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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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Even Brubaker pleased after Spring-Ford’s 1st postseason win
ROYERSFORD — Chad Brubaker can be difficult to please at times. Then again, he’s no different than most (if not all) high school football coaches.
He took over the Spring-Ford program two years ago and led the Rams to a turnaround 9-3 record, their most wins since 1999 — but was disappointed by not getting into the district playoffs. Last season, he led the Rams to a perfect 9-0 run through the Pioneer Athletic Conference for their first title and most wins since 1998 — but was disappointed by a very lopsided loss to Coatesville in the opening round of the district playoffs. This season, except for a Week Five setback to unbeaten PAC-10 champion Pottsgrove, he’s led the Rams to 10 more wins — and though obviously disappointed by not successfully defending the league title, he was elated last Friday evening after the Rams beat Garnet Valley for the milestone first postseason win in the opening round of the district playoffs.
But Brubaker still isn’t completely satisfied.
“We have been talking about dominating a team for four quarters, no matter the level of competition on the other side of the ball,” he said this past weekend as he began preparations for Friday night’s District 1-Class AAAA quarterfinal challenge at unbeaten Ridley.
“We have not played our best games against teams with inferior records to our own. Conversely, Garnet Valley was an excellent football team, and our level of play rose to the occasion.”
The Rams will have to up that level of play this week, of course.
“We don’t have to worry about a team being inferior any longer … everyone is good from here on out,” Brubaker added. “So we need to strive to get better each week.”
If there’s been one glaring difference in this team — especially when compared against last year’s team — it is that week-to-week improvement. This season, the Rams have played considerably better since the loss to Pottsgrove, and played at a very high level the past two weeks while generating 867 yards of offense and putting 85 points on the board in two impressive wins over Perkiomen Valley and Garnet Valley.
And while most would agree those noticeable strides could be attributed to the return of running back Jarred Jones, Brubaker thinks otherwise.
“Last year we only had two returning starters on defense, while this year we have six,” Brubaker explained. “When we get into tough situations we feel like our returning players feel more secure with their responsibilities. And that’s on both sides of the ball, too.”
That may have never been more evident than in the first minute of the second half last Friday night. The Rams had a 12-7 lead at the break, but saw it disappear quickly when Garnet Valley returning the second-half kickoff for a touchdown to go in front, 14-12.
Instead of breaking down, the Rams broke their guests with three unanswered scores.
“Coming out of the locker room (at halftime), we said there is going to be something that doesn’t go our way in the second half and that we need to stay focused and not panic,” Brubaker explained. “We didn’t think it would be the opening kickoff. But our kids followed through, in terms of their focus. We played four quarters, and that was nice to see.”
What pleased — yep, pleased — Brubaker and his staff the most was everyone contributing to the comeback.
Yousef Lundi, who got accustomed to being the workhorse back while Jones was sidelined with an injury — was solid at fullback. Quarterback Hank Coyne threw two of his three touchdowns, and even caught one on a creative call by Brubaker, in the third-quarter burst. Jack Haney came off the bench and, on his first touch of the entire season, pulled in a touchdown pass. And on defense, unsung Ben Schein was superb in the secondary; Alec Vagnozzi came off the bench to give Zameer McDowell and R.J. Sheldon a breather on kickoffs and forced a fumble; Jake Leahy recovered a fumble; and Connor Murphy also came off the bench to spell Travis Daywalt at safety.
“Our offensive line was really getting into people, and played their best game to this point,” Brubaker said. “But the nice thing was we got contributions from a lot of different people throughout the game (against Garnet Valley). Our seniors were very focused, and much more communicative with the underclassmen, to each other, and to our coaching staff.”
Because of it, Spring-Ford got that elusive first postseason win.
Just don’t think the Rams — or Brubaker, of course — are content with that alone.
“We hope we’re not content,” he said. “When you get into the playoffs anything can happen, as evidenced by No. 1 seed Downingtown East getting ousted (last week).
