Coatesville took Spring-Ford to school last year in the first round of the District 1-Class AAAA playoffs. There was certainly a lot to digest mentally after that forgettable 60-28 loss in front of the homefolk.
And in what has become an unprecedented as well as unforgettable postseason run this fall, the Rams took their own head coach — of all people — to school two weeks ago in a when-will-it-ever-end, 28-26 upset of Ridley.
“I (learned) my play-calling was tight,” Chad Brubaker admitted.
The Rams jumped in front 28-0, then gave up 26 unanswered second-half points to Ridley before it was over and they barely graduated, if you will, into last Saturday afternoon’s semifinal at Pennridge.
“There are times when it’s appropriate to take a shot, like throwing in an obvious running situation or running play-action in a second-and-short situation,” Brubaker explained. “I didn’t do that against Ridley. I needed to trust our players, but I didn’t. That’s on me. They deserved better than that and I realized it after the game.
“Our skill players converted third-down situations over and over against Pennridge. That’s because we trusted them to make good decisions … our offensive line in pass protection and in their blocking schemes, our backs hitting the right holes, our receivers running quality routes, and everyone competing for the ball.”
The end result, of course, was a very impressive 35-24 win over Pennridge.
Not exactly a straight-A performance, mind you, but oh so darn close to it.
The No. 7 seeded Rams have passed all three of their postseason tests thus far. They weren’t exactly favored in the 43-27 win over No. 10 Garnet Valley, mainly because of flunking last year’s test against Coatesville and because Garnet Valley has had plenty of success in past playoffs. They definitely weren’t favored in the two-point thriller at No. 2 seeded Ridley, which was unbeaten and playing right smack in the heart of Delaware County’s blue-collar neighborhood.
And their honor roll run was supposed to end again Saturday in the mud at wind-swept (and quite chilly) Poppy Yoder Field.
It very well could have, too, when Pennridge turned an interception into six early points, then apparently grabbed the momentum with a miracle-like touchdown pass in the waning seconds of the first half to get them within three points (21-18).
But Spring-Ford — Brubaker and his football team — had done their homework.
And not only didn’t forget what they learned, but showed they did indeed learned their lesson … and it didn’t take a professor Knute Rockne type to see it.
The offensive line — center Montana O’Daniell, guards Zach Dorsey and Josh Boyer, tackles Mike Gilmore and Justin Meals, and back-up Andy Cutler — graded out well blocking and protecting. Jarred Jones and Yousef Lundi ran Ram-tough. And quarterback Hank Coyne, after a shaky start, was poised and near-perfect throwing the football.
The defensive line — rotating tackles Robby Varner, Mason Romano and John Manning, ends Zameer McDowell and R.J. Sheldon stuffed a vaunted run game and applied pressure to the passing game. And they sure got substantial help from linebackers Ian Hare, Kyle Hoffner, Andy Lovre-Smith and Jack Haney, corners Jared Shoemaker, Joe Bush and Joe Sink, and safeties Travis Daywalt, Ben Schein and Tate Carter.
“Pennridge did give us more looks defensively than we anticipated,” Brubaker said. “It didn’t really change our plan, but we did have to adjust our blocking schemes.
“At this point in the season, though, we’ve seen most fronts. But our offensive line, overall, did a nice job in recognizing and blocking them. They trust and execute our game plan.”
The offense also provided its share of help with the defense. Other than the first-quarter interception return, the Rams put together time-consuming drives and didn’t give Pennridge’s offense any notable short-field opportunities. That means a defense gets a breather, and can play without its back to the wall.
“Our offense did a better job of sustaining drives and taking what was there,” Brubaker said. “Our defense was on the field a lot less than the previous (two) weeks. That helps tremendously in the second half.”
It sure helped Saturday. And the big defensive plays came from just about everyone. Romano recovered a fumble on Pennridge’s first play of the game to set up the Rams’ first score; Haney and Carter came up time and time again to make key stops; Hoffner had a momentum-stopping interception in the third quarter that led to the Rams’ final score; and Daywalt’s first pick of the season came in the end zone to thwart another Pennridge threat with 7:38 left.
“Our defense is truly a team effort,” Brubaker noted. “We’ve had different kids make huge plays in different games all season.
The hosts wouldn’t get the ball again, mainly because of the Rams’ execution up front and four pressure-packed, third-down conversions — two Coyne passes to Gary Hopkins (26 yards) and Carter (15 yards), and two runs by Lundi (14 yards) and Jones (four yards).
Kind of a textbook finish.
The kind Brubaker and Spring-Ford will be studying up on again this week … and preparing for against someone – as in Coatesville — that gave them quite a lesson a year ago.
Advance tickets for Friday night’s (7 p.m.) District 1-AAAA final at Downingtown West are on sale in the Spring-Ford High School 10-12 Center athletic office. Championship game tickets are $6 each for adults and students. There will also be a fan bus leaving 4:45 p.m. Friday from the 10-12 center’s gymnasium/auditorium entrance. Tickets for the bus ride is $5 each and must be purchased in advance from the athletic office.
Don Seeley is the sports editor of The Mercury.
"Neutral Site", yeah right!
Rams will travel to Red Raiders backyard in District Title bout
By Dave Conard Editor, Tri County Sentinel
CALN—Coatesville head coach Matt Ortega must feel like he is on the top of “Santa’s Nice” list this year, as Christmas continues to come early for he and his Red Raiders.
Having finished the regular season with an 8-2 mark and being seeded ninth overall in District One, it looked as though the Red Raiders had tasted the last home cooking of the year.
If Ortega’s senior latent squad was to have any aspirations to advance past last season’s second round appearance in the PIAA class AAAA bracket, it appeared that they would be doing it in role of road warriors.
Instead, following an opening round win over # 8 seeded Unionville, the road to the PIAA District One title game has gone straight through the route 30 corridor and the friendly confines of Coatesville Memorial Stadium, and next week will be no different.
With # 16 Wissahickon securing an opening round upset win over #1 seed Downingtown East, who beat Coatesville 35-34 in the regular season, and #13 Neshaminy ending the season of # 4 Plymouth Whitemarsh, the table was set for the Trojans and Indians to be easy fodder for a Red Raiders offense that has been averaging 42.6 ppg. since that loss to the Cougars.
Despite the fact that #7 Spring-Ford (12-2) who defeated Pennridge by a count of 35-24, is seeded ahead of the Red Radiers, the PIAA has inexplicably given Ortega and Coatesville another holiday treat by staging the class AAAA District One Championship game in the Red Raiders own back yard.
Instead of a game of this caliber being held at one of many local suitable Universities like Villanova, West Chester or Ursinus College, all of which have outstanding facilities, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association decided on Kottmeyer Stadium at Downingtown West High School at 7 pm on Friday.
The Red Raiders, who last played at Kottmeyer Stadium on October 26th this year when they defeated the host Whippets by a count of 52-20, will now have the benefit of not having to endure the 35-mile, traffic hindered drive that the higher seeded Rams will have to embark on Friday afternoon en route to their first final appearance in school history.
Considering playing at Downingtown for Coatesville as a "neutral site" would be like the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies playing at a site as "neutral" as Camden Riverfront Park. Yikes!
In such a ridiculous turn of events, Rams head coach Chad Brubaker and his “never quit” Rams will just have to continue to do what they have since their impressive win over Garnet Valley in the opening round, take it one play at a time and play “Rams football”
“We need to play our game,” said Rams signal caller Hank Coyne. “We can’t worry about who lines up for the other team, like Class today, or where we wind up playing.”
“ We need to focus on playing our game and executing the game plan. If we make a mistake or miss a play we need to just shake it off and get right back at it, that’s what we did today when we let them get the lead.”
The winner of Friday Night’s game will win the Class AAAA District One title, as well as representing the district on December 3 or 4 at a “neutral site” against the winner of the LaSalle College vs. Parkland game (which even though being deemed a “neutral site” is being held less than ten miles from LaSalle at North East High School).
The Spring-Ford defense will have to find a way to derail the passing attack of the Red Raiders quarterback Emmett Hunt and the speed of wide outs Chris Jones and Andre Boggs downfield as the Red Raider scored on three long hook ups Friday night in ending Neshaminy’s season.
Make no mistake, the Rams remember vividly the feeling following last years season ending loss to Coatesville in the District One opening round and how it felt to walk of Coach McNelly Stadium’s turf on the losing end.
“We just shook off a couple of bad plays early,” said Spring-Ford senior Zameer McDowell. “This team just plays together and we will never stop playing hard to the last whistle. This is a great feeling, but now it’s time to get ready for Coastsville, we all remember last year and don’t ever want to feel like that again.”
“We know Spring-ford wants a shot at us,” said Coatesville head coach Matt Ortega Friday after the game. “Whether it’s Spring-Ford or Pennridge we will be facing an outstanding football team next week. We knew Neshaminy wanted to control the ball tonight so it was important to get on the board early, it will be the same next week.”
PERKASIE — The golden sunlight of the last Saturday of November cascaded through the trees around Poppy Yoder Field as Pennridge’s football team gathered around for one final time with teammates and family members.
There were some smiles, some tears and even some laughs. But one thing seemed to come across from the Rams as they headed toward the locker room for the final time.
They were visibly tired from a season that was a huge grind, and a week that no team should ever be forced to endure again.
Pennridge was beaten on Saturday afternoon in just about every way. On the scoreboard, Spring-Ford won by a 35-24 margin to advance to the District One Class AAAA against Coatesville next weekend.
In just about every other way that wasn’t measured in lights, Spring-Ford steamrolled Pennridge with a brutal physical presence that took its toll.
“They were big and strong up front,” Pennridge coach Randy Cuthbert said after it was all over. “We were worried about that all week.”
All of this then begged the logical question: did the physical toll of playing three games in eight days — all of them extremely demanding — end up sapping the life out of Pennridge?
“It had nothing to do with (playing on) Thursday,” Cuthbert said.
Maybe not just the Thanksgiving Day game, but the toll from an emotional and physical bloodbath of a game last week against Pennsbury added into that.
And then, there was the somewhat bizarre “will he play?” whisper debate about leading running back Mike Class.
Class was considered highly questionable heading into Saturday after suffering from concussion-like symptoms after the win over Pennsbury. All signs heading into Saturday morning had Class out of the game.
That changed quickly, however.
“I didn’t think I was going to play on Tuesday or Wednesday,” Class said. “I went to a doctor every day, and they said I was clear to play, but that didn’t fit the protocol for Saturday’s game.
“So Matt Pasquale (junior quarterback/linebacker) was great, and his dad called, and he’s a doctor at Lehigh. They have a great concussions program up there, and I was able to get cleared.”
While Class may have been medically cleared, it was also clear that he wasn’t close to the type of runner that averaged 8.8 yards per carry during the season. Class never went down upon first contact — until Saturday, when he never seemed able to break free of the Spring-Ford defense.
