EAST NORRITON >> The running game has been the foundation of Owen J. Roberts’ offensive game plan for years onto decades.
The passing game? Not as much. But in Saturday’s game with Norristown, the airways were the salvation for the Wildcats in a 40-21 victory.
Dawson Stuart (7-for-17, 188 yards) threw touchdown passes to four different receivers, and Owen J. scored a fifth time through the air on a “gadget” play to account for a large chunk of its 244 passing yards in this first-ever meeting of the schools as Pioneer Athletic Conference entries. That effectively nullified the Eagles’ total offensive output, even while they were able to make it a two-possession game early in the third quarter.
“Our passing game is not sharp,” OJR head coach Rich Kolka said, “but it works. We saw guys having fun in it, and the (line) protection was pretty.”
It significantly outdistanced a running game that mustered only 33 yards. All but one completion covered double-digit yardage, and two went in excess of 50 yards.
“We knew their quarterback was a good kid,” Norristown head coach Jason Powel noted. “We planned for it, and I thought we had good coverage on them. But they made great catches.”
It started two plays from scrimmage following the game-opening kickoff. Stuart hooked up with Sean Praweckyj (three catches, 106 yards) for a 65-yard scoring play — the connection qualifying as the game’s longest — good for a 7-0 lead following the first of Cooper Chamberlain’s four successful conversion kicks.
The Eagles (0-2 league, 0-6 overall) answered with Shannon Canard (57 yards on 22 carries) scoring on a one-yard plunge through the left side with 4:02 left in the first. But Roberts (1-1, 3-3) took charge in the second quarter … literally at the start of the frame, Stuart throwing 24 yards to Ryan Cusic for the go-ahead TD. It continued with Stuart hooking up with Hunter Hinrichs on a 25-yarder, and the Wildcats’ punt-return team turning a muffed snap by Norristown into a Ted Bradford return TD that upped OJR’s lead to 28-7 at the half.
“We brought it to them,” Nick Duliakas, a two-way senior lineman for Roberts, said. “We got the momentum going.”
While Owen J. added two more touchdowns in the second half, the defense was keeping Norristown’s ground game at bay. The Eagles got just 71 of their stripes on running plays, Carnard and Kirk Wilson (six carries, 33 yards) the main contributors.
With Duliakas a constant presence in Norristown’s offensive backfield, the home team’s rushers were dropped for negative yardage a combined 15 times. Quarterbacks Izaiah Webb and Steve Depaul were brought down behind the line of scrimmage seven times between them.
“He dominated the line of scrimmage,” Kolka said of Duliakas. “Our physicality was good on their wide receivers, That’s something we stressed during the week.”
The Owen J. defense also had one fumble recovery (by Aidan Hayward) and an interception of Depaul (by Stuart) to its credit.
“We knew we had to watch them,” Duliakas said of Carnard and Wilson. “We got in their heads with our physical play, and made them go to their passing game.”
OJR’s aerial show produced two more touchdowns in the second half, answering scoring plays by Norristown. Stuart went 43 yards to Praweckyj on its first possession, after Depaul threw 11 yards to Koran Butler less than four minutes into the third quarter, and Praweckyj struck in the fourth with a 56-yard connection to Cusic with 7:16 left in the game.
“We’ve done that play a couple times,” Kolka noted. “Sean’s a good playmaker, and athletic. He can make big plays like that.”
The Eagles were unable to translate two last possessions into points, though they got two first-down hookups between Depaul and Barry White to sustain their next-to-last series. Hayward’s fumble recovery inside the 3-1/2 minute mark ended that run, enabling Roberts to run time off the clock with six plays before turning the ball back to Norristown on downs.
“I think we’re doing a better job,” Powel said. “We’re coming of age, but it’s a slow process. The kids are becoming more aggressive.”
On the other side, the Roberts coaching staff will be sizing up its running game this week to make it more productive.
“I thought we need to run the football as the situation dictates,” Kolka said. “We planned to come in running the ball, and we’re going to see why we weren’t able. They (Norristown) were tough in there.”
NOTES >> Depaul and White teamed up on the Eagles’ final TD, a 41-yard collaboration with 5:20 left in the third. … Koran Butler highlighted the Norristown defense with his interception of Stuart in the first quarter. … It was suggested afterward that Duliakas’ hard-hitting play on the defensive side will help prepare him for the Owen J. wrestling team’s 2016-17 season. “I’ve got to get ready somehow,” Duliakas, a PAC and District 1-West AAA runner-up last year, he said.