Tough loss to Spring-Ford leaves Chester coach feeling optimistic
By Rich Flanagan
CHESTER >> LaDontay Bell fondly recalls how his tenure at Chester began in 2016: A gritty, three-point victory over Haverford, then a collapse against Spring-Ford, the Clippers losing that game by 33.
Bell wanted to see some of the belief and maturity he’s come to expect from his squad to begin this new season, even after being routed by Haverford last week. Against Spring-Ford, however, the Clippers seemed to be motivated by last year’s loss. Despite causing four turnovers, the Clippers dropped their home opener to Spring-Ford, 28-20.
In dropping to 0-2, though, Bell saw a lot of things that his team should be optimistic about.
“I try my best to make sure that attitude affects leadership,” Bell said. “I told them as a leader I believe that, so we came back in the second half with belief. We showed it in our actions and in our play.”
Chester got things started by forcing one of four Spring-Ford fumbles on a punt return by Tyler Edwards at the Rams’ 20-yard line. Three plays later, running back Devan Freeman scored the first of his two touchdowns from three yards out.
From there, though, the game swung in favor of the Rams.
Spring-Ford (1-1) strung together 28 straight points, led by quarterback TJ Pergine (165 passing yards, two touchdowns) and running back Justin Defrancesco (110 yards). The Rams took a 20-point lead into halftime, but Freeman and his teammates were not about to bow down. They remembered what their coach has continually preached to them.
“Coach Bell has taught us to never give up,” Freeman said. “We always just go all out but unfortunately the score didn’t come out the way we hoped. We all fought as brothers and I’m very proud of that.”
To begin the second half, the Clippers’ defense forced a fumble by Stephen Brill and the offense was able to turn that into a points, as Freeman scampered in from five yards out. Two drives later, Freeman’s tough running was beginning to be stymied by the Rams’ front seven so Bell went with a change-of-pace back in fellow senior Cahron Wilmore. With 9:48 left in the third quarter, Wilmore took a delayed handoff and sprinted 63 yards for the score to cut the deficit to 28-20. Wilmore accounted for 100 of the Clippers’ 196 rushing yards.
Chester had a chance near the end to perhaps get even but quarterback Tahree Fuller-Bryan’s incomplete pass on fourth down with 2:37 left stymied a drive.
“It’s resiliency,” Bell said. “They fought and it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
ROYERSFORD >> Before the season, Unionville head football coach Pat Clark proudly lauded his program’s history of stout defense. He allowed, however, that inexperience might cause the Indians’ offense to carry the load early this season, while the defense gets up to speed.
After Friday night, Clark was willing to give himself half credit.
Unionville’s senior-laden offense was consistent, but the young defense was the real story as the Indians avenged a season-opening defeat last year, topping Spring-Ford, 26-17.
The Indians’ attack was led by senior Joe Zubillaga, who did a little bit of everything. “Zoob” had 152 rushing yards, 39 receiving yards and seven tackles in leading the defensive effort. The Indians limited Spring-Ford senior QB TJ Pergine to 11-36 passing, constantly harassing the passer and giving him little time to throw.
“We tried to make them one-dimensional by limiting the run game,” said Clark, “and that was to our benefit against a player like Pergine. Our strength is in the secondary, and we were able to limit the (Rams’) offense as a result.”
That secondary got the Indians off to a strong start when JT Hower intercepted a Spring-Ford pass on the first possession of the game, followed by a methodical nine-play drive culminating in Zubillaga’s first of two rushing TDs.
Dominic Brathwaite added a second-quarter field goal to make it 10-0 Unionville, before senior QB Alex Gorgone creates a nifty scramble to buy himself time and loft a 26-yard TD pass to Aidan Boyle for a 17-0 lead.
“We dug ourselves a hole early on,” lamented Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker, “and every time we started to climb out of it, they’d make a play or we’d slip and make a mistake.”
Meanwhile, the Unionville defense was holding Spring-Ford to 62 first-half total yards. Stephen Brill’s 25-yard run got the Rams into Unionville territory with two minutes to play before the half, but a fumble on the ensuing play quelled the threat.
Spring-Ford, which was ranked No. 10 in the PA Prep Live preseason Top 20, got some momentum with a blocked punt after halftime, followed by a 3-yard plunge by Justin DeFrancesco to cut the lead to 17-7. After a quick Unionville three-and-out, Pergine’s legs got the Rams going offensively, as he kept the ball on several zone reads and compiled 47 rushing yards in one drive. Junior kicker Taylor Smith banked a 40-yard field goal off the left upright to cut the lead to 17-10 after three.
Just as it appeared the Rams would get their chance to tie, Zubillaga stole the show with a catch along the visiting sideline. Gorgone lofted a pass from around his own 35 into enough traffic that the Unionville coaches in the press box were already pleading for pass interference.
Then they saw the side judge’s signal. Zubillaga had made the catch to give the Indians a first down at SF’s 33. Brathwaite added a 29-yard field goal to widen the lead to 20-10.
Pergine found a wide-open Tyler Edwards for a 44-yard TD to cut it to 20-17 with just under four minutes to play for the Rams.
“Our expectation for the team is that the kids play hard the whole game, and they definitely kept coming,” added Brubaker. “The effort was there all night.”
However, Zubillaga saved his best for last, lining up at quarterback on a 2nd and 3 situation from the Unionville 26 – as he had so often on short yardage plays all night.
This time, however, he wouldn’t be stopped, rumbling 74 yards to make the score 26-17 and put a bow on the season-opening upset.