“He was working on it all week,” Cuthbert said, dismissing the impact of Class not practicing in a week. “They were bigger and more physical on us up front, and that made it difficult.”
When he was asked if he felt “normal” out there, Class left no doubt.
“I felt fine out there,” he said.
And yet, the performance left you wondering whether he really was.
And then when Kenny Crawford went out right before halftime with another concussion — and he was practically out on his feet by the looks of it before halftime when he walked back to the locker room — the die was pretty much cast in this game.
Jarred Jones broke free for a 74-yard touchdown right out of the break for Spring-Ford to increase its lead to 28-18. The visitors never really looked back.
“That was tough, because Kenny know both sides of the ball so well,” said wingback/outside linebacker Kyle Bigam. “We really missed him on defense.”
There will be a big-picture moment that comes up soon for Pennridge. This was a year beyond expectations of just about everyone. An 11-2 record, a Suburban One League Continental Conference title, a trip to the district semifinals.
But this was also a year in which everything clicked in the right place, with Class mixing in with a talented, senior-led offensive line, great senior skill players in Crawford, Bigam, Alex Krivda at quarterback and John Kim at wide receiver. The real challenge will be sustaining it.
For now, a good, well-deserved rest is on the docket after a pounding of a Saturday afternoon.
Spring-Ford races past Pennridge and into district final
By DAVE KURTZ
PERKASIE – Chad Brubaker was determined to keep the accelerator pressed to the floor in Saturday’s District One Class AAAA semifinal showdown at Pennridge.
Spring-Ford had strayed from its normal, aggressive approach in last week’s quarterfinal upset of second-seeded Ridley, nearly blowing a 28-point halftime lead, and the Rams coach wanted to make sure his club wasn't caught in the same speed trap this time around.
Consider it done.
Spring-Ford stormed into the fast lane and straight into the district finals, posting a convincing 35-24 victory over third-seeded Pennridge at frigid, wind-swept Poppy Yoder Field.
“This is more how we like to play,” said Brubaker after the PAC-10 reps advanced to next Friday’s showdown with Coatesville for the district championship and a berth in the Eastern final. “Last week against Ridley I got a little too tight. We play much better when we keep the pedal down. That is what we do best.”
What Spring-Ford did Saturday was operate with surgical precision on both sides of the football, racking up 394 yards of total offense and holding Pennridge to 256 – more than 100 yards below its normal output.
The SF-Rams set the tone on the first play from scrimmage when Mason Romano recovered a fumbled snap at the Pennridge 20. Five plays later Yousef Lundi bulled into the end zone from one yard out and the No. 7 seeds had a 7-0 advantage.
“We were really fired up,” said Romano, who had six tackles and shared a sack with R.J. Sheldon. “Today our offense did it and our defense did it, too.”
The positive vibes from the fast start didn’t last long. Pennridge came right back when Matt Pasquale picked off a Hank Coyne pass in the flat and returned it 28 yards to the end zone. Pasquale’s fumble recovery on the next SF series led to Kenny Crawford’s 2-yard TD run on the first play of the second quarter, and the SOL reps were suddenly up, 12-7.
Unfazed by the swift momentum change, Spring-Ford (12-2) found the answer as Coyne threw a perfect strike to Gary Hopkins for 61 yards and a touchdown with 11:01 left in the first half. It was 14-12, and the SF Rams would never trail again.
“That was just a beautiful throw,” Brubacker said.
Coyne, a three-year starter who has thrown for more yards than any other quarterback in school history, shook off the early misfire and finished 10-for-14 for 192 yards and 2 TDs in the blustery conditions.
“I just threw it up for him,” Coyne said of the tide-turning hookup . “Gary was where he had to be, caught it and took it to the house. We planned on throwing the football today, and we did.”
Spring-Ford’s offensive line – featuring Zach Dorsey, Josh Boyer, Mike Gilmore, Justin Meals and Montana O’Daniell – made it all happen, providing regal protection for Coyne in the pocket (one sack allowed) and clearing space with the brutal efficiency of a front-end loader on running plays.
The O-line's versatility was displayed during an 8-play, 51-yard scoring drive that included just one pass - a key 15-yard third-down connection from Coyne to Tate Carter. After setting up Spring-Ford at the 6 with a 31-yard bolt off tackle, Lundi finished the job with a one-yard dive for a 21-12 lead with 1:16 remaining in the first half.
Pennridge responded with a 9-play foray that covered 77 yards and ended when quarterback Alex Krivda hit Kyle Bigam on a fourth-down Hail Mary from 28 yards out just 7 seconds before the break. The P-Rams the missed the third of their four failed extra point attempts, and Spring-Ford went into the locker room with a 21-18 advantage.
“That was kind of a fluky play, but our defense hung in there,” said Brubaker. “Our offense was doing a much better job of allowing our defense to stay off the field. We have so many different guys that can make plays, and that’s the sign of a good team.”
One of the biggest plays came on the very first snap of the third quarter. Jarred Jones, who saw limited action in the first half, took a handoff, found a gaping hole on the left side and raced past the entire Pennridge secondary for 74 yards and a touchdown to up the advantage to 28-18.
“Jarred was a little banged up and we wanted him more focused,” Brubaker said of the decision to limit Jones’ first-half activity. “He was pacing the sidelines in the first half and we told him he didn’t have to get it all back on one play. But he did, and we’ll take it.”
Pennridge climbed back within 28-24 when Mike Class finished off a 6-play, 49-yard drive with an 11-yard TD run at the 4:30 mark. That was one of the few highlights for Class (2,359 rushing yards coming in), who was questionable prior to the affair with post-concussion symptoms. The stern Spring-Ford defense held the junior sensation to 62 yards on 20 carries, 135 below his season average.
“We weren’t sure if (Class) would play, but we were prepared for him,” said Romano. “Our defensive attitude was, ‘if you think you’re unblockable, then you are unblockable.”
Kyle Hoffner’s interception helped Spring-Ford overcame a lost fumble following Class' score, and the locals promptly went 50 yards for another touchdown – Coyne’s 25-yard pass to Zameer McDowell culminating the drive.
Trailing 35-24, Pennridge moved inside the SF 30 before Travis Daywalt’s pick in the end zone blunted the comeback attempt. Spring-Ford proceeded to run out the clock with a time-consuming, 13-play drive that included some aggressive play-calling. Coyne kept things going with clutch third-down throws of 26 yards to Hopkins and 15 yards to Carter, then took a knee from the victory formation at the Pennridge 3.
Spring-Ford was going to the district final.
“When Coach Brubaker came in here (in 2010), he set some high goals for this program,” said senior cornerback/wideout Ben Schein. “It took some time but we started to believe. The coaching staff has instilled a lot of confidence in us and it shows. Today, we finished the game.
“We kept our composure offensively and defensively. Every game there’s different people stepping up and making plays. It’s not just one person. Football is the ultimate team game, and that’s what we showed.”
Defense carries Spring-Ford to district final
PERKASIE — Spring-Ford extended its history-making football season at least one more week Saturday afternoon, and the Rams’ defense had a lot to do with it.
Spring-Ford may have defeated Pennridge, 35-24, in a District 1-Class AAAA semifinal to advance to the district championship game gainst Coatesville, but somewhat camouflaged by that high score was some solid play by the defense. That effort included three turnovers against Pennridge that included a fumble recovery on the hosts’ first play from scrimmage and two big second-half interceptions.
Mason Romano, a 6-foot-0, 210-pound junior defensive tackle, recovered the fumble that helped Spring-Ford take its early lead. Romano also shared a sack with 6-3, 200-pound senior defensive end R.J. Sheldon. Zameer McDowell, a 6-5, 220-pound senior defensive end, also registered a sack.
Kyle Hoffner and Travis Daywalt pilfered passes at critical stages of the game for the visiting Rams.
Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker was happy with those types of plays.
“Our defense is clutch,” said Hoffner, a 6-1, 185-pound senior linebacker. “They (Pennridge) are a big, tough, physical team, so we had to buckle down and stop them.
“We have a bunch of guys coming off past games in the playoffs. Everyone stepped it up.”
The seventh-seeded Spring-Ford squad won its third straight district playoff game after victories over Garnet Valley and Ridley to start the postseason run. Spring-Ford did so against a Pennridge ballclub that just won the Suburban One Continental Conference championship Thursday morning with a victory over Quakertown. Pennridge featured the likes of 6-5 senior quarterback Alex Krivda, junior running back Mike Class, who had run for well over 2,000 yards this season, and some other solid skill players.
Hoffner’s interception came with 2:24 remaining in the third period and Pennridge in Spring-Ford territory. Spring-Ford held a 28-24 lead at the time, and Pennridge was on the move after recovering an onside kick.
Spring-Ford converted the key turnover into a touchdown at the other end of the field when quarterback Hank Coyne found McDowell on a 25-yard strike on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 35-24 lead.
Spring-Ford complemented its offense with the defensive work that also included some plays up front by 6-1, 220-pound junior defensive tackle Robby Varner and senior Ben Schein in the secondary.
“We took on the blocks,” said Romano. “We had to keep fighting and fighting.”
The onside kickoff return gave Pennridge some extra momentum at that point, so Spring-Ford’s players knew they had to dig deeper to remain aggressive.
“They kicked onside in the second half,”added Schein. “It came down to us stepping up and challenging. We knew it would be a defensive battle in that regard. It was about keeping our composure defensively.”
The Spring-Ford coaches and players prepared diligently all week to prepare for another stout opponent in Pennridge.
“It comes down to knowing who is going where and preparing for the game,” said Schein. “So the work we did during the week determines the outcome of the game.”
McDowell was thrilled with the victory after he turned in another productive contest on both sides of the football.
“It is amazing, a good feeling,” said McDowell. “We knew they were a good running team.We knew we had to get pressure against them whether they were running or passing. We couldn’t let them get open.”
Brubaker felt his team forced Pennridge into difficult situations in order to pick up first downs and continue downfield.
“We had them in third-and-long and second-and-long,” said Brubaker. “We made plays on defense. We hung in there.”
Brubaker thought his offense executed better throughout the contest, allowing the defense to get a breather on the sidelines and stay refreshed for each ensuing defensive series.
“We had a ton to prepare for,” said Brubaker. “They have a lot of weapons. Each week we have to play better and better.”
Daywalt made his interception in the end zone with 7:38 left in the fourth quarter and Spring-Ford protecting its 35-24 advantage.
Spring-Ford took over on offense and ran out the clock by moving the chains four times.
Big plays propel Spring-Ford past Pennridge
By Don Seeley
PERKASIE — Big plays in the playoffs are well, just that ... big, as in very, very big. As in what often extends a team’s postseason run into late November and early December.
