Upper Dublin defeated West Chester Rustin to capture the District 1 5A title. Photos provided courtesy of Troy Leatherbuy. Check back for a gallery of photos: https://solsports.zenfolio.com/f745224687
District 1 6A Final
#1-1 Upper Dublin 21, #1-3 West Chester Rustin 7
Kyree Butler called his shot.
The Upper Dublin senior lineman is listed at 6-foot-1, 315 pounds on the Cardinals roster but don't be deceived, Butler is an athlete. With UD sputtering a bit in the second quarter of Friday night's District 1 5A championship game against West Chester Rustin, Butler saw a chance to make a play.
The big man went for it, erupting through the line and blocking a West Chester Rustin punt with the Cardinals recovering and re-energizing their sideline and fans on their way to capturing an impressive third district title in the last five years (2018, 2020) and fourth overall since 2015.
"We had an opportunity to get back on them, I saw a window and I called it out before and told my teammate 'Watch this,'" said Butler, also a starter on the 2020 team. "They were sitting back a little bit and I knew we needed to turn the tide and get our offense back working. I went for it, and it turned out well for us."
There's been a pattern developing in Fort Washington under Bret Stover this past half-decade. In even numbered years, the Cardinals are a good bet to make the district title game and win it at the expense of West Chester Rustin.
While the Golden Knights gained some measure of payback by beating UD in 2019 playoffs, they've been on the losing end of the 5A championship in 2018, 2020 and now 2022.
Rustin also didn't get to enjoy much of Friday's proceedings either, although they did become the first team to score on Upper Dublin's defense this postseason. The Knights' fourth quarter touchdown snapped a 15-quarter shutout and reduced the Cardinals' aggregate score to a mere 121-7 in four playoff games.
They also had to burn a timeout before even running a play, and there were a total of four flags before three snaps had been taken. It was an odd first drive, with Rustin getting tagged for three false starts, picking up two first downs and ultimately punting after UD's Shyne Roberts led the defensive line in on a sack of quarterback David McClain.
"It's that bend but no break defense that (Dave) Sowers has," Stover said. "He's all upset we gave up a touchdown, but (Rustin) is a good team, and when you get to this point, they're all good teams. My hat's off to Mike (St. Clair) for getting to this point and giving us a heck of a game."
A theme for the night was penalty markers - the teams combined for 19 flags - with 14 of them going against the Golden Knights. To that end, the visitors were called for encroachment before UD's first offensive snap, not that the Cardinals needed much help, moving down the field on a drive which was punctuated with senior Colin O'Sullivan hitting Starling Reaves for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
Rustin's defense had its moments, but Upper Dublin's ability to score on its first possession and the first drive of the second half proved vital in setting the tone for the contest. O'Sullivan, who hoisted his second district title as the team's starting quarterback, has talked all season about the number of ways the Cardinals can attack defenses.
It wasn't the team's best rushing game, but UD picked up yards and moved the chains when it needed to on a night with some high, gusty winds.
"With this wind, they were starting to load the box and that gives us man-to-man out wide, and you can't play us man-to-man with the weapons we have on the outside," O'Sullivan said. "When the o-line can keep me standing, which they did all night so all credit to those guys, it's hard to stop us."
UD wasn't able to make much of its second possession, a called incomplete pass on fourth down ending the drive. Rustin seemed to be getting some traction as it started a drive that bridged into the second quarter.
Then, it all went dark.
As the teams were lining up for a third-and-4 with 8:55 on the game clock, the four tower lights at Cardinal Stadium went out, the result of a blown circuit breaker. While the press box, scoreboard and perimeter lights stayed on, the teams eventually left the field while the towers were turned back on and returned for a delay that lasted about 25 minutes.
"Nothing like that ever, that was just weird," O'Sullivan said. "It throws you out of your rhythm. We went down to the locker room and were able to talk, regroup then come back up here and play our game."
The crowd reacted well, with the two student sections and most everyone else in the stands lighting up their cell phones for a light show before the teams were ushered back to the locker rooms.
