TOWAMENCIN >> Rumbling along on five second-quarter carries, Nick Tarburton — all 6-foot-3, 245 pounds of him — had began to put the punch back in Pennridge’s ground attack.
But then came a 4th-and-1 at the Ram 29, with Pennridge trying to extend a drive before halftime.
The Knights were ready.
“They ran that formation the whole drive before,” said junior outside linebacker Owen Thomas. “So I figured it was coming. Tarburton’s a good runner — big.
“So I just came in low, figured they’d push right through the A Gap, and tried to make a play on the ball.”
Thomas stopped Tarburton for no gain, giving the Knights possession deep inside Ram territory. Three plays later, Thomas caught his second touchdown pass of the night from quarterback Reece Udinski, turning what was a 17-7 lead into a 24-7 cushion at halftime, and the undefeated Knights were firmly on their way to a 45-21 win over Pennridge on Homecoming Night.
“Great to see,” Thomas said of the Knights scoring on all six of their second- and third-quarter possessions, “especially after the slow start. Our o-line did a great job firing back. (5-0) feels great.”
Along with serving as a key run stopper, Thomas proved to be a valuable part of what has grown into an offensive ensemble for North Penn, showcased on this warm September evening at Crawford Stadium.
Udinski threw for five scores in the Suburban One League Continental Conference battle, Nick Dillon cut, weaved and raced to 86 yards rushing, and the Knights turned an early 7-0 deficit into a 45-7 lead by the end of the third quarter.
Thomas’ first touchdown catch — coming on 3rd-and-goal at the five — helped NP to begin to pull away, stretching the margin to 17-7.
“We kind of thought Pennridge was gonna blitz, so I delayed like I was blocking, ran out and got the pass — underneath from where they were blitzing from, so I was wide open,” Thomas said. “And Reece made a nice throw.”
Pennridge’s ensuing possession ended when Thomas corralled Tarburton on 4th-and-1. Three plays later, Udinski again found Thomas, who headed for the corner, fighting off three tacklers in order to extend the ball out far enough to hit the pylon and make it a five-yard score and a 24-7 lead at the break.
“We got off to a slow start but came back firing, didn’t worry about anything else,” Thomas said. “We just put our noses down and tried to play some football.”
North Penn’s defense began the third quarter by forcing a three-and-out by the Rams. After an NP penalty, the Knights had a 1st-and-19 at their own 36.
Udinski dropped back, fired a deep long ball down the left sideline, hitting Jake Hubler in stride for a 64-yard score.
“Spread the wealth,” Dick Beck said of the offense, which had short runs, long runs, deep balls, short passes and a total of 13 players gain yards through the air or on the ground.
“With the quarterback throwing strikes, and if we can protect him a little better, I like our chances with our athletes.”
North Penn’s second possession of the third was capped off when Udinski used play action, hitting Julian White in the flat for a seven-yard score.
Udinski finished off a masterful 13-of-22, 279-yard performance when he connected with Henley down the left sideline for a 41-yard score that made it a 45-7 Knights lead that enforced the mercy rule and a running clock.
The Rams (2-3 overall, 1-1 conference) finished off the scoring with a pair of rushing TD’s in the fourth quarter — a one-yarder by Joe Robinson and a five-yarder by backup QB by Oliver Jervis.
Things got off to a promising start for Pennridge when Austin Herrlinger threw a 27-yard score to quarterback Jagger Hartshorn on a halfback-pass play, putting the Rams in front 7-0 less than four minutes in.
But then came the tidal wave, in Navy Blue.
“They’re typically a running team, a power team,” Rams coach Jeff Hollenbach said of the Knights, “but with the weapons they have in being able to throw the ball, there’s a lot to defend.
“Giving up those big plays was a problem. We’ll work on that, correct those mistakes. We’ve seen some pretty good football teams the past five weeks so we’re ready to continue on in our conference and see how it goes.”
The Knights cut the margin to 7-3 late in the first quarter on a 21-yard field goal by Kelly Macnamara. On their next series, facing a 3rd-and-4 at the Pennridge 49, Udinski scrambled around, bought time, then found a wide open Ricky Johns downfield for a 34-yard gain, setting up a 10-yard burst to the end zone by Dillon, putting NP in front for good at 10-7.
Dillon’s finest run of the night came in the third quarter, when he twisted, turned and evaded tacklers for a pretty gain of 27.
“Electrifying,” Beck said of his performance. “He was awesome.”
And then there was the defense. Holding a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, the Knights dug in and stopped the Rams on 4th-and-1, forcefully sending this one towards the win column.
“I’m more proud of them defensively,” Beck said of the game. “(Pennridge) tried to go some full-house stuff and give it to the big dog, and they get a couple first downs and we get a stop.
“Then they go for it on fourth down, we hit them in the backfield get another stop and a score. That’s huge for us.”
Top Photo: North Penn’s Dan Drop tumbles Pennridge’s Nick Tarburton during their game on Friday, Sept 23, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)