Spring-Ford’s frigid fans didn’t have enough fingers and toes to count’m all up Saturday afternoon, as the Rams came up with a slew of them offensively and defensively in a thrilling 35-24 win over host Pennridge in a District 1 Class AAAA semifinal showdown at Poppy Yoder Field.
And while all big plays can’t be measured by the yards or points they produce, Spring-Ford certainly had its share of them, too. None as key as in the final drive, which started with 7:38 left and — thanks to quarterback Hank Coyne converting a pair of third-down passes covering 26 and 15 yards, and Yousef Lundi running for 14 yards to convert another — ended with Coyne taking a knee as the clock wound down to all zeroes.
“The best thing that happened today was that we finished,” Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker said. “Those three third-down plays at the end ... we finished.”
Finished what was unquestionably the biggest win in the history of the Rams’ program, which hadn’t had a postseason win until this month’s three-game streak, and finished a school-record 12th win ... more than good enough to advance them into next Friday’s district final against Coatesville at Downingtown West High School.
“We’re the newcomers, and it’s like no one respects us,” Coyne said. “But ever since (the opening-round win over) Garnet Valley, we’ve had confidence, confidence that we can win and move on.’
Coyne showed that confidence, if not poise, by regrouping after his second pass of the afternoon was picked off and returned 28 yards for a touchdown by Pennridge’s Matt Pasquale. That turnover helped the hosts (12-2) make up for a game-opening fumble the Rams took advantage of by getting Lundi into the end zone less than two minutes in, and quickly got them back to within one, 7-6, after a quarter of play.
From that errant toss on, though, Coyne went 10-for-12 for 193 yards and two touchdowns — a 61-yard bomb to Gary Hopkins, which erased Pennridge’s first and only lead of the day, and a well-placed 25-yard strike into the back of the end zone to Zameer McDowell on the first play of the fourth quarter that capped the scoring. Those 193 yards were matched by an exact 193 yards on the ground, as Lundi (77 yards, 2 TDs) and unsung Tate Carter (33 yards) carried most of the load in the first half and the explosive Jarred Jones (89 yards, 1 TD) handled most of those responsibilities in the second half.
“That (interception) was totally my fault,” Coyne said. “I take full responsibility for that. I knew it was an interception as soon as I threw it, too. I just put (the pass) in the wrong spot.
“But I forgot about it. I didn’t get down. None of us got down at all.”
Instead, they came up with those big plays after big plays after big plays.
The first was Mason Romano’s fumble recovery on the first play from scrimmage, setting up Lundi’s first one-yard burst into the end zone. The second was the Coyne-to-Hopkins connection for a 61-yard touchdown that gave the Rams a 14-12 lead, and one they wouldn’t relinquish the remainder of the day.
The third, and perhaps one that hurt Pennridge most, was Jones’ coming off the bench and taking his initial handoff on the first play of the second half. He got a seam, found the open field and bolted 74 yards ... absolutely taking the gas out of Pennridge, which revved up its comeback engine with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Alex Krivda to Kyle Bigam on the next-to-last play of the first half.
“Jarred’s run was just a tremendous play,” Coyne said. “We gave (Pennridge) a gift there at the end of the half, but his run took a lot of pressure off us. That and the two interceptions were real keys, real big plays.”
Again, big plays.
Pennridge refused to go away, but Spring-Ford’s defense — which limited 2,000-yard back Mike Class to just 62 yards on 20 carries — made sure Pennridge didn’t stay close, or close for any significant matter of time.
A little over seven minutes after Jones’ dash, Class capped a 49-yard drive by going off the right side from 11 yards out to make it 28-24. Then the ensuing onsides kick bounced off a Spring-Ford up-man and was recovered by Joe Masgai. Four plays later, on first down from the Rams’ 40, Spring-Ford’s Kyle Hoffner picked off Krivda. That not only ended a possible go-ahead score, but set up Coyne’s toss and McDowell’s highligh-reel reception in the back of the end zone with 11:55 left in the game.
And then, whatever comeback hopes Pennridge may have been entertaining ended 10 snaps later when Travis Daywalt intercepted Krivda in the end zone with 7:38 left.
Then the offensive line, which permitted just one sack and played yet another superb game against a sizable defensive front, paved the way for Coyne and the Rams to take care of that final 7:38.
“Our offensive line did an outstanding job, like its done all season for us,” Coyne said.
The entire offense did, Coyne included.
“After he threw that interception I kind of got into his ear,” Brubaker said. “He came right back after that.”
So did the Rams — all of them.
“We played Garnet Valley well, played Ridley well, so this is nothing new,” Brubaker said. “The kids responded to the stage. Each week they’re getting better and better. They keep responding. I think this was our best of the year, but it should be this time of the year.
“Now we have another opportunity (with Coatesville in the district final). But we have a ton to prepare for. So we’ll have to play better and better and better.”
In addition to Romano’s fumble recovery and the Hoffner and Daywalt picks, the Rams also got two sacks — one shared by Romano and R.J.Sheldon and the other by McDowell. ... Pennridge, averaging just under 400 yards a game, was limited to 252. ... The run game produced just 136 yards on 37 attempts. Krivda was 8 of 17 for 116 yards, with half of those completions and 71 yards going to Bigam. ... Spring-Ford’s offense was split right smack down the middle (193 run, 193 pass) for the second time this season. In Week Eight’s storm-shortened win over Owen J. Roberts, the Rams went 125 on the ground and 125 through the air.
Jones, Spring-Ford pass Class test
By Darryl Grumbling
PERKASIE — The status of each team’s feature back was a feature angle heading into Saturday’s District 1-Class AAAA semifinal.
Much ado had been made all week about whether Pennridge workhorse Mike Class would see action after reportedly suffering a concussion during a quarterfinal victory the week before over Pennsbury.
Spring-Ford junior tailback Jarred Jones, meanwhile, was a question mark as well, having come out of last week’s quarterfinal win over Ridley with a bruised knee.
So when Class started the game and Jones remained on the Spring-Ford sideline, conventional wisdom suggested it would be a huge advantage for the third-seeded hosts.
Over the final two quarters, however, the tale of the two standout rushers took a decided turn to the Spring-Ford side.
Jones didn’t earn his first carry until the first play of the second half, but boy was it a memorable one — a 74-yard TD sprint that set the tone for a strong finish as Spring-Ford continued its scintillating season with a 35-24 victory at Poppy Yoder Field.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Jones wound up collecting a team-high 89 rushing yards on 13 carries to help the seventh-seeded Rams (12-2) advance to Friday night’s AAAA final against Coatesville at Downingtown West.
The Rams defense, meanwhile, turned in an impressive collective effort against Class — holding the 2,000-yard rusher to just 62 yards and one TD on 20 carries.
“You’re not going to stop a kid like him,” Spring-Ford coach Chad Brubaker said. “But I thought we contained him. He had some nice plays, but we bottled him up down the field and I don’t recall him having any huge plays.”
After breaking down game video and noting the tendencies of the Suburban One Continental Conference champions, Brubaker put in a separate scheme that involved inserting Jack Haney and Tate Carter to provide a different look in the hopes of limiting Class, who sat out Thursday’s 28-13 win over Quakertown before being cleared to play Friday.
“He’s slippery, and he makes people miss,” Brubaker said. “We wanted to get everybody around the football when he had it; we wanted to grab cloth and make sure we bottled him up.”
That they did. Except for an 11-yard TD run that got Pennridge within 28-24 with 4:30 left in the third quarter, Spring-Ford didn’t allow the 5-11, 185-pound junior a double-digit gain.
Jones, on the other hand, made it worth the wait for his first offensive touch.
“I was pretty banged up all week,” said Jones, who admitted he was “about 80 percent.” “When coach said, ‘Get ready,’ I was ready to go.”
After finally hitting the field on a kickoff return just before the half, he made his presence felt in big way when the teams returned from the locker room after intermission.
“I told him right before he went in, ‘Listen, you don’t have to get it all on one play,’ ” Brubaker said.
Jones, however, had other ideas. He took a handoff from quarterback Hank Coyne, burst through a gaping hole off left tackle, bounced it outside and raced to the end zone.
“Then when he came back, I said, ‘I told you that you didn’t have to get it all in one play,’ ” joked Brubaker.
“He’s a very good back,” Pennridge coach Randy Cuthbert said of Jones. “And when you put him behind a really big line like that and he’s not getting touched until he’s a couple yards downfield, you’re in trouble.”
“I just wanted to get the first down, then it opened up,” said Jones. “I saw (wide receiver) Gary (Hopkins) get his block and I just followed him.”
And the Rams followed suit en route to another potent and balanced attack.
Coyne, who had earlier connected with Gary Hopkins for a 61-yard touchdown, unloaded a 25-yard strike to tight end Zameer McDowell to seal it in the fourth quarter.
Junior Tate Carter came up with some huge receptions and clutch runs. And Yousef Lundi ran for 77 yards as the Rams amassed 193 rushing yards.
“Jarred’s been banged up,” Brubaker said. “He didn’t take any first team reps during the week. But when he’s in there, it helps us so much. It allows us to put Tate Carter at wide receiver, and allows us to rotate the backs a little so everyone is fresh.”
Jones, who missed a total of seven games earlier with a broken wrist and ailing shoulder, has still managed to rush for 927 yards and an 8.6 average.
“It was a little bit frustrating,” he said of his injury issues. “But these past few weeks (in the postseason) have been great. I don’t want it to end.”
It didn’t Saturday, thanks both to a triumphant return by Jones and a defense that passed the “Class” test.
Spring-Ford, Pennridge regrouped, ready for District 1-AAAA semifinal
By Don Seeley
PERKASIE — For a good part of a week, it seemed everyone was asking who would be playing and who wouldn’t be playing for Spring-Ford on Thanksgiving eve, and who would be playing and who wouldn’t be playing for Pennridge on Thanksgiving morning.
Everyone got their answers, some of which they liked and, of course, some of which they didn’t like.
But there will be no such questions today, because both Spring-Ford and Pennridge have regrouped and re-energized their football engines since their mid-week holiday commitments, and both are Ram-ed up for this afternoon’s (1 p.m.) District 1-Class AAAA semifinal showdown at Poppy Yoder Field.
Seventh-seeded Spring-Ford (11-2) will be more rested, of course, because of using non-varsity starters in Wednesday night’s 49-0 loss to Phoenixville. Third-seeded Pennridge (12-1) may need a little time to refresh physically after using most of their regulars for three quarters or more in Thursday morning’s 28-13 victory over Quakertown, which clinched an outright Suburban One Continental Conference title.
But Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker doesn’t see any advantage, for his own Rams or for Pennridge head coach Randy Cuthbert’s Rams.
In other words, it’s the postseason … time for everyone to get Ram Tough.
“We just decided we were going to let our (varsity starters) have as much recovery time as possible,” Brubaker said earlier this week, not long after the 28-26 district quarterfinal win over Ridley and his decision to sit his regulars against Phoenixville.
