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Upper Dublin rides O’Sullivan, defense to District 1-5A title

The players and coaches of Upper Dublin football pose with the District I 5A trophy after beating West Chester Rustin 29-8 on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. (Andrew Robinson/MediaNews Group)

UPPER DUBLIN >> The way Upper Dublin saw it, the first half was all meant to set up the second.

At halftime of Friday’s District 1-5A football title game against West Chester Rustin, Cardinals coach Bret Stover didn’t need to break out the “Secret Stuff” or make any drastic changes. Instead, the secret weapon was no weapon at all but instead a sense of calm. The Cardinals knew they had the board set just how they wanted, all they had to do was finish the game.

A dominant second half keyed by another resounding defensive effort and a big night for quarterback Colin O’Sullivan lofted Upper Dublin to a 29-8 win over the Golden Knights, giving the Cardinals their second district title in the last three years.

“The secret was calm,” Stover, who led UD its third District 1 championship in the past six seasons, said. “Everything was in front of us. The defense was playing well, we had put them in a bad spot with a turnover and they capitalized but we knew everything was there and all we had to do was execute.”

Top-seeded Upper Dublin didn’t play last week due to a COVID-related issue springing up at No.4 Kennett the day of the game. Meanwhile, No. 2 Rustin romped over No. 3 Wissahickon behind breakout back Dayshawn Jacobs who rushed for more than 250 yards in the victory.

Jacobs put together a terrific season, but unfortunately for him, there’s nothing more the Upper Dublin defense likes more than a back coming off a big game. The “cheetahs” that make up UD’s swarming defense not only put the clamps on Jacobs, holding the explosive runner to just 48 yards, they locked down the entire Rustin offense.

“That’s just our defense, man, every time we face a good running back, we know we have to target him,” senior defensive lineman Jacob Gondek said. “That’s all it was, we focused on that, knew what plays they were running and shut them down.”

As good as UD’s defense has been this season, the Cardinals still needed to score points to win on Friday. From their first drive, the hosts realized they could get them through the air. Sophomore Colin O’Sullivan came out firing, connecting on eight of his first 10 passes, capped with a nine-yard touchdown to Logan Trimm with 51 seconds left in the first quarter.

O’Sullivan, who is in his first year with Upper Dublin, finished 20-of-27 for 218 yards, a touchdown and one interception. After being banged up in the regular season finale against Hatboro-Horsham, O’Sullivan said the unexpected week off helped him recover and he was ready to go in his first playoff start.

“The protection was great, the receivers were getting open and we great play calls coming from Coach Stover,” O’Sullivan said. “After no offseason or 7-on-7, it all came together tonight due to a lot of hard work. All week we talked about how they left those gaps open and we were able to exploit them in the second half.”

O’Sullivan’s one mistake on the night led to Rustin’s lone score. Anthony Meadows picked off the sophomore and returned the ball down to the Cardinals’ 13 early in the second quarter.

A flag backed the Knights up, but Jacobs broke the next play for 24 yards and a touchdown, picking up half his rushing total for the night on that single play. Rustin actually took the lead on the extra point try, when a botched snap somehow led to Tucker Flynn plunging into the end zone for an 8-7 edge.

Upper Dublin only ran nine plays in the second quarter, but despite being down at the half, they were extremely confident.

“The first half, we set up all our plays for the second half,” UD co-captain Micah Bootman said. “We came out and just dominated.”

Upper Dublin received the second half kick and took control of the game with a resounding touchdown drive off it. Starting at their own 28, the Cardinals marched down the field on 15 plays capped with Jacob Rossman’s one-yard touchdown dive while eating 6:20 off the game clock.

With the lead, the Cardinals players knew the game was theirs for the taking.

“That’s one of our best coming out of halftime drives in a long, long time,” Stover said. “Our kids believed after that drive and it just set the tone.”

Rossman, a bruising two-way player at running back and linebacker, started on the 2018 district title team as well and felt the coaching staff was the difference maker on Friday.

“The coaches give, I don’t know, a bazillion hours into film and preparing us each week and that’s what we pride ourselves on,” Rossman said. “We win the game Sunday through Thursday, you put the time in during the week so when we get here Friday, we get to have fun and fly around and that’s what happened tonight.”

UD’s defense, which had stuffed the Knights on a fourth-down run deep in Cardinals territory late in the second quarter, stifled Rustin the rest of the way. The starting defense gave up three first downs in the second half while the group combined for two sacks and three interceptions.

