By Rob Senior
Despite their recent struggles, Spring-Ford fans knew the explosive, senior-laden Rams offense was the team’s best chance to stop their recent skid on Senior Night at Coach McNelly Stadium.
In the process, they just may have saved the season.
TJ Pergine threw for three first-half touchdown passes (four total) and the defense forced five turnovers as the Rams cruised to a 51-13 victory over Pope John Paul II.
The Rams (6-4 overall) compiled 414 yards of total offense, led by Pergine’s 241 passing yards and 194 total yards by Justin DeFrancesco (143 rushing, 51 receiving).
With the convincing win, Spring-Ford stays alive in the race for one of District 1’s 16 6A playoff berths. Numerous results from Friday night and Saturday will determine the Rams’ ultimate fate, hopefully decided by Saturday afternoon. The first domino fell Friday night, as Upper Darby, who came into Friday one spot ahead of the Rams, fell to Ridley.
Pope John Paul II (7-3) had already secured its place in the 4A playoffs and entered the week No. 2 in the rankings. That position is likely to remain with No. 3 Upper Perkiomen losing to Owen J. Roberts.
The game’s opening possession saw PJP stymie the Rams’ offense, forcing a 3rd-and-long from the Panthers’ 31. That’s when Pergine found running back DeFrancesco on a beautifully designed screen pass for the game’s opening points.
After that, the Rams navigated some short fields thanks to interceptions by Tyler Edwards and Leo Van Hulst, with two more Pergine TD strikes (to Edwards and Dante Bonanni, respectively) sandwiched around a unique play where senior tackle Noah Silva took a direct snap in an empty backfield, rolled right and threw back across the field to a wide-open James Albert.
“We’ve practiced that play for a few weeks,” said Spring-Ford coach Chad Brubaker. “At this point in the season, you need kids to stay excited about what you’re doing. We have some more plays in our back pocket. They look great when they work.”
On the final play of the half, PJP quarterback Matt DeLaurentis found Dan Cirino from 14 yards out to get the Panthers on the board. AJ Natale added a 42-yard score early in the fourth quarter for the Panthers, but the Rams dominated time of possession late to secure their sixth victory of the year – and keep postseason hopes alive.
Edwards added another late interception and another TD catch on consecutive 4th quarter plays for Spring-Ford. The senior all-purpose player did a little bit of everything for the home team, finishing the night with two INTs and two TD catches – a standout performance on a roster littered with impressive statistics after a few frustrating weeks.
“We have no idea whether we’re going to make the playoffs,” Edwards admitted, “so as seniors, we wanted to come out tonight with a bang.”
The offensive outburst ended a month’s worth of frustrating performance for the Rams. Brubaker alluded to the introduction of a new set or two, but Edwards’ explanation was simpler.
“When our line can give TJ a pocket and not force him to scramble he’s gonna do damage,” he said. “Most games, we like to focus on the run – and we did – but we were also able to pick on the corners and safeties.”
For PJP, the loss extended their losing streak to three games, after a blazing 7-0 start. Next week’s District 1-4A playoff will likely see the Panthers in a rematch with Upper Perkiomen, the team that handed PJP its first loss of 2017. That may be all the motivation they need to turn things around.
“I think it’s clear I need to do a better job, preparing our kids, getting us ready to play,” said PJP coach Rory Graver. “We’re very excited for the opportunity to play Upper Perk. They really beat us up the last time we played, but we anticipate a excellent matchup.”
Spring-Ford’s fate isn’t certain yet, but if the Rams do make the playoffs they will likely do so as the 15th or 16th seed, meaning a showdown at the home of a district heavyweight next Friday.
“Once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen,” said Brubaker. “It comes down to whether your kids are energized, ready to play – it’s an opportunity for us to build on tonight.
“We’ll be a low seed. No one will expect us to win – and we’re fine with that.”