“I feel for the situation (Pennridge) was in as well. But I really don’t see us having any advantage.”
One reason why, Brubaker said, is because Pennridge is a very good football team.
“Pennridge has big, tough kids who really hit and tackle well,” he explained. “They have shown multiple looks, and we’re going to have to identify those looks and get into better plays. But each week presents new challenges for us.
“Teams that win in the playoffs are the teams that play well defensively, protect the football, and play consistent offense. Pennridge does all of those things. They’re good. They’re well-coached.”
What Pennridge does as well if not better than anyone Spring-Ford has lined up against this year is run the football.
Mike Class, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior, has carried 273 times for 2,359 yards. That’s almost nine yards a pop. He’s finished 31 of those carries in opponents’ end zones. That’s nearly once every nine carries. He’s had the opportunity to take a breather along the way — and Pennridge hasn’t really lost a step thanks to MacKenzie Crawford, a bruising 6-foot-2, 230-pound fullback who’s added another 725 yards and five touchdowns.
However, the big news to come out of Quakertown on Thursday — other than the one-win Panthers giving their guests all it could handle — was the absence of Class in the Pennridge backfield. Cuthbert said it was to give his standout a rest, while suburbanonesports.com reported Class suffered a concussion in last week’s game against Pennsbury. During a post-game interview, Cuthbert wouldn’t guarantee Class is going to be taking any handoffs today.
“We’re not sure if Mike is going to be able to play or not (today), that is up to the trainer and doctor,” Cuthbert told suburbanonesports.com. “His safety and health is our number one concern.”
If Class is unable to go, Pennridge will need the type of production it got from Crawford, John Kim and Kyle Bigam against Quakertown. The three carried a combined 36 times for 189 yards and three of their team’s four touchdowns (Kim caught a scoring pass to account for the other).
“(Class) is a very good high school running back,” Brubaker said. “We don’t know if he’ll play or not, but we’ve prepared as if he is playing.”
Brubaker and his Rams have prepared for quarterback Alex Krivda, too. The 6-foot-5 senior has thrown for 1,076 yards and 13 touchdowns. Krivda — as well as Cuthbert and his staff — are well aware of how just a week ago Ridley dug itself out of 28-0 hole by throwing into, through and over the Spring-Ford defense for 280-plus of its 400 yards in that near-complete comeback second half.
With Class out Thursday, Krivda went up top 11 times and completed six for 62 yards and the one touchdown to Kim.
“I think Pennridge will do what they do (which is run),” Brubaker explained. “We prepare for an offensive scheme and note where key players are at all times. We tweak our defense every week to get our best possible defensive menu.
“That said, they’ve seen the (Ridley game) film. But Ridley’s offensive output was a result of our offense not putting together drives and taking what Ridley gave us. I was disappointed in our offensive decision making.”
If those decisions improve, of course, Pennridge — which features the outstanding threesome of Bigam, Andy Graff and Jeremy Xander on the defensive side of the ball — will have to play as well as it has all season, too.
Spring-Ford has a little snap (Jarred Jones), crackle (Yousef Lundi) and pop (Tate Carter) in its run game. Jones, with 838 yards and nine touchdowns in just five games, can find the end zone from anywhere on the field. Lundi, with 959 yards and 14 touchdowns, can deliver in that tough short-yardage situation as well as bust through a secondary. And Carter, with 678 yards and nine touchdowns, can take snaps out of the Wildcat formation and create havoc running or throwing the ball.
But throwing the ball, for the most part, is for quarterback Hank Coyne. The senior has passed for 1,687 yards and 22 touchdowns against just four picks. And, as Coyne will readily admit, getting time to throw — thanks to a protective front line — and throwing to a pair of tight ends like R.J. Sheldon and Zameer McDowell and others like Gary Hopkins and Carter sure makes it a little easier.
Nonetheless, the offense will have to produce considerably better than it did at Ridley.
“We were feast or famine in that game,” Brubaker said. “We only ran 53 offensive plays and had 270 yards. The problem was that we lacked consistency in our decision-making, both before and during the play. Our message in (our films session) was, ‘take what they give us.’ We can’t try to make a play that is not there.”
Not against Pennridge.
Not against anyone this time of the year.
“We’re going to have to protect the football and remain consistent on offense,” Brubaker said. “We have to turn the ball over on defense, not allow the big play.
“There are no cupcakes in District 1. We’re going to have to play our best game of the season. But our kids will be ready.”
Spring-Ford leads the series, 2-0, recording the wins in 1991 and 1992 by respective scores of 20-15 and 52-16. … Wednesday night’s game was a single-season record 13th for Spring-Ford, which had never before played more than 12 since the program first kicked off in 1955. … Pennridge has already set a school record for wins in a season. The team’s unbeaten league mark (7-0) was the program’s first since capturing the former Bux-Mont League title with a perfect 9-0 run back in 1964. … Coatesville defeated Neshaminy 63-28 in the other AAAA semifinal Friday night. Former Spring-Ford standout Jay Weidenbaugh is a longtime assistant on Neshaminy’s staff.
Many similarities between Spring-Ford and Pennridge
By Don Seeley
If there is one thing both Spring-Ford and Pennridge learned in last week’s District 1-Class AAAA quarterfinals, it was how no lead is a safe lead … and how to, well, hang on.
Spring-Ford had a 28-0 halftime lead, then withstood a Ridley air attack for a 28-26 win — which wasn’t secured until Zameer McDowell dropped Ridley’s quarterback one yard short of the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt with 2:46 remaining. Pennridge had a 28-7 lead late in the third quarter, then withstood a very impressive Pennsbury rally for a 28-27 win – not secured until Pennsbury’s final point-after attempt hit the upright with 1:47 remaining.
Eerie similarities, for sure.
Big leads nearly blown.
A two-point win, a one-point win.
And both teams are coming off their traditional Thanksgiving games — Spring-Ford against Phoenixville (played Wednesday night), and Pennridge against Quakertown (played Thursday morning).
On top of all that, they’re both the Rams.
So, dare we say it? Sure, why not.
This afternoon’s district semifinal could be (and probably will be) a “Battle of the Battering Rams.”
But the similarities don’t necessarily end with what happened last week.
Spring-Ford has a couple of backs, namely Jarred Jones and Yousef Lundi, who love to run anywhere their line leads them. Pennridge has one particular back, Mike Class, who loves to run anywhere his line leads him.
All three scat, scoot and sprint rather well, too.
Jones, who missed six midseason games but has been back for the last three, has 838 yards and an area-high 8.8 yards per pop average. Lundi, who was the workhorse in Jones’ absence but has since returned to his normal fullback spot, has 959 yards and a team-high 14 touchdowns. Class, meanwhile, is absolutely in a class of his own, bettering the combined Jones-Lundi numbers with 2,359 yards, an 8.6-yard per carry average, and 31 touchdowns – and that’s despite not carrying the ball one single time Thursday against Quakertown when he sat out with a reported concussion.
Spring-Ford has a very good quarterback in Hank Coyne, as does Pennridge in Alex Krivda.
Both throw the football very well, and quite accurately.
Coyne has completed 54.1 percent of his attempts for 1,687 yards and 22 touchdowns, and has three very good receivers in Tate Carter, Gary Hopkins and R.J. Sheldon. Krivda has completed 53.6 percent of his attempts for 1,076 yards and 13 touchdowns, and has two very good receivers in Kyle Bigham and Micah Stutzman.
Add all of those numbers up, along with their respective unsung teammates’ contributions, and you get Spring-Ford — without the non-varsity starter’s production Wednesday night — averaging 356 yards and 36.8 points a game, and Pennridge averaging 391 yards and 33.2 points a game (after capturing the Suburban One Continental Conference championship with the 28-13 win Thursday morning at Quakertown).
“I’ve seen both (teams),” a Suburban One Conference assistant coach said off the record earlier this week. “They are very similar on offense. Spring-Ford may be a little more balanced with the run and pass, but Pennridge has Class, he’s a game-changer, and Krivda is a darn good quarterback, too.”
So what gives, or what will give?
Well, no postseason game, in any sport when you come to think of it, is ever won without defense.
Needless to say, the teams’ similarities run the gamut on the other side of the ball, too.
Spring-Ford has some size up front, gets to the football pretty well, and had limited opponents to 17 points a game prior to the Phoenixville mismatch. Pennridge has some size up front, gets to the football pretty well, and has limited opponents to 19.3 points a game.
Sure looks like an even-up, or quite intriguing, game — according to the math, or at least on paper.
So, dare we say it one more time? Sure…
“A Battle of the Battering Rams.”
Don Seeley is the sports editor of The Mercury. He can be reached at email@example.com
Phantoms accomplished goals
By Don Seeley
ROYERSFORD — For nearly an entire week, Bill Furlong kept hearing how his Phoenixville football team would be greeted by Spring-Ford’s non-varsity starters when they kicked off their final game of the Pioneer Athletic Conference season Wednesday night.
Sure enough, the Phantoms were.
And did they ever take advantage of the opportunity — which presented itself when Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker made the decision to rest his regulars for Saturday afternoon’s District 1-Class AAAA semifinal showdown at Pennridge.
Some will remember it as a mismatch, which it certainly was.
The Phantoms dominated both lines of scimmage, well behind and past them too, depending on direction they were heading or defending. They scored on four of their initial five possessions of the first half; got the running clock when an interception was returned for touchdown just 1:45 into the second half; and scored two more times to close it out at 49-0.
Furlong was happy, and not only for finishing up at 6-3 in the PAC-10 and 7-5 overall, but for finishing up with one of the best performances of the long season ... albeit it against non-varsity starters or not.
“I thought we executed well,” he said. “The kids played hard and played together. Our goal coming in was to play our best game, and we accomplished that goal. And playing (against non-varsity starters) doesn’t take away anything from this.”
Nor should it.
As they have been for a good part of three seasons, seniors Ryan Yenchick and Ryan Pannella — along with unsung fellow seniors Tom White, Chris Demy and Sean Hesser — were superb. Yenchick was his usual workmanlike self, running for more than 90 yards and three touchdowns and catching one pass on offense and popping up around the ball more than enough times on defense. Pannella dictated his blocking space at tight end and caught a pass on offense and dominated whatever area he chose to be in, punctuated by a pair of sacks, on defense. White was his usual blue-collar, bullish self up front on both offense and defense (with one sack). Demy, who in his first year at quarterback matured beyond many’s expectations, ran for one score and kept Spring-Ford honest in the box by completing fives passes. And Hesser ran for one touchdown and returned that interception for another.
Still, as well as the Phantoms played and as often as they scored — and as happy as Furlong and his staff were — so were, believe it or not, Brubaker and his cast of non-varsity starters, many of whom never got any time at all in a Friday night or Saturday afternoon game this season.
