Upper Merion upends Phoenixville, 24-14
KING OF PRUSSIA >> As the Upper Merion football team continues to build confidence, the wins continue to follow. In the first Pioneer Athletic Conference showdown of the season, the Vikings held off Phoenixville 24-14 on Friday night.
The first offensive series of the evening ended in points for the Phantoms (2-3, 0-1 in conference), however the Vikings (3-2, 1-0 in conference) ability to stay calm and answer allowed them take control of the football game.
Phoenixville’s Lance Harris not only blocked the Vikings’ punt attempt, but corralled it and took it 35 yards for the opening score, just minutes into the contest. But it was not the energizing play it typically can be for a road team.
“You hope you can build off that (special teams touchdown),” Phantoms coach Don Grinstead said. “And they came right back and threw a long one down our sideline. We will learn and get better from this.”
The second offensive drive of the night went a little more to script for coach Victor Brown’s bunch. A few crisp routes from Vikings receivers allowed junior Dale Clayton to find his groove. Then, a 57-yard strike to Aaron Anderson allowed the Vikings to take a 7-6 lead they would never relinquish.
“To me, that might have been the biggest play of the game,” Brown said. “Our growth and our development is game by game. We learn from past mistakes and this time last year we would have folded. But when someone makes a play and you answer with a score that can be just as deflating.”
Clayton connected on seven of his first eight passes and finished with 130 yards through the air. He also took matters into his own hands down near the goal line and capped off two drives with rushing touchdowns of one and three yards.
“We wanted to do some things early to get Dale some confidence,” Brown said. “Dale is developing every week, every day. He had a one-year hiatus from football and he is continuing to grow. We are excited about his future.”
With the Phantoms defense forced to prepare the passing threat, the running game got going in the second half and senior Zaire Savage, who played quarterback in the absence of Clayton last season, carried the ball and ran the clock down on the Phantoms hope of rallying. Savage finished with 23 carries and 95 yards in the win.
Despite a large disparity in total yards of offense and the Phantoms inability to move the chains on offense, they were only down a score entering the final quarter of play. Clayton’s one mistake on the evening, an interception into the hands of Brady Asleton, allowed the Phantoms to take advantage of a short field.
“We got a little worn down because our defense was on the field so much,” Grinstead said. “Usually our offense does a great job with time of possession and wearing the other team down. Vic has done a good job over here. They beat us today and we have to get better from this.”
After the Aselton pick, starting the drive on their own 33 yard line, Phantoms quarterback found Matt Johnson wide open on a fourth down play call, streaking across the field behind the defense. His catch set up a five yard from bruising back Travis Pannella.
“We made some adjustments at the half,” Grinstead said. “We did not execute those adjustments and assignments. We struggled all night on offense, defense, and even though we had a special teams touchdown, we struggled there too.”
The combo of Pannella and Alex Washington rushed 23 times for a mere 56 yards and coach Grinstead’s group were unable to crack the Vikings stout defense. They lined up prepare for the two tight end set and the inside run and dared them to work outside the hash marks. And with the Phantoms unable to widen the field, the Vikings were able to turn toward their home stands at the end and raise their helmets in victory.
“Last year we were trying to find our identity and our footing,” Brown said. “It’s clear Dale is the guy for us. And our defense is playing great all year. I am pleased or team rose to the occasion. Phoenixville was a good test for us.”