“We feel like there’s a great opportunity in this (district playoff) field, and we have a lot of football left to play. We want to keep playing to our potential and see where it takes us.”
That would please Brubaker to no end.
Win or lose this week, the Rams still have to host Phoenixville to wrap up their Pioneer Athletic Conference schedule. The game is scheduled for Thanksgiving morning, but could be moved up if the Rams get past Ridley. … Brubaker and Spring-Ford’s current total of 29 wins over three seasons equals the program’s best previous mark, achieved by head coach Marty Moore’s teams of 1992-94 that were a combined 29-3 with a school-record .906 winning percentage. Before that, head coach Ted Nypaver’s three teams from 1985-87 were a combined 28-4 (second-best .875 winning percentage). … Schein is the son of Steve Schein, the Rams’ longtime co-defensive coordinator who was the head coach at Upper Merion before joining Spring-Ford’s staff.
* * *
Don Seeley is the sports editor of The Mercury. His high school football column runs Tuesdays and Fridays through Thanksgiving. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Spring-Ford breaks new ground with district playoff win
By DAVE KURTZ
ROYERSFORD - The landmark victory had just been achieved, and the Spring-Ford locker room was abuzz with celebration.
Loud, throbbing music was coming from the boom boxes – symbolic of all the noise the Rams made on the field during a 43-27 victory over Garnet Valley in the opening round of the District One Class AAAA football playoffs Friday night at Coach McNelly Stadium.
It was a complete team effort by No. 7 Spring-Ford, which forced three turnovers and piled up 438 yards of total offense in scoring the first postseason victory in school history.
The victory sends the Rams into a second-round showdown next Friday night (7 p.m.) at No. 2 Ridley, which barely survived 15th-seed Downingtown West 20-17.
For more images of this game, click here:
There were other milestones reached as the Rams became the first PAC-10 team to win a District One-Class AAAA playoff game while establishing a school standard for most victories (29) in any three-year span.
Spring-Ford senior quarterback Hank Coyne, the school’s all-time career passing leader, added to his gaudy totals by hitting 11 of 18 passes for 183 yards and three touchdowns.
Coyne’s biggest connection came early in the third period when he found Tate Carter on a quick slant that Carter briskly took 48 yards to the house. The momentum-swinging play answered Wellington Zaza’s 92-yard TD return of the second half kickoff, and set off a run of 21 unanswered points that put the Rams in control.
“We have a lot of guys that can make plays, so utilizing all of them is something we always try to do,” said Coyne. “We were mixing it up, giving a lot of different kids some touches.”
Following the hookup with Carter, Spring-Ford got the ball right back when Jack Haney forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Jake Leahy secured it at the Jaguars 22. Two plays later, Carter hit Jarred Jones with a 21-yard TD pass out of the Wildcat formation and the lead had grown to 27-14.
“We had just put in that play right before the game,” said Spring-Ford coach Chad Brubaker.
Brubaker’s ingenuity, coupled with Carter’s versatile skill set, made it all work.
“Whatever I can do to help this team win, I’ll do it,” said Carter, who piled up 169 yards catching, running and throwing the ball. “We played all four quarters. We knew Garnet Valley was a good team, but we played them tough.”
That mentality continued when Jared Shoemaker ended the Jaguars’ next possession with an interception, returning it 47 yards to the Garnet Valley 13 to set up Coyne’s 6-yard TD pass to Haney for a 33-14 lead.
“The turnovers were key,” said Brubaker, whose club came in with a plus-7 turnover margin. “We haven’t been committing a lot of turnovers but we haven’t been forcing many either. That was something we wanted to focus on.”
The Rams wound up getting three touchdowns on the three Garnet Valley miscues that included a fumble recovery by Shoemaker, setting up Coyne’s perfectly-thrown 23-yard TD pass to Gary Hopkins in the second quarter.
“We played four quarters, and I think we may be hitting our stride,” said Brubaker. “We got contributions from so many different players. Alec Vagnozzi forces a fumble, Haney catches a touchdown pass and Connor Murphy played well at safety filling in for Travis Daywalt. That just shows what kind of depth we have.”