“Coach (Brubaker) told us we played a good game,” said two-way sophomore end Bryce Rhodenbaugh, who’ll share Thanksgiving dinner today with his father, Phoenixville assistant coach Gary Rhodenbaugh. “Our defense wasn’t that bad. I think we lived up to (Brubaker’s) expectations.”
“I actually thought our kids played well,” said Brubaker, whose Rams will take an 11-2 overall record into Saturday’s matinee at Pennridge. “They hit, and was a great opportunity for us as a staff to see them and evaluate their play.”
What Brubaker saw was his team surrender a lot of yards and, of course, a lot of points. But, as he pointed out, there weren’t many noticeable big plays.
The Phantoms took the opening kickoff and drove 66 yards in 13 plays, then their next possession 56 yards in 11 plays for the 14-0 lead after one quarter. And interception and respectable punt return set up two short-field, scoring drives to double that spread after two quarters. Then the Rams’ defense thwarted another drive that go to their own 21 right before the break.
“Everyone was excited to play,” Rhodenbaugh said. “I know I was nervous in the beginning, and others were, too. But we were excited to be playing in a Thanksgiving game. I think we gave (Phoenixville) a good game.”
“Our kids played tough,” Brubaker said. “I’m happy with a lot of them because they were physical, and they didn’t back down. They played a very good seven-win team, and it’s a shame because the scoreboard doesn’t reflect that.”
Phoenixville’s dominance up front didn’t allow the Rams to get any run game going, and three quarterbacks — Brandon Leacraft, Zac DeMedio and Matt Daywalt — were hurried six times and sacked four times, which went a long way in explaining their combined 9-for-21 with three picks.
So, in the end, Furlong and the Phantoms got the win they sought ... and earned in every aspect.
And Brubaker and the Rams had no regrets over the decision made to go with non-varsity starters.
“We have an opportunity that’s never occurred before in the history of our program,” Brubaker said, referring of course to Saturday’s district semifinal. “We have to make the most of it.
“To play for a possible district title is an opportunity that you don’t often get. It’s like a bowl game, what everyone’s goal is. And no one stops in the middle of the playoffs, or in working toward achieving that goal. It’s unfortunate (going with non-varsity starters) but it’s the way we decided to play it out. You can’t please everyone.”
Phoenixville finished behind Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford — both 7-2 — and champion Pottsgrove (9-0) in the final PAC-10 standings. ... Tickets for Saturday’s District 1-Class AAAA semifinal at Pennridge will be on sale from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the high school gymnasium lobby entrance at Spring-Ford High School. ...
Oehlert Brothers Player of the Week - Jared Shoemaker
Phoenixville won’t go easy on playoff-focused Spring-Ford
By Don Seeley
ROYERSFORD — There’s no question Spring-Ford has captured the fancy of its loyal following, and a lot of Pioneer Athletic Conference football fans’ attention as well, with its current postseason run in the District 1-Class AAAA playoffs.
Phoenixville head coach Bill Furlong and the Phantoms will be among the well-wishers when the Rams travel to Perkasie on Saturday for a semifinal shootout with Pennridge.
Just don’t expect Furlong or the Phantoms to be cheering for their Pioneer Athletic Conference rivals tonight when they meet at Coach McNelly Stadium. And don’t expect them to give two hoots that they’re lining up against Spring-Ford’s non-varsity starters, either.
“We’ve preached all year that our goal is to play our best game that week, and that hasn’t changed (for tonight),” Furlong explained. “That’s our goal, regardless of the other team’s record, what injuries they may have…
“We have to be ready for anything. We have to be ready for (Spring-Ford), too, because their junior varsity players are pretty darn good. They probably would’ve had a few wins in our league this year.”
If tonight’s game does indeed play out as it appears it will, the Phantoms (5-3, 6-5 overall) — who have been idle since a District 1-Class AAA first-round loss to Interboro two weeks ago — will obviously be heavily favored over the Rams (7-1, 11-1).
Furlong has a handful-plus of the area’s top players in two-way starters Sean Hesser, Brian Hyland, Cole Luzins, Ryan Pannella, Tom White and Ryan Yenchick. He also has four more, namely Chris Demey, Zack Gallow, Paul Hossler and Brian Madden, who’ve contributed way beyond early-season expectations.
Offensively, the Phantoms have moved the ball well enough to average 325 yards a game. Yenchick (1,019 yards), Justin McDougal (478) and Hesser (440) have provided the bulk of that carrying the ball. Demey, a first-year senior starter, has accounted for most of the rest by throwing the ball for 1,108 yards. And Pannella, Yenchick and Luzins have latched onto 58 of his 73 completions.
Defensively, they’ve been a little generous — allowing an average of 345 yards and 22 points a game.
However, Spring-Ford will be hard-pressed to suppress the Phantoms’ offensive numbers, or go over those defensive norms.
“We told our players this is their first varsity game and to make the most of it,” said Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker. “We want to find out if they will stand up and compete.
“We had everyone in for films (Sunday) night. My sense is everyone understands the situation. It’s unfortunate because I know Phoenixville wants to play us at our best, and we’d like to do the same. But we have to come back to what is best for our program, and what is safest for our players.”
Brubaker said Zac DeMedio, Brandon Leacraft and Matt Daywalt will share time at quarterback. DeMedio (0-for-1) is the only one among the three to attempt a pass this season. The Rams will rotate a lot of running backs and wideouts behind a line that’ll feature Tyler German, Joey Goul, David Moran, Nate Schoeck and Chase Stine, and Bryce Rhodenbaugh at tight end.
Phoenixville, which won three of its final four regular-season games — losing only to then unbeaten Pottsgrove in Week 10 during that stretch — is well-rested, but not rusty.
“We’ve been playing Thanksgiving games for a long time, with last year being the first time it wasn’t exactly that way,” Furlong explained. “I know our seniors would like to go out on a positive note, so I’m sure they’ll be ready to play.”
And for good reason — most fans around the PAC-10 didn’t expect the Phantoms to do quite as well as they did this season.
“I think we could have been a little more successful if we’d done a better job under pressure,” Furlong said. “The thing is, that’s hard to simulate at practice. You don’t know how they’ll respond until they’re in it. But all in all, this group has accomplished a lot.
“They’ve been involved in getting our program back to playoff caliber. They are tough, blue-collar type kids who have seen it all. Their sophomore year was a low point, last year (getting to the district final) was kind of a high point. They have stayed the course, and everyone has contributed. So when you look at the whole picture they have certainly accomplished a lot.”
That whole picture, though it has a bit of a different look from Spring-Ford’s viewpoint, is what Brubaker and the Rams are seeing.
“This game is a distraction for us,” Brubaker said, referring to the preparation needed for the district semifinal on Saturday. “The only team in a worse scenario is Pennridge, which is playing (Thursday morning against Quakertown) for an outright league title. We wanted to play (tonight) so we’d be able to move forward as quickly as possible.”
And, despite the odds Brubaker is obviously aware of, hopefully move forward with a win.
Spring-Ford leads the PAC-10 series, 15-11, while Phoenixville leads the overall series, 27-25-5. … The Rams won six in a row from 1991-96, while the Phantoms swept eight straight from 2002-09. … Furlong is 6-2 against the Rams, while Brubaker is 2-0 against the Phantoms. … Rhodenbaugh, a promising 6-foot-1, 195-pound sophomore, is the son of Gary Rhodenbaugh, a captain on Spring-Ford’s undefeated 1992 team and Spring-Ford’s head coach from 2003-09. He is currently an assistant on Furlong’s staff.
SEELEY ON FOOTBALL: Another year, another playoffs vs. Thanksgiving dilemma
By Don Seeley
ROYERSFORD — Chad Brubaker made a decision this past weekend he didn’t really want to make, a decision he knew wouldn’t make a whole lot of people happy … a decision he truly believed he had to make.
Not long after Spring-Ford held off Ridley in last Friday night’s District 1-Class AAAA playoff game, and moments after school officials agreed to move up the annual Thanksgiving morning game with Phoenixville, Brubaker announced the Rams’ regular starters would not play tonight (7 p.m.) against the Phantoms.
It wasn’t necessarily a surprising move, or an unprecedented one for that matter, because the Rams have yet another game — and a much bigger game in every sense of the word — on Saturday afternoon when they travel to Pennridge in a district semifinal showdown.
“We had to make some decisions that we knew may be unpopular, but when everything is broken down we have to look at what is best for our football program and the safety of our players,” Spring-Ford’s third-year head coach explained. “There is a reason there are no football tournaments on weekend, why we only play one game a week.
“Our kids play 75-plus snaps a week, banging into other players who are big and strong, too. We played 48 minutes of physical, intense football at Ridley, and we’re going to have to play 48 minutes of physical, intense football against Pennridge. Our varsity players need time for their bodies to recover and rejuvenate. That’s why we can’t justify playing them against Phoenixville, why only non-varsity participants will play (tonight).”
Last year, the Phantoms were in a similar position. They hosted the Rams the night before Thanksgiving because of their weekend meeting with Pottsgrove for the District 1-AAA championship. Head coach Bill Furlong did play his starters at times during the game in hopes of ending the Rams’ unbeaten run and denying them an outright Pioneer Athletic Conference, but in the end fell by a narrow 27-21 margin — then lost the district championship to rival Pottsgrove a few nights later.
“It was a tough position to be in (last year), but one we wanted to be in for years,” Furlong recalled earlier this week. “After going through it, there are some things I would do differently now. Coach Brubaker is a different person, and I’m not sure what he’ll do, and if you ask him in four weeks if he’d do it the same way he may have some different thoughts, too.
“The only way you learn some things is by going through them and evaluating them after they’re over. I wish (Brubaker) luck, because he has done a great job and is representing the PAC-10 with pride. We’ll just continue to focus on ourselves.”
Three years ago, in the last edition of the storied Thanksgiving series between Pottsgrove and St. Pius X, both coaches elected to go with non-varsity starters because of playoff games that weekend.
Unquestionably the area’s most intriguing dilemma created by Thanksgiving games and postseason playoffs occurred 11 years ago. Pottsgrove was 8-0 and St. Pius X was 7-1, meaning their game had championship implications. The Falcons had been eliminated in the district playoffs by powerful Strath Haven the weekend before, but the Winged Lions were still alive in the District 1/11-Class AA sub-regional. So the game was moved up to the night before Thanksgiving.
Starters, every one of them on both teams, played in a very, very physical game that Pottsgrove won, 20-12, for the outright PAC-10 title. Pius was forced to come back two nights later all the way up in Wilkes-Barre. The Lions responded by playing what many felt was their best game of the entire season - crushing Meyers, 33-12, and advancing to the Class AA Eastern Final.
