Manheim Central Conquers Upper Dublin As Barons Advance To 4th State Championship Game In Program History
When most people hear the phrase “Final Four,” chances are that their minds automatically envision the conclusion of the month-long festival of college basketball known as “March Madness.” However, if you were to travel around the state, you may stumble upon a few isolated pockets within the commonwealth that could just as easily interpret the same phrase very, very differently. So much so in fact, that they may even think of a different sport altogether. One of those places that could fit the narrative —- Manheim, Pennsylvania.
After all, the good folks of Manheim have this same familiar story take shape a time or two. In fact, to be more precise, Friday night’s Eastern State Final would mark the 14thtime in their program’s rich and storied history that the Barons had been able to navigate their way into the state semifinal round. But to be fair, it shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise considering the preseason expectations placed on the 2018 squad.
Coming into the year, the District 3-5A collective bullseye was placed squarely upon the backs of the defending champion Barons to ultimately make it back to the District 3 finals for the third year in a row. And without question, Manheim Central has been able to deliver at each and every step along the journey this season as evidenced by their 13-0 overall record. And yes, rightfully earned back-to-back Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 2 and District 3-5A championship trophies along in the process.
As far their opposition on Friday evening was concerned, the story, at least on the surface, appeared to describe a much different tale.
While the Upper Dublin Cardinals may not have the same type of notoriety for their long-running historical success on the gridiron when compared to their Friday night counterparts, it would be nothing short of a tragic misinterpretation to assume that the Cardinals have totally been totally devoid of success, particularly of late. To be sure, the last few handfuls of senior classes that have had the privilege of proudly donning red and white have truly become the gold standard in the annals of Upper Dublin Football.
Outside of absolutely dominating the American Conference of the Suburban One League for the better half of the last decade, the Cardinals from UD have gone on to translate that same level of prosperity come playoff time as well with Upper Dublin having things culminate in a District 1 AAAA championship in 2015, advancing Upper Dublin to the Eastern State Final where the Cardinals would eventually bow out against eventual state runner-up, Parkland.
And just like that phenomenal year undoubtedly enjoyed by the residents of Fort Washington just three short years ago, this year’s cast of Cardinals have captivated their community once again by replicating much of that same magic.
Outside of a Week 4 defeat at the hands of Penn Charter this season, the Cardinals have successfully looked the part of arguably one of the best football teams hailing from the outer regions of Philadelphia. In fact, during their current nine game winning streak which the Cardinals carried into Friday night, Upper Dublin had been outscoring the opposition by an average score of roughly 34-12 — A streak which by the way just so happened to include UD’s first District 1 title since that memorable 2015 campaign with the Cardinals claiming the crown after a white-knuckle affair last Friday night against West Chester Rustin, 35-28.
But the fact of the matter is, and always will be, that historical facts and figures can only serve the purpose of tantalizing the palate heading into a matchup of this magnitude. And with that in mind, Friday night at Wissahickon High School promised to set the stage for an incredible affair between two of the very best teams in the entire state playing their best football of the season with Manheim Central and Upper Dublin set to look each other in the eye with only one having the good fortune of earning the right to play next Friday night in Hershey for all the marbles.
After Upper Dublin won the opening coin toss and deferred, Manheim Central was well-equipped to take the ball and go on offense first in order to help establish a tone that would help set the narrative for the rest of the evening. And for the most part, it appeared to be a wise decision in the early going as the Barons began methodically plodding their way down on the field on their opening series while riding the powerful frame of senior workhorse running back, Tyler Flick.
That is of course until disaster struck.
With Manheim Central poised to enter the Cardinals’ redzone, an Evan Simon pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, sending the pigskin twirling upwards into the night sky before landing in the mitts of Upper Dublin defensive back, Micah Bootman, as the Cardinals’ heady sophomore ended the Barons’ early threat with a timely takeaway.
In a game of this magnitude with literally everything riding on the line, wild momentum shifts such as the one had recently just taken place can help turn the game on a dime. And with their defense needing to make a stop in order to stave off an early haymaker thrown by Upper Dublin, the Manheim Central defense was able to rise to the occasion by delivering a key 3-and-out with the Cardinals having to punt away to the Barons.
However, the upcoming punt did not exactly go according to script for UD as Manheim Central’s Jake Martin was seen bursting through the Upper Dublin protection unit, partially blocking the Cardinals’ kick, allowing Simon and the high-powered Barons offensive unit to return to the field in superb shape as MC set up shop at the Upper Dublin 44-yard line.
And unlike their last time, the Barons would indeed be able to find the endzone this time around.
Aided early in the drive by a nifty Evan Simon keeper in which the Barons’ junior blue chip signal-caller was able to dash his way down to the Cardinals’ 10-yard line for a 34-yard scamper, the stage was set for Manheim Central and their sensational offensive line to do the rest of the heavy lifting. Sure enough, that is precisely what proceeded to take place over the ensuing few plays as Tyler Flick was able to walk in for the 4-yard touchdown run, putting the Barons on the board first at 7-0, which is what the score remained as the final 3:28 eventually ticked off the first quarter clock.