Spring-Ford’s offensive line – featuring Zach Dorsey, Josh Boyer, Mike Gilmore, Justin Meals and Montana O’Daniell – was also making a big impact. In just his second week back from a broken wrist, Jones chalked up 153 yards and one TD rushing while Carter (7-54) and Yousef Lundi (6-40, TD) also found room to roam.
“I thought our O-line and D-line played great, and we took advantage of the opportunities we had after the turnovers,” said Coyne. “After the long kickoff return at the start of the second half, we knew we couldn’t put our tail between our legs.”
Instead, the Rams’ tails were wagging during a 31-point second half explosion that left the 10th-seeded Jaguars choking in their exhaust fumes.
After Garnet Valley (8-3) climbed back within 33-21 at the 1:34 mark of the third quarter on QB Ryan Corkery’s one-yard TD run, Spring-Ford responded with a five-play, penalty-aided TD drive that covered 63 yards and culminated with Jones racing untouched up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown.
The Jaguars continued to hang around, getting a 15-yard touchdown run from Jake Irving (24 carries, 184 yards, 2 TDs) with 8:43 remaining, but would get no closer. Rather than play conservative and milk the clock on its next series, Spring-Ford showed it was in it to win it when Coyne hit R.J. Sheldon for 31 yards on first down, leading to David Gulati’s 27-yard field goal for a 43-27 lead with 5:13 remaining.
“We tried to keep the pedal down,” said Brubaker. “We knew we had to keep going and that we couldn’t just run, run, run the ball and give it back to them. They’re a very good team, and we didn’t want to give them any chance to come back.”
The Spring-Ford defense, which allowed 186 rushing yards to Irving and 424 overall, made sure that didn’t happen. The ‘bend but don’t break’ mode proved effective for the Rams.
“We wanted to hit hard and keep hitting, and give our offense the ball,” said DE/TE Zameer McDowell, who posted a sack among his 5 tackles. “We’re constantly trying to make plays. Mason Romano, Robby Varner and the whole defense stepped up tonight. This feels real great, but we’re not satisfied.”
Brubaker was looking at it the same way.
“This is a great feeling, but it doesn’t stop here,” Brubaker said. “Whenever we take the field, we expect to play well. We expect to win.”
SPRING-FORD 43, GARNET VALLEY 27
Garnet Valley 7 0 14 6 – 27
Spring-Ford 6 6 21 10 - 43
GV-Irving 13 run (Kao kick)
SF-Lundi 3 run (kick failed)
SF-Hopkins 23 pass from Coyne (run failed)
GV-Zaza 92 kickoff return (Kao kick)
SF-Carter 48 pass from Coyne (Hopkins pass from Coyne)
Spring-Ford: Carter 4-97, TD; Sheldon 3-46; Hopkins 2-25, TD; Jones 2-18, TD; Schein 1-9; Haney 1-6, TD.
Garnet Valley: Grzybowski. Spring-Ford: McDowell.
Spring-Ford downs Garnet Valley in shootout
By Darryl Grumbling
ROYERSFORD — On a Spring-Ford football offensive arsenal rife with weapons, Tate Carter is the most versatile one.
And Friday night, the Rams junior showed it — and then some — during a District 1-Class AAAA first-round game that morphed into a veritable shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Carter ran the ball effectively, averaging more than seven yards on his seven carries.
He was even more dangerous catching it, with four receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown.
And to top it off, Carter even threw the pigskin a couple of times, capped by a 21-yard TD pass to Jarred Jones — part of a 31-point, second-half explosion that helped Spring-Ford hold off Garnet Valley, 43-27, for the program’s first postseason win in school history.
“Honestly, he can throw the ball farther than anybody in this room,” Brubaker said of Carter. “He’s as quick as anybody, and he catches the ball well. He just has a lot of different skills. He’s like a chess piece we can move around. He does so many things well. We’d be idiots if we didn’t try to use him as much as possible.”