Now it appears the regular season-postseason conflict — or conflicts — will likely mean an end to the annual Thanksgiving series between Phoenixville and Spring-Ford following tonight’s meeting.
Mind you, nothing official has been said. No one has even given as much as a hint the Thanksgiving Day rivalry will end, either.
But it certainly appears as though the game will be moved up into September or October … which is what happened in the not so distant past to three other former Thanksgiving games featured Boyertown and Upper Perkiomen, Methacton and Perkiomen Valley, and Pottsgrove and St. Pius X (now Pope John Paul II).
Not all will be lost, though.
There will still be Thanksgiving Day football, because the Pottstown-Owen J. Roberts affair doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon.
Don Seeley is the sports editor of The Mercury. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gridiron - Sponsored by Maxout
Brubaker leading Spring-Ford to new heights
By Don Seeley
Sometimes it isn’t about how big or how fast a player a coach sends out onto the football field as it is exactly who that imposing over-sized lineman or that lightning-quick running back may be.
As every coach readily admits, it’s awfully difficult, if not impossible, to measure, weigh or even clock those players’ character.
Character is the backbone of an athlete, and it distinguishes the strength and soul of a team as well as its confidence. And certainly not always, but way, way more often than many choose to believe, it is the foundation of any successful program.
Character … not only knowing how to do everything the correct way on and off the field as well as in and out of school, but committing to it.
It is exactly what Chad Brubaker was looking for when he interviewed for the head coaching position a Spring-Ford a little over two years ago.
“I was impressed with the quality of the people I met with,” Brubaker said shortly after being approved as the Rams’ new coach.” They were up front with me, and the fact they held character as a priority is what really got me excited about the position.”
Brubaker demanded that character — and pledged not to accept anything less — when he first opened camp that summer, too.
“We said we were going to strive to do things the right way,” Brubaker explained this past weekend. “The first year, I think the experience of traveling down to Sussex Tech (Del.) helped our kids understand our (coaching) staff was leading the program in that direction — the right direction.
“On our way down we stopped in Dover to do a walk-through at Wesley College and had a great sit-down mean at a local restaurant. We beat a good Sussex team, and then came back home and beat Owen J. Roberts the following week in front of a huge crowd. I think they understood at that point what we were trying to achieve.”
The Rams didn’t just understand it, they bought into it.
“We’re proud of our kids,” Brubaker continued. “Whether it’s a fundraiser we do or a restaurant we visit for a pre-game meal, I constantly get emails and personal comments about how polite, respectful and appreciative our kids are. That’s a credit to our players’ parents, a credit to the expectations (high school principal) Pat Nugent puts on them in school, and the expectations we’ve set as standards for them in our program. We’re as proud of all that as any of the wins we’ve had.”
And don’t think Brubaker and his staff weren’t thinking that after last Friday night’s 28-26 upset of previously unbeaten and state-ranked Ridley in their District 1-Class AAAA quarterfinal down in Delaware County.
The Spring-Ford coaches were certainly thrilled while watching the Rams take a shocking 28-0 lead at the break. Then, after outlasting the Green Raiders’ gallant second-half comeback, the coaches were obviously ecstatic after their team’s second-straight win — and first two postseason wins in the history of the Spring-Ford football.
But what Brubaker initially chose to talk about the following day occurred long before Friday evening’s opening kickoff … and it had to do with yet another team meal, this one in a restaurant just around the corner from Ridley High School.
“I hope I don’t get her in trouble,” Brubaker explained, “but a server at the restaurant said to me, ‘My children graduated from Ridley and I love Ridley, but I’m rooting for Spring-Ford tonight because of how respectful and how polite your players and managers were here. I’ve never seen anything like this.’ I think that says it all about our kids.”
Brubaker was an assistant for three seasons at Elizabethtown High School. He moved on to Wilson in West Lawn, where he spent eight seasons under Jim Cantafio and another three under current Bulldogs coach Doug Dahms before taking on his first head coaching job at Spring-Ford.
At the time, Wilson was (and actually still is) one of the premier programs in District 3-AAAA and throughout the state. Spring-Ford was in a slump.
“Well, I was really impressed with the ability level of the players on the roster when I first arrived (at Spring-Ford),” Brubaker said. “But we didn’t have the commitment to becoming stronger, which I was used to (at Wilson).
“I also personally struggled a bit with my expectations versus (the players’ expectations), and felt we lost two games that first season we could’ve won. Last year, I felt we had the capability of making a run in the playoffs, but we ran into a match-up problem (against Coatesville) in the first round. This year, as a staff, we looked at the field and felt we could compete with every team. But playoffs become a game of attrition, so we’ll see.”
What Brubaker initially saw was promise, oh so similar to what he saw throughout his stay at Wilson. He opted to build on it.
“Both programs have great kids, great assistant coaches, and administrative support,” he explained. “When I accepted the position, my biggest concern was bringing on assistant coaches with the same vision that I had. I was, and continue to be, extremely fortunate.
“Steve Schein, Chad Strickler, Jim Mich, Jr., Dale Bergman and Steve Anspach were committed members of the staff, and we brought on some great younger coaches like Bob Swier, Shawn Smith and Jared Hostetler that first year. We’ve added Alex Fegley, Eric Hill, Jamie Cutaneo and D.J. Fox, and they’re the guys who make a difference. They are committed to what we are trying to accomplish, many of them without recognition and some without any compensation.”
Together, they guided the Rams to a turnaround 9-3 season in 2010, and a Pioneer Athletic Conference title, first postseason appearance and 10-2 overall mark last season. Thus far this season the Rams have dropped just one game – to then unbeaten and eventual PAC-10 champion Pottsgrove — have picked up those first two postseason wins, and own an 11-1 record going into Wednesday night’s final PAC-10 game with Phoenixville and then the weekend district semifinal showdown at Pennridge.
Not bad, of course, but a body of work not yet finished.
“What we are still working on is the program expectations,” Brubaker explained. “Obviously, we’ve made strides there, but we still need to learn how to put an opponent away. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ridley’s comeback (last Friday night), because it was an unbelievable effort on their part. But we had a chance to get a running clock with our first possession of the second half (but failed to score), and then ended up contributing greatly to them getting back into the game.
“Our defense gave up 500 yards of offense, and I would still say we played a great game on that side of the ball. Offensively, that was a different story. We still need to be patient and make good decisions offensively. When we do, we are very difficult to defend. When we don’t, we become average.”
Average has never been part of the game plan at Spring-Ford. And it wasn’t when the Rams kicked off the current season back in mid-August.
“We felt like, when healthy, we could compete with anyone,” Brubaker said. “We went up to West Lawn and scrimmaged Wilson. We didn’t finish some of our drives with scores, but we moved the ball up and down the field and (Wilson) struggled to run the ball against us. Those two things made us feel confident about our chances going forward. Coach Dahms and assistant Jeff Brubaker complimented our team after the game, and that made me feel pretty good because I have so much respect for them and their football knowledge.”
Much like a lot of coaches — and a whole heck of others away from the football field — who are beginning to respect Brubaker and his staff’s knowledge and work ethic at Spring-Ford..
“We’re going down to Pennridge with an opportunity to get into the District 1-AAAA final,” Brubaker said. “I still don’t believe we’ve played close to our best game yet in all three phases, either. So we need a great week of practice.”
And perhaps a good restaurant for that pre-game meal to innocently recruit another fan or two.
Don Seeley is the sports editor of The Mercury. He can be reached at email@example.com.
FOLSOM — The twitter handle of Spring-Ford’s Zameer McDowell is @YouCant_Zme.
Friday night, though, nearly everyone in the large crowd at Ridley High School saw plenty of the Rams’ big No. 88.
McDowell, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound tight end/defensive end, had his fingerprints all over the Rams’ 28-26 District 1-Class AAAA quarterfinal victory over the Green Raiders.
“I couldn’t sleep (Thursday) night, I was thinking about this game so much,” said McDowell, who will probably sleep soundly after the effort he gave in helping the seventh-seed Rams win their sixth straight game and improve to 11-1 overall.
With second-seed Ridley driving for what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown late in the first quarter, McDowell delivered a game-changing Pick 6 — stepping in front of a screen pass attempt at his own 14 and rambling 86 yards the other way to put Spring-Ford up 14-0.
Though McDowell didn’t have any receptions on offense, where he has been one of many potent weapons at record-setting quarterback Hank Coyne’s disposal, he more than made up for it on the other side of the ball.
His crowning moments came late in the game, after the Green Raiders had stormed back from a 28-0 deficit to get within a two-point conversion of tying the Rams with 2:46 left.
Ridley’s Collin Wright called a quarterback draw, and for a second it appeared he would sprint into the end zone before the large form of McDowell engulfed him.
Then, after the Green Raiders took over at the Spring-Ford 32 in position for a game-winning drive or field goal with 59 seconds left, McDowell spearheaded a charge from the defensive front that forced two incompletions and two sacks.
On a fourth-and-17 play, McDowell and R.J. Sheldon combined for the game-clinching sack.
“Zameer has a knack for making big hits and big plays,” said Rams coach Chad Brubaker, reflecting on some of McDowell’s bone-crunching hits on opposing quarterbacks and big touchdown grabs from his tight end position.
Heading into this season, McDowell was known more for his big plays on the basketball court. So it was somewhat ironic that on the first day of winter practice, his ever-evolving football prowess was on display.
“I think I’ve improved a lot over the last year,” McDowell said. “Coach Brubaker got me in the weight room and it helped a lot. And my coaches have put me in positions I can excel in.”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed, throughout the Pioneer Athletic Conference and beyond.
“I think some college coach will be well-rewarded if he gives Zameer a shot,” said Brubaker.
Either on the basketball court — or the football field.
Spring-Ford survives against Ridley
By Darryl Grumbling
FOLSOM — Whether you’re talking about life or football, possession is nine-tenths of the law.
Spring-Ford’s football team gave a memorable first-hand display of that Friday night in what wound up to be an epic District 1-AAAA quarterfinal against Ridley.
The No. 7 seed Rams forced a mind-boggling six turnovers against the undefeated Green Raiders, five of them coming in a first half that ended with them up 28 points.
Spring-Ford then survived a furious Ridley rally in holding on for a 28-26 victory that continued their historic campaign.
Zameer McDowell and R.J. Sheldon combined to sack Collin Wright on a fourth-down play at the Rams’ 39 to seal a crazy contest in which the momentum swung like a seesaw.
“We stuck together as a team,” said junior defensive lineman Mason Romano, whose second-down sack was the other huge play in the final stand.
The Rams (11-1), who won their seventh straight game, advance to next week’s semifinal against No. 3 seed Pennridge, a 28-27 winner over Pennsbury.
“Our defense played a tremendous first half,” Spring-Ford coach Chad Brubaker said.
Indeed it did, as the Rams got takeaways in nearly every form imaginable.