“We wanted this one bad, after last year when they took it to us,” admitted Zubillaga, referencing Spring-Ford’s 33-3 season-opening win at Unionville in 2016. “It’s a great start to the season, the best we could’ve hoped for… and all our goals are in front of us. We want to take it all the way this season. There are no limits on what we can accomplish.”
Mercury Unionville Preview
Who’s Who >> Time to find out what these Rams are made of after seeing their entire defense depart due to graduation. Spring-Ford (9-3) is Spring-Ford – they’ll always have a wealth of players. The fun this week is to see who will step up in those sharp checkered helmets. Unionville (7-4) will look to bring a bigger test than they did in last year’s 33-3 loss. J.T. Hower will be a player to watch for the Indians. His play on the perimeter will be a test to a youthful and experienced Rams defense.
ROYERSFORD >> Rumor has it that Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker can be seen with a miner’s helmet, flashlight on during practice.
In reality, no, this is false, but Brubaker has been mining for something, someone during the 2017 offseason, a diamond in the rough per say.
That’s what happens when your team loses all 11 starters on a defense that led the Pioneer Athletic Conference in total yards per game (236.8), points allowed per game (12.5) and rushing yards per game (94.4).
Will he find one? More than likely judging on the well-known success of a Rams squad that comes into 2017 ranked No. 10 in the Pa Prep Live Preseason Rankings. When will he find one? Well that’s up in the air.
“Our instincts need to be right with who should be playing where,” Brubaker said. “We have to create as much competition as possible. There’s guys who we know will be in the mix.”
“We’ve always been a senior oriented team. No doubt we’re going to need help from a lot of underclassmen. A lot of sophomores are going to have to at least contribute on special teams.”
The amount of seniors that have graduated becomes lengthy. In total, 18 starters departed from a Rams squad that went 9-3 last season while advancing to the District 1 Class 6A playoffs. Gone are leading rushers Matt Gibson (757 yards, 124 carries) and Selwyn Simpson (756 yards on 111 carries). Same goes for leading receiver Stone Scarcelle (now at Marshall), Nick Salomone, Ryan Yanulevich, Lee Albert, Casey Callahan, Toby Poet, Tanner Romano, Matt Booth and Billy Frazier among others.
“We need a lot of people to step up really fast,” returning athlete Justin DeFrancesco said. “There’s going to be a lot of diamond in the roughs, some hidden talent, that will be stepping up this summer. It’s going to help us a lot when we’re replacing 11 starters on defense.”
DeFrancesco highlights the four returning starters on offense that also includes senior left tackle Noah Silva, senior center Matt LePore and senior quarterback TJ Pergine. DeFrancesco figures to get a lot of touches after waiting behind Gibson and Simpson while Pergine will look to take another step forward after throwing for a school-record 2,324 yards and 27 touchdowns last season.
“TJ has matured off the field and filmwork became a huge value to him,” Brubaker said. “We’re going to need more than that. He’s going to play with a chip on his shoulder and we welcome that and we think he’s going to have a great senior year. He’s going to be responsible for not only himself, but for a lot more. He’s got to help guys if they’re in the wrong position and read defenses but I know he’s up for it.”
Spring-Ford has partnered with GoRout, on-field wearable playmaking technology that houses real-time playmaking software that helps teams practice perfect. According to the product’s website, GoRout leads to a 60 percent average increase in practice reps and 90 percent increase in scout team efficiency. The purpose of the product is to push the limits of the status quo to help coaches rethink how they teach, engage and communicate with their players at practice.
We Meet Again
Spring-Ford hosts Wilson West-Lawn in Week 3 after an epic two-overtime thriller that landed on Pa Prep Live’s Top 10 Games from 2016.
Class of 2017 Qualifies 5 Nominees for Wall of Fame
2017 Wall of Fame Nominees
Matt Gibson – 1,750+ career rushing yards, 100 career points scored, 2,000+ all-purpose yards
Selwyn Simpson - 1,750+ career rushing yards, 100 career points scored, 2,000+ all-purpose yards
Stone Scarcelle – 1,000+ career receiving yards, 100 career points scored
Tanner Romano – 10+ career sacks
Nick Salomone – 1st Team All-League and 7,500 yards of offense while starting
Award Winners Named at 2017 TD Club Banquet
TD Club Award – Stone Scarcelle
Offensive MVP – Matt Gibson & Selwyn Simpson
Defensive MVP – Dan Cassidy
Vincent DiPaul Coaches Award – Ryan Yanulevich
Freed Award – Nick Salomone
Outstanding Offensive Lineman – Casey Callahan
Outstanding Defensive Lineman – Tanner Romano
Brian Clarke Special Teams Award – Erick Rodriguez
Burlsworth Character Award – Josh Tumelty
Stone Scarcelle's MiniMax Ad, Sponsored by the TD Club
Citizenship and All-Academic Team Announced
Daniel Cassidy, Spring-Ford
Josh Tumelty, Spring-Ford
Eight PAC football players honored by Tall Cedars
ROYERSFORD >> Eight Pioneer Athletic Conference football players were honored during the 75th annual Tall Cedars of Lebanon Forest No. 34 Football Night at the Masonic Lodge in Royersford on Wednesday night.