Virtually all of the seventh-seeded Rams’ offensive firepower was on display as they advanced to next Friday’s quarterfinal at No. 2 seed Ridley, a 20-17 winner over Downingtown West.
Feature back Jones ran for 154 yards; senior quarterback Hank Coyne threw for 184 yards — going over the 5,000-yard career mark — and three touchdowns; and six different receivers caught passes as Spring-Ford (10-1) won its sixth straight game.
In the other two phases of the game, some of the Rams’ more unheralded players made quite a name for themselves with huge contributions.
Like corner Jared Shoemaker, who an interception and forced fumble — each of which were momentum-shifting plays.
Like Jack Haney, who had a third quarter to dream about by first forcing a fumble and then catching a touchdown pass (on his first offensive touch of the season).
And like Jake Leahy (who recovered a fumble), Alec Vagnozzi (who forced a fumble) and Connor Murphy, who saw action late due to injury and made a key pass breakup.
“We preach to our kids that you don’t know when your time is going to come,” Spring-Ford coach Chad Brubaker said. “And when it does come, you have to be ready to make a play.”
The No. 10 seed Jaguars (8-3) certainly had several players who could make plays, most notable the trio of running back Jake Irving, wideout Wellington Zaza and quarterback Ryan Corkery.
Garnet Valley drew first blood thanks to a well-executed 12-play drive capped by Irving’s 13-yard TD run on a fourth-and-three play that featured a little game of poker between Jaguars coach Mike Ricci and Brubaker.
The Jaguars were originally set for a 31-yard field goal attempt, but after a timeout and quick personnel change, Irving took a pitch left, shed a couple of tackles behind the line, and scooted down the sideline to make it 7-0 with 4:31 left in the opening period.
Spring-Ford answered with an impressive drive of its own, with Coyne’s 24-yard hookup with Carter setting up a Yousef Lundi’s three-yard run that cut it to 7-6 with 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Shoemaker stripped Zaza after a completion and Mason Romano recovered the fumble at the Jags’ 25. Two plays later, Coyne connected on a 23-yard scoring strike to Gary Hopkins, who made a nifty catch in the back corner of the end zone to put the Rams up 12-7 with 3:54 left in the half.
Garnet Valley appeared to wrest the momentum back on the opening play of the third quarter when Zaza took the kickoff 92 yards, somehow keeping his knee of the ground when the Rams appeared to have him collared just shy of midfield.
But that 14-12 advantage would be the last one the Jaguars would enjoy, thanks to a ballhawking Rams defense and big-play offense.
First, Coyne found Carter out of the slot for what wound up a 48-yard catch-and-run TD that put Spring-Ford up to stay at 20-14 (after a Coyne to Hopkins conversion pass) with 7:58 left in the third.
Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Haney forced a fumble that Leahy recovered to put the Rams back in business. Two plays later, out of a Wildcat look, Carter faked a run, dropped back, and found a wide-open Jones to make it 27-14.
“That TD pass honestly was something we put in before the game,” Brubaker admitted. “We put it on the baord and said, ‘You might get an opportunity to run this.’ It was designed to go to one of the tight ends, but we said, ‘Hey, if they don’t walk out with Jarred, throw it.’”
“I just wanted to do my part,” Carter said. “It doesn’t matter if I run it, catch it or throw it. Whatever ‘Bru’ tells me to do, I just have to do it.”
Shoemaker joined the fun with an interception and 47-yard return to set up Coyne’s six-yard TD pass to Haney, and all of a sudden the Rams were up 33-14 with 3:29 left in the third.
“We need big plays to get us going,” said Shoemaker. “They get us hyped.”
Garnet Valley got a one-yard TD run from Corkery to stop the bleeding, but the Rams answered with a drive highlighted by a heavy dose of Jones — whose seven-yard TD run on the first play of the fourth quarter made it 40-21.
