Unionville advances to the District 1 title game
● By Steven Hoffman
The long and magical season of the Unionville football team continued last Friday night as the Indians defeated Marple Newtown, 36-21, to advance to the District 1 championship game. The Indians, the third seed in the Class AAAAA District 1 tournament, will face top-seeded Springfield at 7 pm. on Friday, Nov. 24 in a bid to win the team’s first district crown since the 1990s.
On paper, Unionville (12-1) will be underdogs to undefeated Springfield (13-0), but against Marple Newtown the team demonstrated the resiliency, maturity, and toughness that has led to 12 wins in 13 tries. During Unionville’s post-season run, the team has been helped by the home field advantage and quick starts, but it was Marple Newtown that jumped out in front. The Tigers scored on just four plays on their first possession. Running back Marlon Weathers ripped off a 19-yard run. On the next play, Alden Mathes lofted a deep pass along the left sideline that wide receiver Dash Dulgerian hauled in for a 34-yard touchdown, making it 7-0 with 5:53 to play in the first quarter.
Marple Newtown’s defense forced Unionville to go three-and-out on the next series, and soon the Tigers were on the march again. Dulgerian showed why he is one of the best receivers in the area when he made a nice adjustment on a pass in the middle of the field for a 33-yard gain. Three plays later, Mathes connected with Dulgerian on a 10-yard play for a touchdown. With 2:46 left in the first quarter, it was 14-0. Marple Newtown’s offensive output was even more impressive considering that the team was without the services of senior quarterback Anthony Paoletti.
Unionville wasn’t about to panic, even though the team was trailing, 14-0, and they were struggling a little on both sides of the ball. When Unionville took over on offense, a nice run by Joe Fariello gained 25 yards and moved the chains. Unionville eventually had to punt, but they succeeded in flipping the field and pinning Marple Newtown deep in their own territory.
Good defensive plays by defensive tackle Joe Hagen and strong safety Joe Zubillaga forced the Tigers to punt from their own goal line. The Indians’s offense went back on the field with excellent field position—at the 28 of Marple Newtown. Two carries by Zubillaga moved the chains, and then quarterback Alex Gorgone had a nice pitch-and-catch with JT Hower for an 18-yard gain to the 3. Two plays later, running back Dante Graham scored from two yards out. The extra point attempt failed, but Unionville was on the board. It was 14-6 with 9:40 left to play in the second quarter.
Zubillaga and Hower continued their good work on Unionville’s next offensive series as Zubillaga picked up 26 yards on a catch-and-run and Hower caught a 17-yard pass along the sidelines. Two plays later, Zubillaga lined up under center and took the snap. He faked a pass, rolled to his right, found running room and sprinted into the end zone. Unionville opted to go for the two-point conversion. Gorgone rolled right and fired a pass to Hower to add the two points. The game was tied, 14-14.
Marple Newtown regained the lead—and it looked like the momentum—with 24 seconds to play in the second quarter when Mathes threw a 9-yard touchdown to Andrew Cantwell to make it 21-14.
On the kickoff, Hower took the ball at his own 5-yard line and turned in a dazzling 87-yard return that set the Indians up at the 8-yard line. Gorgone made that return count by tossing a touchdown pass to Zubillaga in the right corner of the end zone. Just like that, the game was tied.
Unionville head coach Pat Clark said that Hower’s kickoff return was a big spark for the Indians. When the team’s defense started the second half by forcing Marple Newtown to punt, it was a big moment in the game. Another big moment came a moment later when Zubillaga sprinted by a defender to haul in a catch that he turned into a 49-yard score. Zubillaga added two points, making it 29-21, when he scored from one-yard out on the two-point conversion.
On Marple Newtown’s next two possessions, the drives ended abruptly as Hower and Zubillaga each came up with an interception. While the turnovers didn’t result in points, they did allow Unionville to build on the momentum. Armed with a lead, the Indians’ offense put together a 12-play, 76-yard drive that took five minutes off the clock. Graham moved the chains with a couple of good gains during the drive. Zubillaga had a 12-yard run deep in Marple Newtown territory, and then capped the drive with a four-yard touchdown run. That made the score 36-21, and from that point on it was up to the defense to finish off the victory. Hower came up with another interception as the Indians secured a 36-21 win.
Hower and Zubillaga made big contributions in the win. Zubillaga scored four touchdowns and Hower helped out on offense, defense, and special teams. The Unionville defense, collectively, played a strong game, limiting Weathers and Dulgerian, two standout offensive players.
“I am really proud of how our kids settled in,” Clark said. “I’m really impressed with this group. That’s a good football team that we just beat. They are in the district semifinals for a reason.”
The 2017 Indians have now set a team record for wins with 12. Unionville also advanced to the final eight in the state tournament, a first for the team.
Unionville’s staff had already started the scouting work on the next opponent, Springfield, and Clark said that his team will have to play better defensively to stop the top seed’s offense.
Hower said that Unionville will be ready for the next challenge.
“We go in every week practicing hard to win,” he said. “We’re going to work hard for next Friday night.”