Lower Merion >> Lower Merion’s offense exploded for 28 second-quarter points as the Aces downed host Harriton, 42-20, Wednesday evening in the annual battle for Lower Merion School District football bragging rights.
The Aces’ ground game ran smoothly, picking up 179 yards and five touchdowns on 31 carries, led by junior running back Jay Zheng (102 yards, 2 TDs, 17 carries) and junior quarterback Jack Lledo (48 yards, 3 touchdowns).
“We were running the ball well, and our offensive line, particularly [senior guard] Ari Charmont and [senior tackle] Elijah Philippe blocked extremely well, allowing us to run the ball we way we wanted to,” said Lower Merion head coach Joe Augustine.
“Jay Zheng had a great game. He got banged up a little against Upper Darby last week, but he came back to have a great game today. And Jack Lledo stepped up as our quarterback – he rallied everyone together.”
Lledo, a 5-10, 170-pound junior, is an all-around athlete who wrestles for Lower Merion in the wintertime, and has posted a two-year won-loss record of 54-21 as an Aces matman.
“We’ve got a great of linemen, and I feel confident running behind them,” said Lledo. “I wouldn’t want to run behind any other line but theirs.”
Wednesday’s game began quietly, with a scoreless first quarter. Toward the end of the quarter, the Aces started to put together a 70-yard scoring drive, composed mostly of runs by Lledo and Zheng. Early in the second quarter, on 1st-and-10 at the Harriton 23, Zheng ran the ball on a counter play, a large hole opened up on the right side, and the junior back raced into the end zone.
After a three-and-out by Harriton, Lower Merion went on a touchdown march of 84 yards in seven plays, which included a 29 yard pass from Lledo to senior tight end Phil Cook, and a couple of 15-yard penalties against the Rams. Lledo capped it off with a resourceful 14-yard TD run after picking up a loose ball.
The play was supposed to be a rollout to the right, but after I picked up the ball, I saw an opening on the left, and went there,” said Lledo.
“Jack’s a hard-nosed football player who finds a way to make something out of nothing, whenever we need a spark,” said Augustine.
The Aces (1-4) then added to their 14-0 lead when senior Naikai Allen intercepted a Harriton pass at midfield and ran it all the way back to the Rams’ 3 yard line. Two plays later, Lledo rolled out to the right for a 4-yard touchdown run and the visitors had a 21-0 lead with 1:32 to go before halftime.
On the next play from scrimmage, Harriton senior running back Teddy Molineaux found a crease up the middle, then broke left for an electric 64-yard touchdown run to make the score 21-6.
Lower Merion junior Andre Gilmore returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Rams’ 47 yard line, then five plays later from the Harriton 16, Lledo hit an open Lance Kim across the middle at around the 5, and the junior wide receiver worked his way into the end zone for a touchdown with 37 seconds left before halftime.
“I saw Harriton’s cornerback move back, so I threw it to Kim,” said Lledo. “We have so many playmakers on our team.”
Early in the second half, Harriton began to use a hurry-up offense to pick up some solid yardage.
“I thought we needed an energy boost, so we went to [the hurry-up],” said Harriton head coach Justin Mellor.
On the eighth play of the second half, the Rams faced a 4th-and-8 from the Lower Merion 41 yard line. Ram sophomore quarterback Logan Rothberg threw to senior receiver Seth Fliszar over the middle, Fliszar made a one-handed catch despite tight coverage, and the senior ran all the way into the end zone for a 41-yard TD.
“Seth is really a tough kid, a tough receiver,” said Mellor.
Following a three-and-out by Lower Merion, Harriton moved the ball downfield to the Aces’ 5 yard line, the big play a 33-yard Rothberg-to-Molineaux pass completion. The Rams’ drive fizzled there, though, and the Aces got the ball back at their own 6 yard line.
On the very next play, a missed Lower Merion snap went out of the end zone for a safety, cutting the Aces’ lead to 28-14.
A solid return by Harriton on the ensuing free kick and a 15-yard penalty on Lower Merion moved the ball to the Aces’ 28 yard line, but the visitors’ defense stepped up and stopped them cold on the next four plays, with LM linebacker Phil Cook making a key tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
“Harriton likes to get its running game going, but we were shutting down their run game,” said Augustine. “Everyone on our defense played well, but particularly Phil Cook and [defensive ends] Elijah Philippe and DShawn Jemison.”
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Rams attempted a punt from their own 26 yard line but it was partially blocked and the Aces recovered it at the Harriton 13. On the next play, Zheng scored on a run up the middle to make it 35-14.
A few minutes later, the Aces got the ball back at midfield, and following a 15-yard Harriton penalty and a 31-yard run by Zheng, Lower Merion had the ball at the Harriton 1. Lledo snuck it over on the next play, then junior kicker Sean Fox made his record a perfect 6-for-6 on extra points for the evening, the ball sailing through the uprights as Lower Merion took a 42-14 lead.
With 1:30 remaining, Harriton (0-5) faced a 3rd-and-11 from the Rams 45 yard line, and Rothberg hit sophomore receiver Matt Krebbs for a 55-yard catch-and-run down the left sideline for a touchdown which wrapped up the scoring.
The Aces (1-4) will finish their football season Nov. 21 in the annual Lower Merion-Radnor game.
“This win was a whole team effort,” said Augustine. “We’re looking forward to our next game.”
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