The Jaguars kept scratching and clawing, with Irving (23 carries, 186 yards) scoring on a 15-yard run to cut it to 40-27 with 8:43 left.
Spring-Ford, though, got a clutch 27-yard field goal by David Gulati with 5:13 left, and sealed it when the defense forced an fourth-down incompletion by Corkery with a little more than a minute left.
“That’s a really good football team, and a tough football team,” Brubaker said of the Jaguars. “They kept the pressure on.”
“We knew they were a good team,” Carter said. “But we know we’re a good team, too, and I think we wanted it more.”
Robby Varner had two sacks and Zameer McDowell had one for the Rams. ... R.J. Sheldon caught three passes for 46 yards, including a key 31-yarder in the fourth quarter. ... Lundi ran for 39 yards on six carries. ... Spring-Ford outgained Garnet Valley, 441-425.
Spring-Ford expects better showing in 2nd postseason trip
By Don Seeley
ROYERSFORD — Hardly a soul forgets birthdays and anniversaries. Hardly anyone involved in the Spring-Ford football program, from the players and coaches to their diehard fans, forgets last year’s very first venture into the District 1-Class AAAA playoffs.
Coatesville 60, Spring-Ford 28 … only the second time since Spring-Ford kicked off its very first season in 1955 that one of its teams had surrendered 60 points in a game.
While the lopsided loss didn’t erase that perfect run through the Pioneer Athletic Conference for the first time in 16 years or the double digits in the win column for the first time in 12 years, it sure did deposit disappointment in the Spring-Ford memory bank.
And it’s that disappointment — absolute dissatisfaction — the No. 7 seed Rams would like nothing more than to rid their selves of when they line up against No. 10 seed Garnet Valley (8-2) in tonight’s opening round of the AAAA playoffs at Coach McNelly Stadium.
“Last year, making the playoffs was a goal,” said head coach Chad Brubaker, who in three seasons has guided the Rams to 28 wins in 34 games. “This year, the expectations were to get there (again).
“I think it always helps to be familiar with something before going on. (Last year), our kids weren’t sure they could compete in the playoffs. This year, our kids feel like they belong in the playoffs. That’s the big difference, in terms of attitude.”
With only a loss to unbeaten PAC-10 champion Pottsgrove, the Rams (9-1) have certainly played with that mindset. They have punctuated their season with five games of 40-plus points, averaging over 37 points a game behind a balanced offense that has generated a norm of 365 yards every weekend. They’ve also limited five opponents to one touchdown or less, and are a respectable plus-seven in takeaways.
Spring-Ford’s offensive line – featuring Josh Boyer, Zach Dorsey, Mike Gilmore, Justin Meals and Montana O’Daniell – has played big, and aggressively, to provide the necessary space for both Yousef Lundi’s and Tate Carter’s increased running responsibilities. And last week, when junior standout Jarred Jones returned from six weeks on the shelf with an injury, there was a noticeable nudge in the entire offense’s attitude.
“I think any time your team is 100-percent healthy it’s a boost,” Brubaker said. “With (Jones) back, it allows us to utilize Carter more at wide receiver and (Lundi) more at fullback.”
Jones, who returned with 208 yards and a touchdown — not to mention a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and an 80-yard return to set up yet another — has helped opposing defenses cut back on any sack-happy schemes, too. That alone has taken a bit of heat off quarterback Hank Coyne, who has thrown for 1,403 yards and 19 touchdowns while rewriting most of the passing pages in the Spring-Ford record book.
But as productive as the Rams have been on offense, there’s no avoiding the demand to play fundamental football if they’re to move the ball against Garnet Valley or stop Garnet Valley from moving the ball.
The Jaguars on the average score a half-point more than the Rams and allow three less than the Rams, very similar statistics for sure. But except for their only two losses — a pair of 10-point setbacks to Class AAA qualifier Springfield-Delco (35-25) in Week Five and to unbeaten No. 2 seed Ridley (27-17) in Week Six — they’ve pretty much quieted the rest of the opposition.