Guest speaker for the night was former Spring-Ford High School football star linebacker Ross Pennypacker, a member of Spring-Ford’s Class of 2000 who went on to play at Millersville University. Ross currently serves as defensive coordinator, linebacker coach and recruiting coordinator at Kutztown University. He is also the son of longtime Pottsgrove High School head football coach Rick Pennypacker, a star offensive tackle/inside linebacker at Spring-Ford with the Class of 1972 as well as a Tall Cedars honoree.
Honorees for this past fall season included: Lee Albert, Spring-Ford; Javontae Tinson, Pottstown; Kyle Kooker, Boyertown; Matt Garcia, Phoenixville; Ryan McCourt, Perkiomen Valley; Adam Spencer, Pottsgrove; Dan Hultz, Owen J. Roberts; and Nick Yerger, Pope John Paul II.
“Lee was a tremendous player as a linebacker for us this year,” said Spring-Ford coach Chad Brubaker about his Ram standout who doubled as a tight end on offense. “He has been a big-play tight end specialist the last two years. We want to bring someone who is a good player, a good person and who comes from a good family. We felt he was the best representative for this banquet.”
Albert made 56 solo tackles this season and also made a critical pass interception during the District 1 6A playoff game against North Penn. Albert also caught nine passes, including two for touchdowns, in the Rams’ two-tight end formation.
Tinson played on the offensive line and at defensive end for Pottstown under coach Gary Rhodenbaugh. Tinson was chosen as the Trojans’ Most Valuable Player.
“Javontae was the glue that held our O-line together at center,” said Rhodenbaugh. “He showed selflessness. He moved from guard, his more natural position, to center. He did a tremendous job as our captain and was elected by his teammates.”
Kooker played running back and started at outside linebacker for Boyertown. He displayed all the traits coaches want in their players, that according to George Parkinson.
“He has an outstanding work ethic and is coachable,” said Parkinson. “He is a team player who leads by example. I present the Coach’s Award to the player who is most coachable. To me, this is the highest award a player can get.”
Kooker had won the Coach’s Award as a junior and now again as a senior.
“Kyle is very intelligent,” said Parkinson. “He is a student of the game and is eager to learn. He was at chalk talk and film review and wanted to get better. He even called signals on defense from the sidelines for one game as a sophomore. He paid attention.”
Phoenixville was represented by Garcia, who enjoyed a record-setting season as a running back for the Phantoms. Garcia totaled 1,820 yards on 255 carries during a phenomenal regular season that averaged out to a 7.1-yards per attempt. He broke Phoenixville’s single-season rushing record, which was held by the late Jimmy Johnson for 50 years.
“He will go down as one of the best players I ever coached and the best at Phoenixville,” said head coach Evan Breisblatt. “There is a strong history in Phoenixville football, so this is quite an accomplishment.”
Garcia, originally a Texas native, doubled as a linebacker on defense and also played on all special teams.
PAC Champion Perkiomen Valley was represented by McCourt, a senior outside linebacker on the strong side of the defense. His start to the season was pushed back due to an injury in the team’s opening scrimmage.
“He was a first team all-league player coming back and we were certainly counting on him, and then to see him go down hurt,” said PV head coach Rob Heist. “It was a freak accident.
“He came back on the practice field and was Coach McCourt. He helped with reads and had an outstanding season for us. It was a testament to his character that he was there and a testament because of the adversity he faced.”
McCourt is also an outstanding student whose curriculum includes Advanced Placement courses.
Pottsgrove coach Rick Pennypacker brought along Spencer, who despite weighing around 100 pounds, played three years of quality football on the Falcons’ special teams.
“This little guy is one person who needs to be honored,” said Pennypacker. “I have been coaching a long time. Next year will be 40 years, and I have never seen a player like this.”
Spencer, who weighed just 85 pounds as a sophomore, compensates with a mighty heart.
“He is the most inspiring kid I have ever been around,” said Pennypacker. “Whenever I was having a bad day, I’d see him, and that always picks me up. He is the ultimate team man. He inspired us and was the reason for the success we had as any kid on the team. He was inspiring to me and to everybody in the school. He is one of my favorites.”
Owen J. Roberts was represented by assistant coach Brian Leister and Hultz, a defensive tackle who doubled as a guard and tackle along the offensive line. Halt was one of only five seniors on the Wildcat team this season, and only three of those seniors finished the year.
“There was a lot of pressure on our seniors,” said Leister. “But we went 7-5 last year and 6-6 this year with a new coaching staff.”
Despite knee and ankle injuries, Hultz became an emotional team leader who also demonstrated his work ethic in the weight room.
Pope John Paul II coach Rory Graver spoke about Yerger, a team captain for the Golden Panthers who played outside linebacker and fullback during a playoff campaign.
“Nick started as a sophomore but missed his junior year with a knee injury,” said Graver. “He came back to be our team MVP as a senior.”
Yerger also carries a 4.1 GPA in the classroom and has made the Honor Roll ever since his freshman year.
“He is a good student, a good football player and an even better person,” said Graver.
All-Liberty and All-Conference Teams Announced
All Conference Receiver
All Conference Offensive Line
All Conference Defensive Line
All-Liberty Division Offense
2nd Team Quarterback
1st Team Running Back
Selwyn Simpson II
2nd Team Running Back
1st Team Receiver*
2nd Team Receiver
1st Team Offensive Line
All-Liberty Division Defense
1st Team Defensive Line
2nd Team Defensive Line
1st Team Inside Linebacker
2nd Team Inside Linebacker
1st Team Defensive Back
2nd Team Specialist
Mercury-area football season review from A to Z
By Austin Hertzog
The PAC is back.
Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford made waves in the District 1 Class 6A playoffs while Pottsgrove’s Class 4A title and runs by Upper Perkiomen and Pope John Paul II proved that the PAC should no longer be an afterthought in the district conversation.
Stellar careers came to an end, while promising careers began to shine.
All-in-all, 2016 will be one remembered for the record-breaking, the surprising upsets, and the deep district runs.
Here’s a look back on the Mercury-area season from A to Z.
A is for Adeboboye: Hill School’s Daniel Adeboboye started his Hill School career in fine fashion, rushing for more than 250 yards in the team’s 2-0 start, its best start since the 2009 season. The Hill finished with a 3-6 record.
B is for Bettering the mark: Spring-Ford senior wide receiver Stone Scarcelle finished tied for most career touchdown receptions in Rams history, his 20 touchdown receptions tying Andrew Scanlan (now at Northwestern), who graduated in 2011. Scarcelle’s 13 receiving touchdowns in 2016 was a Spring-Ford record.
C is for Courage: Look no further than Perkiomen Valley’s Chris Jimenez and mother Jaime Kline. Kline, suffering from breast cancer for the past six years, has been battling the disease and continues to do so even with her recent Stage 4 diagnosis. Jimenez, a senior Temple commit, leaned on football as therapy amid the tribulation and was a huge piece to the Vikings’ undefeated regular season and PAC title run.
D is for Defense: Spring-Ford’s defense was by far the best in the PAC, averaging only 12.5 points per game — nearly six points better than PAC’s second-best in Perkiomen Valley. The Rams also led the PAC in rushing yards allowed per game (94.4) and total yards allowed per game (236.8). The team finished with 31 sacks and 14 interceptions.
E is for Ellen: Always a good PAC season when Ellen DeGeneres gets a mention in the A to Z review. Pottstown’s own Marvin Pearson was given a $10,000 scholarship to a college of his choice and was given a chance to fly to New Orleans to meet Drew Brees on “The Ellen Show” in November. More on Pearson shortly.
F is for Faison: During preseason camp it was instantly recognizable the talent that the Rahsul Faison, an Archbishop Carroll transfer, would bring to Pottsgrove. Faison rushed for a PAC best 2,093 yards — the first 2,000-plus effort since OJR’s Ryan Brumfield in 2010 — as the Falcons won its first District 1 championship since 2011, beating Interboro in comeback fashion in the Class 4A title game.
G is for Garcia: It wasn’t the best season for Phoenixville, but senior running back Matt Garcia made it memorable. Garcia shattered the school’s single-season rushing record of 1,507 yards set by Jimmy Johnson in 1966, finishing with 1,820 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in 10 games.
H is for Honoring the Military: Pottsgrove and Phoenixville both honored the military with annual Military Appreciation nights.
I is for Interceptions: Five players led the PAC with five interceptions in 2016: Koran Butler (Norristown), Jake Bildstein (Pope John Paul II), Matt Ford-Bey (Perkiomen Valley), Ryan Kendra (Upper Perkiomen) and Dan Cassidy (Spring-Ford).
J is for Jaworski: Perkiomen Valley’s Justin Jaworski broke his own record for most receiving yards in a season, finishing with 1,396 yards receiving with 14 touchdowns, all while missing some of the season with a MCL injury. Jaworski, who returned during the Vikings’ victory over Spring-Ford in Week 7, shattered the PAC career mark for receiving yards in Week 3, besting the mark set by Upper Perkiomen’s Ronnie Gillespie in 2011 (2,147 yards). Jaworski finished his career with 3,270 career yards.
K is for Kickers: Whether it be Perkiomen Valley’s Garrett Patla, or Spring-Ford’s Erick Rodriguez, this year was definitely the Year of the Kicker. Patla finished with a PAC record 85 points, including nine field goals (one a 49-yarder in the District 1 Class 6A quarterfinals). Rodriguez broke Spring-Ford’s single-season record for most points of 70 set by Ryan O’Hara in 2011. Rodriguez finished with 76 points.
L is for Liberty: The Liberty Division made easy work of its Frontier Division opponents in the Week 10 crossover matchups. Highlighted by Perkiomen Valley’s 28-14 victory over Pottsgrove in the PAC Championship, the Liberty Division went 6-0 in the Week 10 crossovers.
M is for Marvin: Pottstown’s Marvin Pearson scored his first varsity touchdown in the Trojans’ 48-8 loss to Pottsgrove in October. Pearson, blind since the age of 10 and deaf a short time after, came back to Pottstown for his senior season and made memories along the way.
N is for Newcomers: Norristown and Upper Merion’s first season in the PAC could have been better (teams combined to go 3-6 in the conference), but the two finished off the season with an epic clash in their annual Thanksgiving Day game.
O is for Okuniewski: Daniel Boone’s Ryan Okuniewski finished with a team-best 836 receiving yards on 41 receptions. His totals are No. 2 in Berks, behind only Exeter’s Gabe Schappell (47-908).
P is for Pope John Paul II: Whether it be its first three-game winning streak since 2011, or its first victory over Pottsgrove in school history, the Golden Panthers’ season was a surprise to many, especially after a winless 2015. PJP junior quarterback Matt DeLaurentis fared extremely well in his first year starting, finishing with 2,307 passing yards, while the defense finished fifth in the PAC with 267.3 yards per game.
Q is for Quarterbacks: Three quarterbacks finished with more than 2,000 yards passing (PV’s Stephen Sturm, SF’s TJ Pergine and PJP’s Matt DeLaurentis).