While Upper Dublin had been able to stand tall and weather the storm of a possible early Manheim Central onslaught throughout the first quarter, the fact remained that the Cardinals would need to go on the attack and mount some drives in order to author an early punch of their own. But unfortunately for the Upper Dublin faithful, that never seemed to take shape in the early stages of the contest with Manheim Central administering consistent three-and-outs to stymie the Cardinals and their attack.
And wouldn’t you know it, another three-and-out yet again would end up spelling doom for Upper Dublin.
With the Cardinals poised to punt it away to Manheim Central deep within their own territory, the Barons likely figured to go back on offense somewhere around the midfield stripe. However, the Barons would be able to do considerably better than that as the Manheim Central junior defensive lineman Tyler Hartl came charging through the line, blocking the UD punt before pouncing on his handiwork himself, as Hartl’s punt block set his offensive mates up in fantastic shape with the ball now resting at the Upper Dublin 7-yard line.
From there, it wouldn’t take the white-clad Barons long to find paydirt as Evan Simon rolled left out of the shotgun on 3rd& Goal before plowing his way across the chalk line as Simon’s hard-nosed 4-yard touchdown jaunt made it a 14-0 Manheim Central advantage with 8:46 left in the first half.
With Upper Dublin now staring up at what some teams may consider to an insurmountable hill to climb against the Barons, the Cardinals immediately answered the dinner bell with the same type of fervor and persistence that has come to define their program.
Sparked by an early 12-yard connection from Upper Dublin junior quarterback Mike Slivka to senior wideout Jason Scott which got things rolling, the Cardinals went back to the ground and pound game featuring battering-ram Mason Novak, as the senior fullback bullied his way down to the Barons’ 12-yard line with the UD offense clearly getting into a rhythm. Yet even when it appeared that the Manheim Central defense would put the clamps down and hold the Cardinals off the scoreboard after a gigantic Tyler Flick sack on 3rd& 7 on this series as well, the Upper Dublin offense remained undeterred by the challenge of 4th& 12 as a Slivka pass was rifled across the middle into the endzone, bouncing up for grabs, before eventually coming down into the waiting hands of UD senior receiver Jason Scott, as the Cardinals had been able to claw their back into a one score game at 14-6 following the unsuccessful 2pt conversion try with 2:10 left in the half.
Yet as so many Manheim Central opponents have had to bear witness to this season, so much time, or any considerable amount of time for that matter, left remaining on the clock is simply asking for trouble.
Sure enough, the late half back-breaker appeared to be well on its way on coming to fruition as Manheim Central’s Colby Wagner proceeded to return the ensuing kickoff back across the midfield stripe with the Barons going back to work at the Upper Dublin 45-yard line following Wagner’s solid return effort. And after a nice hookup from Simon to senior receiver Will Rivers contained early in the drive, the Barons were suddenly knocking on the door at the Upper Dublin 11-yard line. Ironically enough, that would turn out to be all the further the Barons would need to travel on the drive as an Evan Simon pitch and catch to junior wideout Ben Wagner promptly capped off the 57 second Manheim Central rebuttal as the Barons quickly went back up 21-6 with 1:13 left to play in the half.
However, Upper Dublin still had enough time left on the clock to mount a response of their own. And after a sensational kickoff 30-yard return by senior dynamo Lucas Roselli, Upper Dublin found themselves out at their own 45-yard line with the very real possibility of perhaps scoring before the half which became paramount considering the Cardinals were set to receive the second half kickoff as well.
While UD may have not gotten it in the most traditional of ways, the Cardinals were more than happy to see their late half drive continue on after an illegal substitution whistled against the Barons on 4th& 1 in what had appeared to be a sure-fire punting scenario. So, thanks to the fresh set of downs bestowed upon the Cardinals following the Barons’ costly penalty, Slivka and the UD offensive troops went right back to the task at hand with Slivka proceeding to hook up with senior wideout Selvin Haynes as the Cardinals had marched down the Manheim Central 33-yard line. Ultimately however, Upper Dublin’s promising series would soon be extinguished thanks to Manheim Central’s Isaac Perron, as the Barons’ senior defensive back picked off the last ditch Cardinal heave at the horn, sending the Barons into the dressing room with the 21-6 advantage at the intermission.
After turning away Upper Dublin in the waning stages of the first half and avoiding any sort of dent into their lead, it appeared likely that Manheim Central would take a page out of their historical playbook by running between the tackles and having the offensive line pave the way from Ambler to Hershey. And while it was true that the Barons leaned on the efforts of Tyler Flick and MC ground attack during their first series of the second half, an innocent-looking pass out in the flat from Simon to Will Rivers proved to be highly potent as Rivers proceeded to leave a host of would-be Cardinal tacklers behind in his wake as River’s 78-yard catch and dash propelled the Barons to a commanding 28-6 cushion with 6:11 left to play.
Now, with blood clearly visible in the water, the Manheim Central defense pinned their ears and began to hunt.
