LOWER POTTSGROVE >> Pottsgrove School District recognized coaches and players from its championship teams prior to Friday’s game with Upper Merion.
The alumni were honored for producing more than a dozen titles in three leagues during the program’s more than a half-century of existence. The current crop of Falcons gave their predecessors another honor: The satisfaction of observing a 35-0 victory over the Vikings on the opening night of divisional play in the Pioneer Athletic Conference.
Rahsul Faison rushed for a pair of touchdowns, while Ryan Finn ran and passed for another pair to keep Pottsgrove’s 2016 season surging. The win proved timely, getting the Falcons (3-2) back on the winning track after last week’s loss to Glen Mills … and they relished doing it in the presence of the program’s past champions.
“Those guys did what our kids have yet to do,” Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker said. “We made sure they understand the tradition.”
The present-day players displayed the skill set their predecessors used to achieve championship stature. And Finn, in his first year steering the varsity offense, had a prominent role in the performance.
Finn rushed for 82 yards in the second half, with the biggest sprint from scrimmage (42 yards) resulting in Pottsgrove’s fourth touchdown of the night less than a minute into the fourth quarter. His 4-for-7 passing was highlighted by a five-yard connection to Malik Garner on the Falcons’ first possession.
“Seeing the past champions, it was nice to have them here,” the Pottsgrove senior said. “They were able to do what we haven’t done yet.
“The coaches told us this is one of the senior classes that hasn’t won a championship. We’re trying to get better week after week.”
Pottsgrove’s defense did its part to make Upper Merion’s first divisional matchup as a new member of the PAC a rough one. The Vikings (1-4 overall) were held to a combined 108 yards total offense, with turnovers in the form of an Adam Girafalco interception in the first quarter and Tyler Smith’s recovery of a Tyrese Leach fumble to set the stage for the Falcons’ third TD.
“I’m proud of our defense,” Pennypacker said. “Our front seven played well, and (defensive back Adam) Girafalco did well in coverage. The secondary played well, too.”
Quarterback John Paul Batton was 6-for-17 in passing, collecting 32 yards while throwing one interception. UM’s leading rushers were Botros Barsoum, with 26 yards on three carries; Leach, with nine carries for 23 yards; and Zach DeSanto, who covered 21 stripes on another nine totes.
Upper Merion’s two deepest drives into Pottsgrove territory came on its last two possessions of the game, by which time the Falcons had brought the running clock into play with their fifth touchdown at the 8:21 mark of the fourth quarter. The first drive ended on downs; the second, by the game clock running down to zero.
Ephriam Hurt-Ramsey was big in the Pottsgrove defense, with three drops of UM ballcarriers for negative yardage. Michael Dickey was another presence in the Viking backfield, a factor in Batton being dropped four times for losses.
“This is a game we should have won,” Pennypacker said, “even though we have some kids beat up.”
For his part, Finn — a fixture in Pottsgrove’s defensive secondary — finds playing on that side of the ball helpful to his direction of the Falcon offense.
“Playing defense helps me understand the offense,” he said. “It’s nice to look at it from two different perspectives.”
Finn’s TD toss to Garner capped a nine-play, 60-yard march fueled primarily by the running of Faison (19 carries, 100 yards) and Elijah Chhuor (38 yards on nine totes). Pottsgrove’s lead went to 14 with Faison’s first scoring run, a 27-yard burst through his right tackle with 7:38 left in the first half.
The Falcons made it a 21-0 game at the half with Faison running nine yards up the middle three minutes later. That was all the scoring until the second minute of the fourth, when Finn burst through the middle to make the Falcons’ lead 28-0.
“I just do what the coaches tell me to do, and take what the defense gives us,” Finn said.
Chhuor got into the scoring act for Pottsgrove two plays after the Falcons took possession on the Viking 18, the result of a seven-yard punt UM got off on a broken play. After Finn picked up 12 on a run, the junior fullback went up the middle at the 8:21 mark.
“So far, we’re making progress,” Finn said. “There’s still work to do. But I’m making better reads, and we’re taking advantage of the opportunities we have as a team.”
“I’ll take a 35-0 shutout against a new school,” Pennypacker added.
NOTES >> Nathan Kasper converted kicks on all Pottsgrove’s touchdowns. … The list of Pottsgrove’s grid alumni included Ken Harclerode, who coached the program prior to Pennypacker’s assuming the post in the early 1990s. Pennypacker pointed out he and Harclerode, whose record is highlighted by two Ches-Mont championships in the 1970s, are the only head coaches the school has had in its existence.