That defense, which allows an average of 197 yards a game, is led by tackle Donte Burgess and linebacker Steve Elk.
Ryan Corkery also contributes on the defensive side, but is counted on to lead Garnet Valley’s no-huddle offense at quarterback. He has run for 895 yards and 12 touchdowns and passed for an additional 703 yards and nine scores. Jake Irving has added 829 yards and 13 touchdowns carrying the ball for Central League runner-up Garnet Valley, which a year ago reached the district semifinals.
“Garnet Valley’s offensive line is excellent, especially their guards,” Brubaker said. “They pound the ball and try to wear defenses down. (Corkery) is a big kid who runs well. We will have to play sound, assignment-based defense.”
That demand falls on Spring-Ford’s defensive front that features Zameer McDowell and R.J. Sheldon at the ends, with Mason Romano and Robby Varner inside at the tackles. Linebackers Ian Hare, Kyle Hoffner and Andy Lovre-Smith have been superb, and the secondary of Jared Shoemaker, Travis Daywalt, Ben Schein and either Joe Sink or Joe Bush has been reliable defending the pass as well as coming up to stop the run.
“I can’t express enough how tough and hard McDowell played last week against Perkiomen Valley,” Brubaker said of his 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior, who knocked down four Viking passes. “He was exhausted and in pain, but kept getting up and going back in. Every time I asked him if he was ready to go back in he told me, ‘I’m ready.’ He had a great game.”
Every one of the Rams will have to be ready tonight.
“We need to execute in all three phases of the game, create turnovers and protect the ball on offense,” Brubaker said. “We must…
“Everyone is good in the playoffs. We’re going to have to continue to get better.”
Tonight’s game is the first between Garnet Valley and Spring-Ford. … The Jaguars are 2-0 against PAC-10 teams in the postseason — defeating Upper Perkiomen (35-7) in 2006 and Pottsgrove (41-22) in 2007 when they competed in the Class AAA bracket. … Lundi (886 yards, 12 TDs) and Carter (625 yards, 9 TDs) ran well in Jones’ absence and still contributed a combined 165 yards and three touchdowns last week when Jones returned. … Gary Hopkins and Carter, with 26 catches each, have been Coyne’s favorite receivers. McDowell and Sheldon, who double as tight ends, have caught 15 and 12 passes, respectively. … Romano, McDowell and Hoffner are first through third in tackles, while Sheldon (5.5), Hoffner (4) and McDowell (3.5) lead the defense in sacks. … Garnet Valley opened with four straight wins before the back-to-back losses, then recovered with four consecutive wins to enter the postseason on a high note.
Times Herald Garnet Valley Preview
RECORDS: Garnet Valley is 8-2 after defeating Haverford, 30-13. Spring-Ford is 9-1 after defeating Perkiomen Valley, 42-28.
LAST SEASON’S GAME: Did not play.
OUTLOOK: This shapes up as one of the more competitive first-round District One Class AAAA playoff matchups, with the seventh-seeded Rams seeking the program’s first postseason win and the 10th-seeded Jaguars looking to break through into the ranks of the D-1 football elite.
Spring-Ford, already an offensive juggernaut, got even better last week when stud junior running back Jarred Jones returned after a six-week stay on the shelf due to a broken wrist, then lit up Perkiomen Valley for 208 rushing yards and a pair of 80-plus-yard kickoff returns (one for a 91-yard TD).
The Rams, already boasting the likes of QB Hank Coyne (103-for-186, 1,299 yds., 19 TDs), Yousef Lundi (885 rushing yds.) and Tate Carter (642 rushing yds., 305 receiving), are averaging 355 yards per game and kind of needed more offense like the Kardashians need more plastic surgery. But the Rams aren’t complaining.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have only been held under three touchdowns in a game once this year (in a 27-17 loss to Ridley) and have piled up 363 points in their 10 games. The offense is led by QB Ryan Corkery (51-for-113, 703 yds., 9 TDs, 126 rushes, 905 yds., 12 TDs) and RB Jake Irving (143 carries, 829 yds., 13 TDs). LBs Steve Elf (61 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries) and Tyler Shankle (61 tackles, three sacks) head up the defense.