Ian Hare got the party started by recovering a fumble at midfield to blunt the first possession of the second-seeded Red Raiders (11-1). Three plays later, Jarred Jones (21 carries, 134 yards) raced 24 yards to put the Rams up 7-0 with 8:06 left in the opening quarter.
Senior two-way standout Zameer McDowell made his presence felt in a big way in the closing seconds of the first quarter, corralling an attempted screen pass by Wright and taking it 86 yards for a score to make it 14-0.
Spring-Ford quarterback Hank Coyne connected with Sheldon for a 48-yard strike that set up a Yousef Lundi two-yard scoring run that increased the lead to 21-0.
Then, after Coyne was intercepted by Dennis Bryson at the Green Raiders’ one-yard line linebacker Robbie Varner recovered a fumbled handoff on the ensuing play to give the Rams — making their first district quarterfinal appearance in school history — a 28-0 lead 3:32 before the half.
“Our coaches preach turnovers, turnovers, turnovers,” McDowell said. “(Turnovers) change a game, and we try to focus on getting them.”
Spring-Ford actually found itself 37 yards from a possible mercy rule running clock when Jones ripped off an eight-yard run early in the third quarter. But Ridley held to force a punt and came storming back into it.
First, Wright — who threw for 413 yards and four TDs — hit Mike Crowley for a 60-yard bomb to get the Green Raiders on the board with 5:52 left in the third. Then on the next possession, Wright hooked up with Mike Smoluk for a 50-yard scoring connection.
Spring-Ford’s defense seemed to seize the momentum late in the third quarter when a big hit by Travis Daywalt forced a fumble (after a fourth down completion to Smoluk) that teammate Joe Bush recovered and returned to midfield.
The Rams, however, couldn’t quite salt it away after driving to the 20, and Ridley took over with 9:37 left in the game after forcing a fourth-down incompletion by Coyne.
Shane Dougherty took a swing pass by Wright and took it 32 yards to cut the deficit to 28-20 with 8:00 left in the game.
Then the Green Raiders got a 34-yard TD pass from Wright to Crowley with 2:46 left to get within a two-point conversion of tying it, but McDowell stopped Wright a yard short to keep it at 28-26.
Ridley forced a punt and after a nice return by Matt Borchert took over at the Rams’ 32 with 59 seconds left.
With the season on the line, the exhausted defense closed it out with an incompletion, a sack by Romano, another incompletion, and the clinching sack.
“We got off the ball well and we were able to stop them when we had to pick it up,” Varner said.
“Our defense never stops,” McDowell said. “We always keep fighting. If our offense is struggling, we try to step it up.”
“Our defense played a heck of a game,” Brubaker said. “They were on the field way too long, but they made some big hits and battled until the end. They really dug in.”
Ridley got nine catches for 157 yards from Smoluk and six catches for 151 yards from Crowley in outgaining the Rams, 541-270. ... Spring-Ford ran for 170 yards, including 34 from Lundi on 33 carries against a Green Raiders defense averaging 3.3 yards per carry.
PAC-10sports.com's Ridley Preview
Spring-Ford captured the first postseason victory in school history, taking out 10th-seeded Garnet Valley 43-27 to improve to 10-1 overall … Ridley stayed perfect in 11 starts, surviving a major scare from No. 15 Downingtown West 20-17
Spring-Ford scouting report
Spring-Ford has won six straight and is finally operating with all of its weapons, including dynamic running back Jarred Jones who returned from a fractured wrist 2 weeks ago. Jones had 153 yards and one TD in last week’s win over the Jaguars, but the real stars of the show were Tate Carter (169 combined receiving/rushing/passing yards, 2 TDs) and quarterback Hank Coyne (11-18, 183, 3 TDs). For the season, Spring-Ford, which came up with 3 turnovers against Garnet Valley and is a plus-10 overall in that department, averages 37.6 points and 362.8 yards per game. FB Yousef Lundi (120-925, 13 TDs), Jones (73-702, 8) and Carter (95-696, 10) key a lethal ground game. Coyne, the school’s all-time passing leader in career yards, has thrown for 1,482 yards and 22 TDs against just 3 picks, with Carter (29-402, 4), Gary Hopkins (28-357, 6) and the tight end tandem (30-487, 7 TDs combined) of R.J. Sheldon and Zameer McDowell headlining the receiving cast. Defensively, Spring-Ford allows just 16.2 points and 259.1 yards per game. Top performers on that side of the ball include Mason Romano (4.9 tpg, 4 sacks), McDowell (5.1 tpg), Sheldon (5 sacks), Ian Hare (5 sacks), Kyle Hoffner (4.4 tpg) and Ben Schein (3 interceptions).
Ridley scouting report
The Green Raiders, who also beat common opponent Garnet Valley (27-17), rely on a shutdown defense and ball-control offense to get the job done. In last week’s win over Downingtown West, Darren Washington collected 131 rushing yards while Rich Coia chipped in with 83 more on the ground – with both scoring one TD. Kelton Heverly, who kicked a pair of field goals vs. the Whippets, boosts the special teams. It's on defense where Ridley really shines. The Green Raiders have allowed more than 140 yards of total offense just twice in their 11 wins – including last week - and are holding opponents to 11.3 ppg. LB Shane Dougherty (5 TFL, 2 pass breakups vs. Downingtown West), defensive linemen Steve Plousis and Kenny Oaks, and D-backs Mike Crowley and Nick Eufrasio are the headline performers. Opponents have averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in a futile attempt to run the football on Ridley.
Chad Brubaker, Spring-Ford: “Playoffs are largely about protecting the ball and turning it over on defense. Last week, bounces went our way (with 4 fumbles, none lost). We can’t count on that. We must protect the ball better. Ridley is tough and well-coached. Their kids play with intensity and play snap to whistle. We have to match that.
“Last week, Yousef Lundi played an excellent game at fullback. Zameer McDowell, R.J. Sheldon, Robby Varner and Mason Romano played well up front. Jared Shoemaker had 5 defended passes, which tied his own school record. (Offensive linemen) Justin Meals, Josh Boyer, Montana O’Daniell, Zach Dorsey, Mike Gilmore and Andy Cutler played their best game, collectively.”
SEELEY ON FOOTBALL: History could be in the making for Falcons, Rams
Pottsgrove and Spring-Ford will both tackle a little football history tonight.
The Falcons entertain Henderson, one of its former Ches-Mont League rivals — a team they haven’t lined up against in 25 years, and a team they didn’t often fare too well against in those days. They’ll be looking to change that undistinguished trend from long ago with a win … and will surely be motivated by the opportunity knowing it would mean a spot in the District 1-Class AAA final for the fourth straight year.
“Our kids have been in the playoffs many times, so we know they’re aware of how important every game is at this point in the season,” Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker said earlier this week.
Spring-Ford visits Ridley, one of Pennsylvania’s all-time premier programs — one that is making its seventh straight postseason appearance in the postseason; one that has been schemed by such legendary coaches as Phil Marion and Joe McNicholas; one that hasn’t had a losing season in 57 years (or since 1955) and just four overall in its 78 years of playing the game; and one that has proudly produced 16 unbeaten seasons to rank among the most successful in all of Pennsylvania with 644 overall wins.
“We just hope our players welcome the experience to go play against one of the most successful football programs in the state,” Brubaker said.
Anymore, getting into the postseason is the norm for the Falcons — who have now made six straight appearances in the district playoffs and nine overall since 2000. And winning in the postseason seems to have become the norm of late for the Falcons, who have won nine of their last 10 postseason games against District 1 opponents — the lone loss a 42-28 setback to Strath Haven in the final two years ago at Coatesville High School.
Archbishop Wood (with its stable of Division I recruits from who-knows-where who get a bye week leading into the first round of states), has denied Pottsgrove moving beyond that first round of the state playoffs twice in the last three years. And if the Falcons get by Henderson tonight and either Academy Park or Interboro next week, there’s no doubt — and you can bet the house on it — they’ll once again get a well-rested Archbishop Wood (and all its Division I recruits from who-knows-where).
But for now, Pennypacker’s only concern is Henderson … beating Henderson, that is.
“You want to play well, but all you care about now is winning and moving on,” he said.
Spring-Ford, of course, would like nothing more than to mirror the postseason success of its Pioneer Athletic Conference rival.
The Rams qualified for the playoffs for the first time a year ago, and were humbled in the first round by Coatesville. They’re back again, and with last week’s milestone win under their belt heading down to Ridley.
Just getting into the playoffs — or finishing among the district’s Top 16 in the Class AAAA bracket — doesn’t come easy, though. Brubaker has attempted to load up, and for the most part has, the program’s non-league schedule with AAAA opponents. Remember, regardless of how successful the Rams are in the PAC-10, they are one of five teams committed to playing five other AAA opponents in the league — which cost them and the other four valuable points in the district’s scoring format.
And no matter who you beat, three losses – as a very good Perkiomen Valley team painfully discovered earlier this month — isn’t likely to get anyone a spot in the Top 16. Two losses may not even be good enough some years. This season, there were only two undefeated Class AAAA teams in the district. Spring-Ford, with just that one loss to Pottsgrove, was still only the No. 7 seed.
Needless to say, the Rams would like to make history and Pottsgrove would like to continue making history when they kick off their respective games this evening.
A win tonight would be the Falcons’ 16th in the postseason and move them past LC (15) for the most postseason wins by a Pioneer Athletic Conference team. … Overall, PAC-10 teams are a combined 42-43 in postseason play, a won-loss record somewhat distorted by the success both Lansdale Catholic and St. Pius X had in the Class AA bracket. … Pennypacker is 194-80-4 at Pottsgrove, while Brubaker is 29-6 at Spring-Ford. … Dennis Decker (43-7) — only the eighth head coach at Ridley since 1934 — is in his fourth season. No previous coach had a losing career record. McNicholas was 226-28-4 from 1973-96, and Marion was 222-58-4 from 1943-72.
Pottsgrove needs 32 points to break its school and Mercury area single-season record, and 34 points to become the first area team to score 500 points in a season. Ironically, Spring-Ford needs 34 points to equal its single-second school record of 448 set a year ago. … This season, the Falcons and Rams became the 16th and 17th area teams to go over the 400-point mark in a season. … Academy Park (10-1), which defeated Interboro (9-2) by a 49-26 spread just two weeks ago (and for the first time since 1994), will attempt to make it a season sweep in tonight’s other District 1-AAA semifinal. … On the area’s individual leaderboard, Pottsgrove’s Mark Dukes (142 points, 1,310 yards rushing) and Tory Hudgins (135-1,217) are first and third in scoring and first and second in rushing. … Spring-Ford’s Hank Coyne is second in passing efficiency (151.4) and first in touchdown passes (22).