R is for Romano: Spring-Ford’s Tanner Romano bettered his brother’s school record for most tackles for loss in a season, his 23 TFL four better than Mason’s mark set in 2012. Mason, however, holds the mark for most career tackles for loss with 40.
S is for Stephen Sturm: Perkiomen Valley’s Stephen Sturm wrapped up the best career of any District 1 quarterback at the largest classification, passing for a PAC-record 3,438 yards with 42 touchdowns opposed to just nine interceptions. Sturm, who set the District 1 single-season mark for passing yards in a season for a week before North Penn’s Reece Udinksi bettered it in the district title game, passed Downingtown East’s Pat Develin (2006) for most career passing yards with 8,554 yards. His 94 career passing touchdowns tied Manheim Township’s Pat Bostick (2003-2006) career mark.sturm1
T is for TJ Pergine: Spring-Ford’s TJ Pergine Spring-Ford single season record for passing yards in a season, finishing with 2,275 yards, a new single-season record for passing yards.
U is for Undefeated: Perkiomen Valley completed its first undefeated regular season in school history.
V is for Victory: The Perkiomen School finished the year with six wins, finishing the year with a 54-6 victory over St. Andrew’s School.
W is for Wilson: Game of the Year goes to Spring-Ford and Wilson in Week 3. The much-hyped matchup that pitted Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker against his former school (Brubaker spent 12 years as an assistant coach for the perennial state powerhouse, the last four as the offensive coordinator under head coach Doug Dahms), went in Wilson’s favor in a double-overtime thriller that saw the Bulldog defense stuff Stone Scarcelle one inch shy of the goal line on a two-point conversion. Wilson won 41-40 and most recently won the District 3 Class 6A championship.
X is for X-Factor: Every team had one, whether it be PJP’s Dan Cirino, Upper Perkiomen’s Tyler Whary, Phoenixville’s Nasir Green, Perkiomen Valley’s Sean Owens or Spring-Ford’s Selwyn Simpson.
Y is for Yazujian: He isn’t in high school anymore, but that’s OK. Tyler Yazujian, Penn State’s longsnapper, was part of what many media members are calling the story of the year: the Penn State 2016 team that earned a Big Ten East title and will vie for the conference championship Saturday in Indianapolis.
Z is for Zeke: Upper Perkiomen advanced to the District 1 Class 4A playoffs this season in large part due to the play of senior quarterback Zeke Hallman, who cleaned up his play from 2015. Hallman finished with a career-best 1,938 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions as the Indians finished the year 5-6 (4-1 PAC). Hallman’s season totals for yards and touchdowns were bests for in Upper Perkiomen history.
Spring-Ford’s loss to North Penn doesn’t diminish season filled with milestones
By Tom Nash
TOWAMENCIN >> While the North Penn football team marched out of Crawford Stadium in jubilation led by their band, Spring-Ford’s players made the long walk back to their locker room in complete and utter silence Friday night.
Some players took the walk solo.
Others walked it in packs.
Yet every player made that walk together.
“We came such a long way these past three months,” said senior receiver Stone Scarcelle following the Rams’ 28-19 loss against top-ranked North Penn in the quarterfinal round of the District 1 Class 6A playoffs.
“From three-a-days to now — it seems like an eternity,” he added. “All you get is these three months and then the season’s over. You’ve gotta take what you can get.”
All season long, Spring-Ford took just about everything it could get against nearly every opponent. Following their mid-season loss against eventual-PAC Champion Perkiomen Valley in early-October, the Rams renewed their focus and got on a roll.
Bob Raines--Digital First Media Spring-Ford running back Justin DeFrancesco finds himself surrounded by North Penn defenders Jake Hubler, Nov. 11, 2016.
Bob Raines–Digital First Media
Spring-Ford running back Justin DeFrancesco finds himself surrounded by North Penn defenders Jake Hubler, Nov. 11, 2016.
Spring-Ford rattled off four consecutive dominating wins, out-scoring the opposition 204-14, including last week’s 38-7 district-opening win against Central Bucks East — their first district win since the 2013 season.
“We knew who we were,” said Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker of the Rams’ season. “I think a lot of people discounted us, but we knew we were a good football team.”
Even after they were down 21-0 just eight minutes in, the Rams never truly seemed out of it. A team that can score in bunches and through several different options will give off that vibe.
Selwyn Simpson — the team’s workhorse during the late stretch of the season — scored two touchdowns during the second half, bringing his season rushing touchdown total to 24.
Quarterback TJ Pergine, who had set the program’s record for passing yards in a season the week before, got into a solid rhythm with Scarcelle, connecting five times for 85 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown strike in-between Simpson’s touchdown runs.
“I’m gonna tell these guys, you know ‘Don’t hang your heads,’” said Brubaker. “I know this loss stings, but we were in this 48 minutes. This won’t take away from some of the things we did this season.”
Running back Matt Gibson was forced to watch last week’s district opener from the sideline while dealing with a concussion.
That said, he knows a thing or two about district football.
“One loss and that’s it,” he said. “I knew this could potentially be my last time putting on the uniform and the pads. There was no way I could miss this game.”
Gibson provided the Rams plenty of spark on kick-off returns, and also opened up the second half with a 31-yard burst through the left tackle.
“It was great to be back onto the field and to be able to contribute again,” he said. “I didn’t want this to be my last game, but I’m glad that I was able to actually be in it with my teammates one last time.”
