EAST ROCKHILL >> It was midway through the second quarter Friday night when Pennridge quarterback Jagger Hartshorn took the snap, handed off to right halfback Austin Herrlinger, who then handed off to Anthony Kelly…
“I saw Anthony looking at me and I was like, ‘please pass it,’ because I was wide open,” said Hartshorn, who was racing down the right sideline uncovered.
Kelly lofted a perfect strike to Hartshorn for what would be an 81-yard touchdown, pushing Pennridge ahead and forever tilting control to the Rams in their 38-10 victory over rival Souderton Area.
“That was exciting,” Hartshorn said of the wide receiver reverse TD pass, a play that the Rams worked on for two weeks in practice before unveiling it Friday, under the lights at Helman. “I think it set the tone for the whole game. We got motivated after that and just kept going.”
Hartshorn threw for a score, ran for another, and was on the receiving end of the bomb from Kelly to help Pennridge win its Suburban One League Continental Conference opener and even its overall record to 2-2.
“I liked how we came back after two losses and played as a team,” said Hartshorn, who rushed for 130 yards, threw for 94 and caught the 81-yard pass. “Our defense shut ‘em out in the second half and it was just a great game.”
Ahead 14-10 at the start of the third quarter, the Rams took the second-half kickoff, marched 68 yards in seven plays, and extended their lead when Herrlinger found a crack and powered into the end zone, stretching the margin to 21-10.
On Souderton’s (3-1) second possession of the half, quarterback Joey Curotto tested tight coverage downfield but Ryan Cuthbert came down with the interception at around the 40-yard line, and nearly took it back all the way for a score, run out of bounds at the Souderton five.
On the very next play, Hartshorn fired a quick-out to tight end Nick Tarburton, who made a nice snag in the end zone to stretch the Ram advantage to 28-10 with three minutes to play in the third.
“It was pretty cool — my second touchdown,” Tarburton said. “It’s all new to me but it’s awesome.”
Something that is not new to Tarburton is making tackles. Pennridge’s middle linebacker was a presence that Souderton’s offense could not shake. He was a big reason Big Red was held to just one first down in a decisive third quarter.
“They have some phenomenal defenders, and you can’t run away from all of them,” Big Red coach Ed Gallagher said. “You gotta find a way to keep a nice mix, and I thought we did in the first half.
“The unfortunate thing was that we only got 10 points out of it, and that’s what was really demoralizing about it.”
On just the second play from scrimmage, fullback Koby Khan broke free for a 56-yard run, but the Indians would ultimately have to settle for a 34-yard field goal, off the foot of Dylan Molyneaux, for a 3-0 lead.
After a one-yard rushing TD by Herrlinger gave the Rams a 7-3 lead, Souderton again went ahead on a two-yard run by Brandon Taragna, making it 10-7.
Khan would rack up 156 yards on the ground in the first half. After halftime, he was held to 37.
“We definitely keyed on (Khan),” Tarburton said. “(In the first half), their tight end was messing us up a little bit — switching back and forth.
“The defense played real well. We did have a couple breakdowns — they ran that backside lead, but we adapted to it. We played hard and we beat ‘em.”
After dominating the third quarter, Pennridge put it away in the fourth. A 28-yard field goal by Matt Mauer split the uprights to extend the gap to 31-10, and with 6:53 to play, Hartshorn found a seam, made a cut and was gone, racing away to a 52-yard score that provided the final points.
“Closed it out,” Hartshorn said.
Pennridge pulled away on a night that began so promising for Souderton. Big Red cracked Pennridge’s red zone on two of its first three series but could not duplicate its strong start.
“I thought we had them reeling there for a while in the first half and we were executing very well,” Gallagher said. “And we just stopped — on both sides of the ball.
“We responsed to adversity well in our first game (in a win over PW), but we weren’t able to do that tonight. We have to look and see what we need to do to fix that.”
Ahead 10-7, Souderton had another good drive early in the second quarter, reaching the Pennridge 29. A holding call backed the Indians up, and then on 2nd-and-14 at the 40, Tarburton stopped Camerin Carroll for no gain.
After an incompletion, Big Red was forced to punt. On Souderton’s next possession, the Rams again forced a punt, this one rolling all the way back to the Pennridge 11.
After Hartshorn gained eight yards to move the ball to the 19, Pennridge came up with the play that helped put their season back on track.
“We’ve been working on it for a while — hadn’t used it yet, and it didn’t work (laugh) exactly the way I wanted it to — because we really got pressure off that back side,” Rams coach Jeff Hollenbach said of the wide receiver reverse pass. “Anthony just made guys miss, so his play — for somebody that’s not a quarterback, to be in that situation…He makes a move, makes a guy miss, still sees Jagger open, and gets the ball to him. It was really an incredible play.
“I do think that play just turned the momentum around.”