Laughing matter: Columbia (4-6) may have a sub-.500 record going into its District 3-A semifinal with Delone Catholic (7-3), but it’s far from the comedy that unfolded in the District 5/8 Class AA Sub-Regional. District 5 will be represented by Chestnut Ridge (6-5), but as of Thursday morning there was no official word that District 8 would name a representative to the game because it only has one AA team among the 12 schools in the entire district. The lone team is Westinghouse, which hasn’t played since Oct. 18th and is 1-7 overall.
Real comedy: Schuylkill Haven was crowned the Eastern Conference Class A champion earlier this week thanks to a forfeit win over Muncy. Northwest Area actually defeated Muncy (42-21) last week, but used an ineligible player in the win and had to forfeit. Right after the loss, Muncy had its equipment shipped off for reconditioning after the loss, and thus could not play Schuylkill Haven.
Berks blast: Schuylkill Valley (8-3), under St. Pius X graduate Jeff Chillot, takes on unbeaten and No. 2 ranked Wyomissing (11-0) in a District 3-AA semifinal this weekend. Chillot and his Panthers will look to avenge a 37-33 loss to the Spartans back on Oct. 27.
Showdowns: There are none bigger this weekend than tonight’s District 7-AA semifinals. Jeannette (10-1), which won the state title in 2007, visits unbeaten and top-ranked Aliquippa (11-0), the state champion in 2003. The other game has unbeaten South Fayette (11-0), the state runner-up two years ago with record-shattering quarterback Brett Brumbaugh under center, travels to unbeaten Washington (11-0).
Streaking: Three-time defending Class A champion Clairton (11-0) needs a victory tonight against Neshannock (10-1) to tie Central Bucks West’s state record of 59 straight wins.
Ridley will be lining up for shot at Spring-Ford
By MATT CHANDIK
RIDLEY TWP. — Ridley running back Darren Washington ranks second in Delaware County with 1,378 rushing yards.
The Green Raiders lead the county with 26 forced turnovers, a number that includes 17 interceptions. Jabree Savoy has four interceptions and two of Ridley’s defensive touchdowns. The Green Raiders are plus-12 in turnover margin and are in the top five in Delco in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
And yet the foundation of all of those points being put on the board for Ridley and points being left off the board for its opponents happens to rest on a group that probably won’t score a single point all year. As the No. 2 Green Raiders (11-0) get ready to host No. 7 Spring-Ford (10-1) tonight at 7 at Phil Marion Field, a successful quest for the school’s first District One championship since 2009 doesn’t necessarily fall on Washington’s shoulders or on the arm of quarterback Collin Wright. Nor will most of the spotlight be on All-Delco linebacker Shane Dougherty or on a secondary that features the likes of Savoy, Mike Smoluk, Mike Crowley and Nick Eufrasio, all of whom have multiple interceptions.
Instead, Green Raiders coach Dennis Decker will have to rely on his offensive and defensive lines to set the tone against a physically imposing Rams team. That’s something that two-way linemen Steve Plousis and Matt Sinex are happy to oblige, especially after securing the senior class’ first playoff win with a 20-17 triumph over No. 15 Downingtown West last week.
“We got the first one out of the way, so we’re a little bit less nervous,” Sinex said. “But it’s still a playoff game, so we can’t take them lightly. (Spring-Ford) is a good team. Even though you’re still the top seed in the bracket (after No. 1 Downingtown East lost to Wissahickon, 38-35), that means people are still going to come at you, so we’ve got to get better each week.”
Offensively, the line of Sinex, Plousis, Tyler Shiber, Frank Cullen and Mark Pascetta has made life much easier for running backs Washington and Rich Coia, and it’s kept quarterbacks Ed Hild and Wright upright for most of the year so that the Green Raiders can put up 28.7 points per game, good for fifth in Delco. But Plousis and Sinex have been even bigger nightmares on the defensive side. The duo has held up well against double teams in the interior line, something the two will have to do against a Spring-Ford team that has rushed for 2,446 yards this year. The Rams tuned up Garnet Valley last week for 237 yards on the ground in a 43-27 win over the Jaguars. That’s the same GV team that Ridley needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat, 27-17, earlier this year. Sinex, Plousis and Dougherty all immediately mentioned “big” as the first word to describe Spring-Ford, so the Ridley lines will be busy early and often. The senior class isn’t merely satisfied with one playoff win, though.
“We never got one (before Downingtown West),” Plousis said. “Being the senior class, we really needed one to feel like we could be recognized in the state (and) be taken seriously. I’m sure most teams were knocking us every year because we lost two years in a row. ...We’re just hungry for more wins. We were happy with one win, but it’s just not enough. ... There’s no bad teams in the playoffs. Not this year.”
There aren’t, but Ridley figures to be at or near the top of a short list of teams expected to win the district title. The Green Raiders know they need to put their first playoff win since 2009 in the rearview mirror to focus on Spring-Ford.
“I know last week, I was very nervous,” Dougherty said. “But as soon as we got that win, a lot of pressure comes off. I think we’ll all be a lot more relaxed. But it starts up front on both sides of the ball. If they’re not doing their job, everybody else can’t. A lot of credit goes to them on defense. ... I know none of us want to play on Thanksgiving again.”
That’s a safe bet. And while the likes of Plousis and Sinex won’t get the same type of recognition that guys like Dougherty, Washington and Crowley get, that’s perfectly fine for the two hulking linemen — as long as Ridley keeps winning.
“If everybody’s doing their job, somebody’s bound to make the tackle. It doesn’t matter who. It’s a team effort,” Plousis said.
It’s that team effort that has the Green Raiders with a goose egg in the loss column.
Spring-Ford set for Ridley in 1-AAAA semis
By Don Seeley
FOLSOM — With Milestone No. 1 now history, Spring-Ford is desperately seeking Milestone No. 2.
And that would be a win in tonight’s District 1-Class AAAA quarterfinals at Ridley.
“We still believe we have a lot of football in us,” Rams head coach Chad Brubaker said earlier this week.
For some, that may sound a bit brash, maybe even a little arrogant. For Brubaker and the Rams, well, it’s merely confidence.
The Rams picked up a good dose of it after last week’s opening-round 43-27 win over Garnet Valley… unquestionably the result of producing as balanced an offense as they produced all season — 239 yards running the ball and 202 throwing it — against a good defense; the result of scoring 21 unanswered, third-quarter points to get out of a 14-12 halftime hole and create a comfortable spread going into the final 12 minutes of play.
It’s also the result of winning the first postseason game in the Spring-Ford program’s history, and the first by any Pioneer Athletic Conference rival in the AAAA bracket since the playoffs kicked off back in 1992.
“Our (coaching) staff was so happy for our kids and their pride in achieving their initial goal last week,” Brubaker said. “Each step in the playoffs adds to that electricity.”
The No. 7 seeded Rams, now 10-1 overall, hope to charge it up even more tonight against unbeaten No. 2 Ridley — ranked eighth in the state with a program that is accustomed to playing in mid-November. The Raiders have appeared in the postseason seven straight years now — and in 10 of the last 11 overall — with a pair of district titles in their trophy case.
There’s no question the Rams will need to amp up their game against Ridley, which has rolled over everyone rather convincingly — with the exception Haverford (23-15) in Week Two, Springfield-Delco (7-3) in Week Eight, and Downingtown West (20-17) last Friday night — thanks to a punishing defense.
And it’s a defense anchored by linebacker Shane Dougherty, tagged a “beast” by some and a strong candidate for the Delaware County Player of the Year honor. He already has over 100 tackles this season, not bad for someone who has played through half the schedule with a broken wrist.
Dougherty gets a lot of help up front from Matt Sinex, Steve Plousis and Rich Coiz — all two-way starters — and behind him in the secondary from Mike Crowley and Mike Smoluk— each of whom have four interceptions.
That, of course, creates an imposing challenge for Spring-Ford’s offensive line of Josh Boyer, Zach Dorsey, Mike Gilmore, Justin Meals, and the tight-end tandem of R.J. Sheldon and Zameer McDowell. That group has more than held its own in helping generate an average of 364 yards a game.
Creating space for a now-healthy Jarred Jones (704 yards, 9.5 yards a pop) and fullback Yousef Lundi (925 yards) to run, and providing time for quarterback Hank Coyne (1,587 yards, 22 TDs) to throw, will be imperative … if only to give Ridley as balanced an offensive look as its seen all year.
And a glance at an offense that has shifted into high gear the past month.
“We put the ball on the turf five times (against Garnet Valley) and almost threw a bad interception on a miscommunication,” Brubaker said. “I would say we were very fortunate that the ball bounced our way throughout that game. Still, we are playing as well as we’ve played all season.”
Ridley’s offense is run-oriented. Darren Washington, who set a single-game school record a few weeks ago and is the second-leading ballcarrier in Delaware County, has 1,378 yards and 15 touchdowns. Coia, nicknamed “Bam Bam” as well as “Rudy” for his small stature and big plays, has added 538 yards and nine touchdowns.
Quarterback Colin Wright has only gone up top 97 times for 669 yards and four scores — and Crowley (25 receptions for 504 yards, 7 TDs) has been his most reliable target. But Wright is best known for his game management, leading the Raiders to an average of 321 yards a game.
“Ridley is well-coached,” Brubaker said. “They’re balanced on offense and give you a lot of different looks. They have tough kids who play hard from the snap to the whistle.
Spring-Ford did miss some tackles last week that would have otherwise enabled the defense to get off the field and turn it over to its offense. The Rams can ill-afford those mistakes against the Raiders.
And they in no way can they afford to turn the ball over. Even though the Rams are a plus-eight in takeaways over their last four games and an impressive plus-11 for the season, the Raiders have created 25 turnovers and are also a plus-11 going into tonight’s game.
“The coaching staff has worked hard to change up our practice routine a bit over the past few weeks,” Brubaker said. “We always try to focus on the little things, but during the playoffs we have to emphasize the little things even more. Playoffs are largely about kids truly believing they can accomplish their goals and a combination of maintaining their mental energy and physical motivation.
“We just hope our players welcome the experience to go play against one of the most successful football programs in the state. We’ve talked about ‘getting on the map’ of Pennsylvania football. The only way to do that is to go out and play great programs. We started that by opening with (a win over) Whitehall. (Beating) Garnet Valley is a feather in our cap. So playing Ridley is another opportunity for us to be on the radar.”
Tonight’s game is the first meeting between the two schools. … The Raiders won district titles in 2009 and 2007 before losing in the PIAA semifinals to eventual state champion La Salle and state runner-up Parkland, respectively, those years. They were also the district runner-up to Pennsbury in 2006. Going into tonight’s game, Ridley is 14-7 in postseason games since 2002. … With at least two games remaining (Spring-Ford hosts Phoenixville on Thanksgiving), Coyne needs 18 completions and 35 attempts to pass Perkiomen Valley graduate Zach Zulli and become The Mercury area’s all-time career leader in both categories.