“This team means everything to me … and all of us,” added Gibson. “Everyone on this team is my brother. We stick together.”
North Penn starts, finishes strong in District 1-6A quarters win over Spring-Ford
By Kev Hunter
TOWAMENCIN >> It was late in the third quarter with North Penn holding on tight to a 21-19 lead when quarterback Reece Udinski — on a 3rd-and-9 from the Spring-Ford 27 — fired a deep slant to wide receiver Ricky Johns.
Two Ram defenders converged on Johns, each delivering a hit. The two defenders went down, Johns remained up, and raced away to what would be the clinching score on a blustery, cold night at Crawford Stadium.
“They rang my bell,” Johns said of the play, “and the next thing you know I’m in the end zone.”
The touchdown was symbolic of the evening. The eighth-seeded Rams gave the Knights their best shot, but North Penn persevered and still pulled away to a 28-19 victory that sends them to next week’s District 1-6A Semifinals against Coatesville.
“That was really big. We needed to score on that drive,” Johns said of his third-quarter TD. “We had been stopped on the previous possession but that gave us momentum.”
Top-seeded North Penn (12-0) never relinquished it. The Udinski-to-Johns connection would be the only points of the second half, as the Knights’ defense shut out Spring-Ford in the final two quarters.
“The halftime adjustment was we had to tackle better,” North Penn coach Dick Beck said. “In the second quarter, we did not tackle well. (Spring-Ford) got a lot of extra yardage after the first contact.
“We tackled better in the second half and I think that was the big difference.”
Bob Raines--Digital First Media Spring-Ford receiver Quinn McKenna gets a pass up the middle against North Penn Nov. 11, 2016.
Spring-Ford receiver Quinn McKenna gets a pass up the middle against North Penn during their District 1-6A quarterfinal on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)
After Spring-Ford (9-3) trimmed a 21-0 deficit down to just 21-19 at the break, the Rams received the second-half kickoff with the hope of pushing in front for the first time.
A 31-yard run by Matt Gibson provided quite a start, but a 1st-and-10 at the North Penn 42 soon turned into 4th-and-5 at the 37.
That is where Gibson — and Ram comeback hopes — were stopped cold by linebacker Owen Thomas, who corralled Gibson in the backfield for a two-yard loss.
The next three Ram possessions would be three-and-outs. Then, on Spring-Ford’s first possession of the fourth quarter, Johns — from his linebacker position — intercepted quarterback T.J. Pergine, setting the Knights up for one of their three clock-killing drives in the final period.
“I like to bait my quarterbacks,” Johns said. “I let them think I’m blitzing and then bail back to cover the slant.
“Our defense always plays well,” Johns said of a unit that surrendered just 51 yards in the second half. “We gotta keep improving but our defense has been amazing.”
Johns later supplied a 29-yard catch that would help allow NP to keep the ball until the final seconds of the game ticked away.
It was a night that began with North Penn scoring on its first three drives, quickly bolting to a 21-0 lead at Crawford.
A 60-yard run by Nick Dillon on the first play from scrimmage led to a seven-yard touchdown run by Jason Prince for the first points of the evening.
Then, on NP’s second offensive series, facing a 2nd-and-14 from his own 13, Udinski went back and uncorked what would be an 87-yard score to Johns, who caught the ball in stride and raced his way for six.
“I had to get a deep one on them. That was gonna be a tough match-up between me and (Stone Scarcelle),” said Johns, who hauled in seven catches for 192 yards and two scores. “He’s a great athlete. That was gonna be a big match-up this game and I just broke loose.”
The lead grew to 21-0 when Udinski hit Justis Henley for a 21-yard score on 3rd-and-Goal, as the Knights appeared on the brink of enforcing the mercy rule for the second straight week in the playoffs.
But Spring-Ford rallied back.
Bob Raines--Digital First Media North Penn quarterback Reece Udinski passes over Spring-Ford's Tanner Romano Nov. 11, 2016.
North Penn quarterback Reece Udinski passes over Spring-Ford’s Tanner Romano during their District 1-6A quarterfinal on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)
“We knew who we were. We’re a good football team, and that’s a big hole to climb out of,” Rams coach Chad Brubaker said, “but our kids were gonna play 48 minutes no matter what.”
A pair of rushing touchdowns by Selwyn Simpson — a four-yarder and a one-yarder — were sandwiched around a 33-yard TD pass from Pergine to Scarcelle, which came on 4th-and-9.
The Rams scored on all three of their second-quarter possessions and forced a pair of Knights turnovers to get within two points at the half. But the go-ahead score never came.
“(I told the guys) you lost to a good football team,” Brubacker said. “They played their hearts out. We felt like in the second half we needed that one more big play or one more break and it just never came for us.
“We made a couple mistakes and (North Penn) switched its front up a lot and caused us some problems. But I told the guys to hold their heads up high. They played well and were in that game for 48 minutes.”
With a contest that was as tight as it could be in the third quarter, the Knights came up with the play they needed, when Udinski fired a strike to Johns, who bounced off two tacklers and was free.
Said Beck: “Ricky making that play, splitting the defenders and walking in the end zone…That was probably the play of the game.”
Johns, defense big in 2nd half when North Penn tested by Spring-Ford
By Mike Cabrey
TOWAMENCIN >> On a cold and windy Friday night, things seemed to be blowing out of the North Penn football team’s grasp just before halftime.