Delco Times Garnet Valley Preview
The Jaguars earned a convincing victory over Haverford at home to finish the regular season and qualify for the postseason. Garnet Valley came within one win of playing for a district title a season ago.
All-Delco quarterback Ryan Corkery has been nothing short of spectacular in recent weeks. Corkery suffered a season-ending injury in the 2012 district semifinal and admits he has a chip on his shoulder.
“I have unfinished business in the playoffs,” said Corkery, who leads the team in rushing with 895 yards and 12 touchdowns. “I didn’t get to finish that last game, and I’m definitely excited for playing in (the playoffs).”
The Rams are averaging close to 305 yards per game and have three very good running backs, Yousef Lundi (886 yards, 12 TDs), Tate Carter (629 yards, nine TDs) and Jarred Jones (540 yards, seven TDs). Jones has done all of his damage in three games this season.
Spring-Ford is averaging 37.1 points per game, which is right in line with Garnet’s 37.7 scoring average. Rams quarterback Hank Coyne is closing in on 5,000 career passing yards.
PAC-10sports.com's Garnet Valley Preview
Garnet Valley won its fourth straight, taking out Haverford 30-13, to up its record to 7-2 in the Central League and 8-2 overall … Spring-Ford extended its winning streak to 5 with a 42-28 triumph over Perkiomen Valley. The Rams are 7-1 in the PAC-10, 9-1 overall
Garnet Valley scouting report
The Jaguars offense flows through QB Ryan Corkery (1,608 yards, 21 TDs rushing/passing), RB Jake Irving (143-829, 13 TDs) and WR Wellington Zaza (14-238, 2). Garnet Valley likes to get after the quarterback, and have gotten 12.5 sacks combined from Dalton Mayberry, Joey Granahian and Vincent Juliano. In last week’s win over Haverford, LB Steve Elf – the Jags’ leading tackler – got into the act with a pair of sacks. Garnet Valley has outscored the opposition 363-138 this season.
Spring-Ford scouting report
The Rams are on a similar roll, having won 5 straight and getting a big boost with the return of RB Jarred Jones to the lineup. All Jones did was rack up 208 yards and one TD rushing, return a kickoff 91 yards for another score and set up Yousef Lundi’s one-yard TD run with another long kickoff return (85 yards) in the win over Perk Valley. Jones’ return boosts an already prolific attack that averages 41.2 points and 355.3 yards per game. Other key performers include Lundi (885 yards, 12 TDs rushing), Tate Carter (947, 13 TDs rushing/receiving) and QB Hank Coyne. Coyne, a three-year starter, is Spring-Ford’s all-time career passing leader and has thrown for 1,299 yards and 19 TDs against just 3 picks in 2012. The Rams are getting it done on the other side, too, allowing just 16.8 points and 242.6 yards per outing. In last week’s win over Perk Valley, Coach Chad Brubaker was impressed by the strong play of DT Mason Romano (9 tackles), DE Zameer McDowell and CB Joe Sink, filling in for Joe Bush.
Chad Brubaker, Spring-Ford: “We ran the ball well on Friday night. We were less balanced than we’ve been but we did what we felt we needed to do to win the game. We’re going to need to be more balanced during the playoffs in order to have success. We have protected the ball relatively well this year and turnovers play a big role come playoff time. We must protect the ball and try to force them to turn the ball over.
“Garnet Valley is good at running the ball and stopping the run. We have to be able to withstand any early setbacks and play 4 quarters. They have a very big, very good offensive line. It is important for us to make them drive the ball and work to force mistakes.We can do that by playing well on first and second down and making them do things that they are less comfortable with. Offensively, we must take what they give us and execute.
“I think last year, we were happy to get (to districts). We have now set playoffs as an expectation, so hopefully our kids want to make a splash.”
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