By MATTHEW De GEORGE
NEWTOWN SQUARE — You could boil down Marple Newtown’s Friday evening into two sets of plays.
To end the first half, the otherwise sputtering offense found life, moving the ball 47 yards in three plays. Likewise, Marple’s final drive of the game involved moving 48 yards on six plays.
But as was fitting on a day in which the Tigers could only muster 161 yards of offense in limited time of possession, both threats ended in disappointment — and end zone interceptions by Conestoga’s Brendan Caine — as the Pioneers pitched a shutout, 21-0.
“I am very pleased with the way we played today,” Conestoga coach John Vogan said. “We showed the balance that our offense needs to have of run and pass. And I think our defense played a hell of a ball game today. … It was just a great team effort in the three phases: Offense, defense and special teams.”
The Tigers’ offense was kept at bay all night by an active front seven of the Pioneers, led by Riley Pritchett. They forced four turnovers, including the two picks of Marple quarterback Tommy Davis, and corralled the running game to the tune of 29 carries for 106 yards (50 on 10 carries by Mike White, 36 on eight for Anthony Rosanio).
And when you consider that well over half of that production came on two series, it makes for an ugly offensive performance for the Tigers between those rare flashes of brilliance.
“It’s huge,” said Pritchett, who teamed with Nick Johnson, Scott Hirshman, M.H. Moses and Max Dolente to control the line of scrimmage. “Last week, we gave up a bunch of touchdowns. And it’s actually some of our offense too. They didn’t give us bad field position, and we filled the gaps.”
Conestoga’s offense did its part to help its defense, dominating time of possession. Where Marple Newtown had just 13 offensive plays in the first half, Conestoga had three drives of eight plays or more, including scoring marches of 13 and eight. In all, Conestoga took 56 offensive snaps; Marple Newtown (1-3) ran just 37.
“They did some things that we weren’t expecting, but then after that, we adjusted and we turned the ball over,” Marple Newtown head coach Ray Gionta said. “They had the ball, and we didn’t have that many plays in the game.”
The theme of the Conestoga offense all season has been the possession passing offense orchestrated by quarterback Joe Viviano. By Viviano’s lofty standards, that attack wasn’t as prolific as usual, accounting for just 143 yards. But what they lacked in yardage they more than made up for with accuracy. He completed 13 of his 18 attempts and scrambled effectively — including a 7-yard scamper to extend a drive in the first half and a 10-yard jaunt on third-and-long in the fourth quarter. Eleven of his completions found favorite target Andrew DeStefano for 133 yards, including an 8-yard strike in the first half and a beauty of a back-shoulder fade to the 1 for 25 yards on a third-and-22.
“We have a great relationship,” De Stefano said. “He knows when I’m going to cut, and he knows where to put the ball.”
But the added dimension Friday of Marcus Burton’s legs made the difference for Conestoga (2-2). He played the role of workhorse, toting the ball 31 times for 158 yards. He finished off the first drive with an 8-yard score, and he dove into the end zone untouched from the 1 a play after the final Viviano-to-DeStefano connection. Both running back and coach agreed that the lion’s share of the credit belonged to the big guys up front.
“It meant a lot to our offensive line,” Burton said. “They blocked well today, really well, and I did what I came to do. … I guess some teams might expect that pass, but obviously we can run the ball, so they should be looking out for that too.”
The Pioneers, though, made their mistakes. In a flag-filled game that featured four pre-snap infractions for each side, Conestoga left openings. A short punt in the first half set up Marple Newtown at midfield, but the drive ended in a fumble by White. That set off a 14-play march by Conestoga where Marple’s defense held to force a turnover on downs.
After halftime, another Conestoga turnover on downs gave Marple a chance near midfield. A pair of costly holding penalties on other series slowed the Pioneers, but Viviano seemed to always pull out a spectacular play to save the possession. And when they did punt early in the third quarter, it bounced of an unwitting Nik Rhoads in coverage to set up Burton’s second score and set the final margin.
Marple Newtown 0
Conestoga 7 7 0 7 — 21
Marple Newtown 0 0 0 0 — 0
C: DeStefano 8 pass from Viviano (Toroni kick), 7:05
C: Burton 5 run (Toroni kick), :50.6
C: Burton 1 run (Torono kick), 6:04
First downs 18 9
Rushes-Yards 43-170 29-106
Passing yards 143 55
Total yards 313 161
Passing 13-18-0 4-8-2
Punts-Average 1-12.0 3-31.2
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-2
Penalties-Yards 8-68 6-29
Rushing: Conestoga — Burton 31-158, Viviano 7-10, DeStefano 1-3, Prestipino 1-2, Team 3-(minus-3). Marple Newtown — White 10-50, Rosanio 8-36, Binder 2-18, DiFabio 1-12, Davis 8-(minus-18).
Passing: Conestoga — Viviano 13-18-0, 143; Caine 0-0-0, 0. Marple Newtown — Davis 4-8-2, 55.
Receiving: Conestoga — DeStefano 11-133, Dorsey 2-10. Marple Newtown — Vegso 3-45, Hamilton 1-10.