Less than nine minutes into their District 1-6A quarterfinal with Spring-Ford at Crawford Stadium, the Knights had a 21-0 lead and look on their way to doing what they have done all season – burying teams until a large pile of points.
The visiting Rams, however, would not go down that path. With North Penn derailed by penalties, an interception and a turnover on downs, Spring-Ford high-tempo spread attack found momentum and reach the end zone three times in the second quarter – Selwyn Simpson’s 1-yard rushing touchdown trimming the Knights’ lead down 21-19 just 75 seconds before intermission.
Bob Raines--Digital First Media Spring-Ford quarterback TJ Pergine gets off a pass as he is grabbed by North Penn's Ricky Johns Nov. 11, 2016.
Spring-Ford quarterback TJ Pergine gets off a pass as he is grabbed by North Penn’s Ricky Johns during their District 1-6A quarterfinal on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)
“I started to get a little greedy. I should have stayed on the ground a little more in the second quarter,” North Penn coach Dick Beck said. “We got the wind to our back we’re thinking we can throw a couple deep and what happed was that the wind to the back it was really affecting the ball more than with the wind to the face. So I think that was a little bit of a mistake on my part.”
The Knights had won their previous 11 games by an average of 30.2 points. They trailed in games for a total 11 minutes, 4 seconds, all of that coming in the first half against Pennridge Week 5. Friday’s two-point lead at halftime was the smallest for North Penn so far in 2016.
“In the locker room we told the guys, ‘Hey, we’re still up,’” North Penn senior Dan Drop said. “Facing adversity for one of the first times this year and we just tried to battle. Our defense we just tried to keep our heads in the game, make tackles like we didn’t do in the first half.”
The NP defense made a stand on the opening drive of the second half and kept Spring-Ford stuck on 19 points – just the second time in 2016 the Rams’ could not eclipse 30 points. A great catch and run by Ricky Johns for a touchdown gave the Knights a nine-point cushion that turned out to be the final score, the 28-19 win sending North Penn into the semifinals to face Coatesville, a 41-21 winner of Ridley.
#FOOTBALL: The @KnightsLoyalty defense stuffs Spring-Ford on 4th down with NP holding a 21-19 lead early 3rd quarter. pic.twitter.com/k9R25EfjwC
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) November 12, 2016
“I think the halftime adjustment was we had to tackle better. In the second quarter, we did not tackle well. They got a lot of extra yardage after the first contact,” Beck said. I can’t tell you how many time we hit them at the line of scrimmage and he fell for two or three yards. We hit him for a two-yard gain, he’d get five. So, when you’re doing that we start to press more on defense where everybody’s trying to get after the runner next thing you know we’re giving up the passes down the seams because the linebackers are really trying to be more aggressive.
“So, when we tackled better in the third quarter and actually in the second half, I think that was the big difference.”
With North Penn still holding only that two-point edge, Spring-Ford moved into Knights territory on the opening drive of the second half. On a fourth down inside the 40, the Rams elected to go for it but NP bottled up the run attempt and Owen Thomas made the tackle for loss.
“I think we sent a lot of pressure up the middle,” Drop said. “Owen Thomas came free, hold him up and we just swarmed to the ball.”
North Penn punted on the ensuing series, but pinned Spring-Ford deep in its own end and forced the Rams to go three-and-out, Thomas on third down again slicing into the backfield to send a runner to negative yardage.
#FOOTBALL: @KnightsLoyalty‘s @ricky_johns8 with big yards off a @ReeceUdinski pass to convert a 3rd down 4Q vs. Spring-Ford pic.twitter.com/9qvvNR6bML
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) November 12, 2016
Johns provided the Knights some much-needed breathing room on the next drive. On a third and long from the 27, Johns hauled in a Reece Udinski pass at the 15, took hits from two defenders but slid out of the tackles and dash to the end zone at 4:43 in the third quarter.
“They rang my bell and two seconds later I’m in the end zone, so that was just a great play,” said Johns on his second TD of the night, having scored on a 87-yarder from Udinski that made it 14-0 in the first quarter.
Johns helped maintain the nine-point lead in the fourth quarter first with his interception then later turning a short pass over the middle on third down in a big gain, allowing the Knights to salt away the final minutes.
“He was great tonight,” said Beck of Johns. “Reece was getting him the ball, but he made some really special plays. And that’s why he’s going to West Virginia. The kid’s a special player and we expect him to come up big all the time.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Central Bucks East fell to a Spring-Ford team that will travel to North Penn on Friday night. Your thoughts.
Drew Markol: “I know East got beat up with the injuries. Everyone has injuries this time of year. Neshaminy lost Zach Tredway for most of its game against Pennridge. He might be their best player. Everybody has injuries, it happens, but East got a rash of them, and that Spring-Ford team is pretty good.
“We joke about the PAC-10, but between them and Perk Valley, they’re a decent team. Can they hang with North Penn for four quarters with what North Penn will give them? No. Could it be a 35-21 final score that North Penn wins? Yes, I think it could be because North Penn – it’s a credit to them – hasn’t really been tested since early September or August even when they were playing La Salle and Downingtown East. They just kind of blitzed their way through the Continental Conference schedule.
“Last week against Haverford, that game played out like a one versus 16 game usually does. North Penn hangs 50 on them, and that’s that. Granted, the 10th seed, Garnet Valley, beats the seventh seed in CB South, but it took a miracle to do it. There are just too many teams in the tournament. If there’s going to be a district playoff – and there shouldn’t be, give me 12 teams in it, and the top four teams get a bye in the first round, and then you go from there. Sixteen teams is just too many. Everybody will say – ‘Oh, Pennridge almost beat Neshaminy,’ but the key word there is almost. Again, the field is way too big in 5A.”
