing.”
Penncrest coach Ryan Smith was disappointed with the way his team “took two steps forward and then four steps back.
“We have kids who want to play,” Smith said. “And we’ve tried to stay positive. But when you have so many turnovers (three lost fumbles, three interceptions) you see how you have to be able to get better by making the right adjustments. But we didn’t seem able to do that after halftime.”