"It was pretty cool honestly, at least when everyone had the flashlights on their phones out," UD senior DJ Cerisier said.
Walking down the stairs to the team room, Butler admitted he thought about what might happen if the lights weren't able to come back on.
"I got a little nervous we'd have to move to the lower (Spark) fields," Butler said. "I'm happy we got to play the game out and got this outcome."
In a pretty fair summation of the night for Rustin, the Golden Knights were called for a false start before they snapped the ball following the delay, backing them up five yards before an eventual punt.
Granted, the Cardinals weren't able to do anything with their following possession but that punt had shown Butler something he liked. So, after a Chris Kohlbrenner tackle for loss and two incompletions, Rustin had to punt again.
The Knights did little to stop the rampaging dragon coming through their line. Butler jumped as the ball came off the punter's foot, stonewalling it and allowing Dominick Paone to recover.
"It's 7-0 at that point, you have the light thing, so you never know what you're going to get coming out of that," Stover said. "Kyree said he saw it on the first punt, and he just went for it on the second one. They kicked it right into him, I think he was trying to pick it up and score before someone came and fell on it."
Butler recalled blocking a punt as a sophomore, but the co-captain admitted this one was a little different.
"We just needed that boost," Butler said. "That's really all I wanted to do for our team.
"I felt like it started our energy on offense and brought the vibe back. We needed to settle in."
Upper Dublin traversed the 35 yards in seven plays with Jacob Cornbluth plunging in from four yards out. The Cardinals’ defense stood up one more time and took a 14-0 lead to halftime.
Reaves had a nice return on the second half kickoff and UD went right to work moving down the field with O'Sullivan pulling the strings. The senior completed four of five passes, two going to Cerisier, for 60 yards with Nyfise McIntyre capping the drive on a one-yard run.
Cerisier, who caught four balls for 46 yards, was unlucky to not have a touchdown reception when the official ruled him out at the one but had another solid two-way game at receiver and corner. The senior won his first district title on Friday and has enjoyed every step of the process, starting back with summer workouts.
"We stayed on our cues and locked in," Cerisier said. "The connection we all have has been very special. We just don't stop, even if there's a big play, the next play we're coming out better."
O'Sullivan was sound even in less-than-ideal throwing conditions, completing 15-of-28 passes for 186 yards and the touchdown. His lone blemish came when he was picked off in the third quarter on a throw that came as he was being hit.
It was a special night for the senior, who got to share the title with his younger brother Ryan - a sophomore - and the guys he considers his brothers on the team like Cerisier and Butler.
"It's unbelievable to have those guys," O'Sullivan said. "Any night, one of those guys can have 200 (yards) so you have to guard all of them. Being able to pick-and-choose when you play man-to-man against us, it's tough to stop. Having the chance to build those connections with guys throughout the season, it's starting to show now."
Nyles Bunn-McNeill added a key sack on a fourth down that stalled and ended Rustin's drive following the interception. UD also forced and recovered two fumbles defensively and held the Golden Knights to just 54 pass yards.
The Knights scored on a two-yard run by McDavid with 5:16 left. Upper Dublin recovered the onside kick attempt then grinded out the remaining clock to add another title to its growing collection.
"I have to clear a little spot in my office for that fourth trophy to go in," Stover, who was doused with a full cooler of water postgame, said. "I'll figure that out, that's an easy problem to fix."
"We're trying to do big things this year and we know it starts with us," Butler said. "It starts with our line, so we've been working hard every day since May and we're just happy we got to prove it tonight."
Upper Dublin will play in the PIAA 5A semifinals next week, but the Cardinals won't know who they play until Saturday afternoon. District 12 champion Imhotep Charter faces District 11 winner Whitehall in a 1 p.m. start at the Germantown Supersite.
No matter who emerges, UD will be a win away from its first trip to the state title game. In 2018, the Cardinals lost to Manheim Central in the state semifinals and in 2020, UD opted to forfeit its game against Erie Cathedral Prep in the Covid-19 altered season.
UPPER DUBLIN 7 7 7 0 - 21
WEST CHESTER RUSTIN 0 0 0 7 - 7