Meanwhile, the offense continued to do its job with another scoring drive that spanned the end of the third quarter into the fourth. O’Sullivan hit Bootman on a 40-yard bomb to set up the senior for a two-yard run but the real key on the drive was Upper Dublin’s blocking.

The line of David Lashner, Tom Smid, Billy Duffy, Kyree Butler and Matt Tolomeo kept their quarterback clean and upright all night.

“We just wanted to take the small stuff and be patient, then the bigger stuff would come,” O’Sullivan said. “The line gave me time, so went took almost seven minutes on the first drive and just hit the small stuff, a hitch, a slant, whatever was there.”

The defense fittingly would deliver the finishing shot. After punter Owen Carl pinned Rustin at its own five to start a drive, two plays later, freshman Chris Kohlbrenner picked off a pass and took it back 28 yards to the house for a game-sealing pick-six and a massive celebration in the end zone.

“It’s almost surreal, I couldn’t really believe it as it was happening,” Kohlbrenner said. “It felt great.”

Older brother John, a senior captain who also started in 2018, cracked a smile.

“I was right next to him running then I started to cramp up halfway to the end zone,” John Kohlbrenner said. “It was such a cool experience to play this season with my younger brother.”

Upper Dublin senior John Kohlbrenner (33) and freshman Chris Kohlbrenner (20) both chipped in to the team’s District I 5A title win.

The excessive celebration drew a flag and after big kick return, Rustin was in prime position to try and answer. Then, Chris Kohlbrenner picked off a second straight pass to end that threat.

“It was huge, the energy in that was crazy,” Gondek said. “We got a flag, we didn’t care. We knew those plays were huge, especially from a young kid like that.”

Upper Dublin is slated to play District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep in next week’s PIAA semifinal at site and place to be determined, but Stover and the Cardinals weren’t ready to think about that yet. They weren’t promised a season and aren’t even promised a next week, so they wanted to enjoy their title in their last game on their field.

“It’s what we wanted to do,” Rossman said. “We were injured last year, we would have loved to have done it three times, but two is enough for us.”

“It sounds cliché but we had to play it day by day and the kids never got caught looking ahead,” Stover said. “We lost to a good Souderton team and that re-focused us. My credit goes to the kids for working hard and getting to this point, so if there is a tomorrow, that’ll be great and if not, if this is the way we end 2020, I’m happy looking forward to 2021.”

Upper Dublin players celebrate after beating West Chester Rustin 29-8 for the District I 5A football title.

UPPER DUBLIN 7 0 7 15 – 29

WEST CHESTER RUSTIN 0 8 0 0 – 8

Scoring Plays

1st Quarter

UD – Colin O’Sullivan 9 pass to Logan Trimm (Owen Carl kick) :51

2nd Quarter

WCR – Dayshawn Jacobs 24 run (Tucker Flynn run) 7:54

3rd Quarter

UD – Jacob Rossman 1 run (Carl kick) 5:25

4th Quarter

UD – Malik Bootman 2 run (O’Sullivan pass to Bootman) 11:13

UD – Chris Kohlbrenner 28 interception return (Carl kick) 3:50

Team Stats

UD WCR

First downs 16 6

Rushes-Yards 27-58 26-96

Passing 20-27-1-1 2-8-0-3

Passing Yards 218 21

Total Yards 276 117

Penalties-Yards 9-76 7-47

Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-0

Punting Average 3-30.7 3-35

Individual Stats

Rushing: UD – John Kohlbrenner 6-(-20), Michael Wright 2-2, Jacob Rossman 12-50, Colin O’Sullivan 3-17, Malik Bootman 2-6, Jacob Gondek 2-3; WCR – Dayshawn Jacobs 10-48, John Crispino 6-3, Jacob Mattei 1-1, Tucker Flynn 3-14, Anthony Meadows 4-7, Travis Riley 1-23

Passing: UD – O’Sullivan 20-27-218-1-1; WCR – Crispino 2-8-21-0-3

Receiving: UD – Bootman 5-92, Noah Lee 1-34, Logan Trimm 4-23, John Kohlbrenner 4-52, Rossman 1-6, Wright 1-4, Nadir Johnson 1-7; WCR – Jacobs 1-11, Tucker 1-10

Interceptions: UD – Chris Kohlbrenner 2, Bootman; WCR – Meadows

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