Kevin Cooney: “East lost four players to injuries, and it would have been interesting to see if East was fully healthy if that would have changed anything, but look, Spring-Ford is a good football team.
“Again, the question about North Penn has been – are you able to withstand some little problems. They haven’t faced adversity all year – if they get pushed down, will they respond? The problem is I’m not sure if I could see Spring-Ford pushing them. The next week against Coatesville or Ridley, absolutely. This will be the last relatively easy game on North Penn’s schedule.
“To North Penn’s credit, when they get a team down, they put them away. They take your soul early, and it’s over. They don’t mess around. They come in and say, ‘We’re going to score and score and score, and we’ll stop you, and boom – you’re done. You know it, and we know it. The game is over.’
“It will be interesting to see what happens this week. I had Neshaminy closing the gap a little bit on North Penn, but I don’t know. I think this team is better than their state title team. It’s just they didn’t have to deal with St. Joseph Prep back then. That’s the de facto state title game when they play in the state semifinal.”
Jen Weilgus: “I had to look a little bit deeper at what happened in the CB East-Spring-Ford game because I was so shocked. I picked CB East to win that game, and I’m not saying that was a great pick. Maybe I didn’t respect Spring-Ford for what they were. It sounds like it was a bit of a body bag game for CB East. That doesn’t mean Spring-Ford was overly physical. I’m not suggesting that, but it sounds like CB East really got unlucky in terms of losing guys that were crucial to them.
“I don’t think that means Spring-Ford is going to give North Penn a hard time. I don’t think anybody is going to give North Penn a hard time. If they do, good for North Penn because I feel like they need to get tested at some point. They need a test if they’re going to go play for a state championship or if they meet St. Joe’s Prep on the way to Hershey, but I don’t think it’s going to be Spring-Ford.”
Unbeaten North Penn defends Crawford Stadium again in playoffs
LANSDALE >> A perfect regular season earned the North Penn football the opportunity to play on its home field for the entire District 1-6A tournament. It is an advantage the Knights want to use to its fullest.
“I think the most importantly part about playing at Crawford is (you are) in front of the home fans and North Penn has been undefeated in playoffs home (all-time), that’s a big thing on our shoulders, we always think about that,” North Penn senior Nick Vasger said. “We get to show out for all our peers and friends and that’s really a big thing. And we just never really want to lose at Crawford.”
North Penn defended Crawford Stadium easily in the opening round, now the Knights prepare for another challenge as eight-seeded Spring-Ford visits for a district quarterfinal matchup Friday night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“We’re excited that we’re coming back to The Swamp,” said Vasger, a first-team All-Suburban One League Continental Conference pick at defensive end. “Obviously we’re stepping up every week, everyone has to consistently get better every week and Spring-Ford’s a good team. And they’re game-planning for us well and we’re game planning for them. I’m just excited for the game overall.”
Bob Raines–Digital First Media
Nick Vasger (North Penn) pulls in Reece Udinski’s pass in the endzone during the Nov. 4, 2016 home game against Haverford.
Winner advances to face either No. 4 Coatesville or No. 5 Ridley in the semifinals.
The top-seeded Knights (11-0) are in the district quarters for the second straight season after starting the playoffs with a 56-7 victory over No. 16 Haverford. The point total was the highest this season for a North Penn team now averaging 42.1 points per contest. It also surpassed the 55-20 win over Downingtown East in the District 1-AAAA final in 2005 as the most points the Knights have score din the postseason under head coach Dick Beck.
Spring-Ford (9-2) also rolled in their district opener, scoring the first 35 points en route to a 38-7 win visiting No. 9 Central Bucks East. Quarterback T.J. Pergine threw for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Rams continued to pound teams since their Week 7 loss to Perkiomen Valley. Spring-Ford has outscored its last four opponents 204-14.
“They got some good athletes. No. 12 (Stone Scarcelle) is a good player. I think they flow well as a team,” said Vasger of the Rams. “I think they don’t make a lot of mental mistakes and that’s big especially at this level not making a lot of mistakes, not shooting yourself in the foot and I think they do a good job of that. They’re a tough team overall. They have a good defense, they’re defense is really good, so that’s what we’re worried about.”
Spring-Ford — which is the first PAC opponent for North Penn since the Knights beat Perkiomen Valley in the 2013 District 1-4A semifinals — is scoring 43.7 points a game this season while its defense has posted three shutouts in holding teams to 11.6 points per contest.
Pergine comes into Friday night having throw for 2,122 yards and 26 touchdowns with his top target Scarcelle, who has caught 41 passes for 760 yards and 12 touchdowns. On the ground, Selwyn Simpson has 731 yards and 22 touchdowns on 97 carries.
North Penn quarterback Reece Udinski is in charge of a NP offense posting 438.0 yards per game. Udinski has passed for 2,814 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2016, going 11-of-14 for 168 yards and one score in last Friday’s win over Haverford. Udinski has a bevy of options to throw to including Ricky Johns (39 catches, 769 yards, seven TDs), Justis Henley (33 receptions, 601 yards, five touchdowns) and Jake Hubler (32 catches, 733 yards, five touchdowns).
Nick Dillon scored four rushing touchdowns for the third time this season in the first-round win. Dillon paces the Knights on the ground with 731 and 17 touchdowns on 117 carries.