Upper Dublin's Bret Stover got emotional even before the start of the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA football final Saturday against North Penn, choking up while talking to his players in the locker room.
"I didn't want it to end here," Stover said. "I wanted to have at least one more week of coaching these kids. We wanted to take the next step."
The Cardinals did just that, exploding for 29 unanswered points in the second half and claiming the program's first district title with a 46-21 romp over the Knights before a packed crowd at Souderton.
"While others may have doubted us, we knew what we could do," senior captain Stacey Gardner said. "We just believed in ourselves. We know we're a good team."
Upper Dublin will take on District 11's Parkland in a state semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday at Souderton. The Trojans edged La Salle, 13-10, in overtime to advance.
After falling behind by two touchdowns in the first 8 minutes, North Penn responded with consecutive scoring drives of 65, 85, and 36 yards.
"In the first half, they did a real good job of keeping our offense off the field," said Ryan Stover, the Cardinals' quarterback and coach's son.
Trailing by 21-17 at the break, Upper Dublin (14-0) made a few adjustments on both sides of the ball and rallied with three third-quarter scores. The last one, a 3-yard run by Gardner that was set up by Gary Fields' fumble recovery at the North Penn 27, produced a 37-21 lead.
"High school football is about momentum," Bret Stover said. "We made some plays, got the momentum back. We didn't panic. This is a senior-led group."
Two minutes into the second half, the Cardinals went in front for good on Gardner's 13-yard burst around left end. After the defense forced a three-and-out, Stover directed an eight-play, 60-yard series that was capped by his 31-yard strike over the middle to Jack Rapine.
Ryan Stover, who has been terrific all season, connected on 14 of 23 passes for 241 yards. Gardner's fourth tally, a 9-yard run early in the fourth, made it 44-21.
Upper Dublin's defensive turnaround was spearheaded by Fields and fellow linemen Isaiah Henrich and Kaleif Lee, linebackers Gardner, Rapine, and Henry Winebrake, and strong safety Evan Scott.
Tailback Nyfease West carried 21 times for 118 yards and two TDs to spark North Penn (11-3) in the first half. The Knights hurt their bid for a seventh district crown with 10 penalties that resulted in a loss of 109 yards.
North Penn 6 15 0 0 - 21
Upper Dublin 14 3 20 9 - 46
UD: Ryan Stover 41 run (Todd Spirt kick)
UD: Stacey Gardner 8 run (Spirt kick)
NP: Dontae Stewart 4 run (kick failed)
NP: Nyfease West 6 run (Reece Udinski pass from Justis Henley)
NP: West 2 run (Brett Bealer kick)
UD: FG Spirt 28
UD: Gardner 13 run (Spirt kick)
UD: Jack Rapine 31 pass from Stover (Spirt kick)
UD: Gardner 3 run (kick blocked)
UD: Gardner 9 run (Spirt kick)