On the ensuing the Upper Dublin offensive possession, the Barons seemed to have everything sniffed out as a pair of back-to-back sacks administered by Nick Griest and Tyler Hartl respectively would conclude the short-lived UD series with the Cardinals having to punt back to a white-hot Manheim Central offensive ensemble.
Sure enough, the Barons’ offense appeared to continue operating in tip-top shape their next time out as Evan Simon took to the air once again before finding a streaking Will Rivers along the sideline for a spectacular over-the-shoulder 32-yard reception which ushered the Barons down to the Upper Dublin 22-yard line. Yet for as hot as the Barons may have appeared to be, the Upper Dublin defense was able to stiffen and keep the Barons out of the endzone on this series. But, they would not be able to keep the Barons off the board entirely on this drive, as a 38-yard field goal by senior kicker Niko Gavala put the Barons up 31-6 heading into the final stanza.
Once again, the Manheim Central only continued to press on and give Upper Dublin fits as the final quarter got underway as evidenced by senior defensive back Evan Hosler rising up and snagging an interception for the Barons on the first play of the final frame, giving the ball to the Barons’ offense in short order at the Upper Dublin 25-yard line, looking to inflict some more damage.
And just as he had been able to do his last time when called upon, Niko Gavala was able to come up big for his Baron teammates once again by booting a 25-yard field goal through the uprights to increase the Manheim Central advantage to 34-6 with 9:14.
In a situation such as the one that Upper Dublin had now found themselves in at the outset of the final period, many teams would have likely packed up their belongings and called it a night with their tails between their legs. But in a state semifinal game, the likelihood of that actually taking place would be rare to say the least. And sure enough, the proud Cardinals from Upper Dublin were not about to fall victim to that trap as UD responded with a workmanlike drive.
The key play in the drive? A 42-yard conversion on 4th& 1 from Slivka to Lucas Roselli which got the Cardinals down to the Barons’ 5-yard line. From there, facing 3rd& Goal at the Manheim Central 4-yard line, the Slivka to Roselli tandem proved lethal once again as the duo’s 4-yard TD connection allowed Upper Dublin to slice into the Manheim Central lead at 34-12 with 4:16 left to go.
Unfortunately however, that would prove to be the last offensive play that the Cardinals would muster this season as the Barons went on to salt the game away thanks to the hard-running of senior Chris Shaw down the stretch as the Barons had officially punched their ticket back to their second home, Hersheypark Stadium, and a date with destiny awaiting in the PIAA 5A State Championship game next Friday night.
Needless to say, making deep runs in the playoffs is certainly nothing new for Manheim Central. And while all are sweet and memorable in their own special way, this win, particularly in the way which last season ended, may feel a little more sweeter than most others considering many of these same Barons found themselves in this exact same position just one year ago —- A game in which the Barons would lose in an all-time classic to Gateway in the state semifinal round at Mansion Park in Altoona. But even though last year’s bitter defeat was at first understandably hard to swallow, it’s evident that it helped lay the groundwork that was essential for this group of Barons to take the torch and run with directly into the lion’s den.
“I think the experience of being there last year made them (Manheim Central) hungry of not being able to finish the job,” Manheim Central head coach Dave Hahn offered in the postgame Friday night. “Our seniors have been incredible leaders all year long. They just wanted to get there,” Hahn went on to say. “They (the seniors) have worked awfully hard since last December. There was no let up. So, I think they learned from that. Just the experience of being there and wanting to get back. They had a hunger.”
And now, thanks to Friday night’s triumph, just one large chocolate-style dish remains on this season’s menu.
NEXT UP: With their win on Friday night over scrappy Upper Dublin, the Barons now set their sights on the state championship against unbeaten WPIAL 5A champion, Penn Hills, who emerged as a 20-13 victor over Philadelphia-goliath Archbishop Wood Friday night, as both the Barons and Indians will wage what promises to be a war for the ages inside the massive caverns of Hersheypark Stadium next Friday night with both squads entering the ring with combined records of 29-0 next weekend.
“This is about to be the toughest week of the season,” Hahn, the 4thyear head coach of the Barons, said previewing the week ahead. “We’re going to face our toughest opponent so we have to test them (his players) and make sure they’re ready for the game. It’s going to be tough.”
For Upper Dublin, another incredible season for this proud program cruelly came to an end on Friday night as Wissahickon. But through it all, the ever-present pride contained within the community of Fort Washington for their beloved Cardinals truly stands on its own merit and should not go unnoticed. While only time will tell what the 2019 edition of UD Football will ultimately look like considering the losses of key seniors such as Selvin Haynes, Lucas Roselli, Mason Novak, Jason Scott, and Quinton Derr, all of which will leave considerable holes left behind to be filled, one thing remains clear when looking at Upper Dublin Football —This is a program built for the long haul. So while some may envision the Cardinals slipping back to pack somewhat when looking forecasting for next year, don’t be shocked if it turns out to be another memorable fall in Fort Washington.
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