ROYERSFORD >> He ran over, through and around Perkiomen Valley’s defensive line in last year’s win.
Now, senior running back Matt Gibson and the Ram offense are looking for an encore.
Perkiomen Valley, meanwhile, is looking for the exact opposite.
Friday night, as the undefeated Vikings (2-0 PAC, 6-0 overall) visit Spring-Ford (2-0 PAC, 5-1 overall) at Coach McNelly Stadium in the most anticipated game of the season, both teams will finally have their answer.
“The biggest thing for us this year is being gap disciplined, knowing your assignment on every front that we’re putting up there and tackling,” Perkiomen Valley head coach Rob Heist said. “It wasn’t so much schematic last year but him (Gibson) making plays, being slippery, making people miss and turning highlight-reel runs. We need to get to where we need to be, get 11 hats to the ball and tackle.”
“Selwyn (Simpson) and Matt (Gibson) are essentially three year starters and they know what they bring to the table, and we do too,” Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker said. “We expect the same from them every game. They’re going to run hard and we just need to create some lanes for them to run in.”
Last year, finding lanes wasn’t a problem for the two-headed monster in the Rams’ backfield. In some instances, they made their own.
Gibson finished with a game-best 187 yards, including two sensational touchdowns, while Simpson added 94 yards on 11 carries and a score as the Rams captured their first PAC-10 championship since 2011 with a 28-14 victory in the last week of the regular season.
This year, the duo has been more than formidable. Gibson ranks fourth in the PAC with 494 yards and six scores on 69 carries. Simpson has 280 yards and 10 touchdowns on 47 carries for a Ram offense that ranks first in the league in scoring (43.5 ppg) and second in rushing (182.7 ypg).
Needless to say, stopping the backs and getting through a much vaunted offensive line is a focal point for the PV defense.
“We can’t have any mental mistakes, especially up front,” said PV’s 6-3, 245-pound senior defensive lineman Vaughn Stolzer. “We have to be crisp.”
“They’re (Spring-Ford) physical,” added junior Alec Jackson. “We’re just going to have to get after it, do what we need to do and hopefully get the job done.”
Getting the job done is what Perkiomen Valley failed to do last season, falling flat in their trip to Royersford as the offense could only muster six points through the first three quarters.
That’s a sticking point for PV, which enters Friday winners of six straight, including a victory over The Haverford School that snapped the Fords’ 21-game win streak. Senior quarterback Stephen Sturm, who threw for 298 yards while completing 32-of-55 in last year’s loss, is unsurprisingly the league’s leading passer. He’s completed nearly 70 percent of his passes (102-for-149) for 1,679 yards and 20 touchdowns, 37 of those completions going to senior wide receiver Justin Jaworski, who was injured in Week 4.
In his place, Brendan Schimpf, David Williams, Sean Owens and Remy Sell have carried the workload. Williams is coming off a solid Week 6, hauling in four passes for 69 yards in the Vikings’ 30-0 victory over Boyertown. Owens ranks fourth in the league in receptions (19 for 331, five touchdowns) with Schimpf adding 224 yards on the ground.
“We asked the kids to step up when Justin got hurt,” Heist said. “Justin is one of the best players in the area and that left a big gap for us. It was put to all the other receivers and running backs ‘listen, you’re going to get more touches. We need you to step up and make plays.’ We’ve been spreading the ball around to as many different people as we can and trying to be unpredictable. So far, so good. This will be the real test. They are the defending champs. Their defense is excellent and every single year they are very well coached. We are looking forward to the challenge.”
That defense is led by a front seven that wreaks havoc. Their goal: to make teams one dimensional. The result: Successful.
Led by Tanner Romano, Nick Salomone, Toby Poet, Billy Frazier, Ryan Yanulevich, Josh Tumelty and Lee Albert, the Rams defense has only allowed more than 250 yards of total offense in one game — Week 3’s loss to Wilson in double overtime. The Rams ‘D’ ranks second in the league in points against (14.3 ppg), rushing yards allowed (237.8 ypg) and third in total yards allowed (237 ypg),
“What we’ve been successful with is making teams one dimensional,” Brubaker said. “We’ve been pretty good playing the run throughout the year and I would expect nothing different. We tend to give up some yards passing but we tighten up in the red zone. That happened last year and it happened against Wilson earlier this year. We just need to continue to play sound football. The guys on defense, we have different guys making plays each week. That’s kind of our defensive strength, that they play within the system they are given.”
“We’re not going to act like they don’t have any players,” Romano said of Perkiomen Valley. “Every team has got them and they definitely do. We game plan around some players and we’re ready to play. We’re excited.”
Keep on Growing
Spring-Ford and Perkiomen Valley are anticipating the same amount — or more — of fans Friday night. Last year brought more than 8,000 through the gates, many having arrived well before 6 p.m.
“I love it when the student sections are there to warm up,” Brubaker said. “Spring-Ford tends to be a later arriving crowd. You turn around at the beginning of the game then you turn around during the first quarter and the stands are full. In a game like this, seats are at a premium, parents and kids are getting there early and I love it. I love that atmosphere and that energy.”
Peak of the Rivalry
Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford’s matchups have had some added weight the past two seasons, the winner going on to win the PAC title. This year will be no different with the winner set on the path to the first PAC crossover championship in Week 10.
“I mean it’s an awesome rivalry,” Heist said. “It’s grown into something that’s manifested itself into something bigger than both schools. It’s not just football. It was basketball last year, field hockey, soccer, any competition between our two schools is super competitive and an awesome, awesome rivalry. The atmosphere, even though we came on the wrong side of that, being apart of that was amazing. There was around 9,000 people there, I expect it to be similar this year. We have a veteran group, I expect our kids ready to go.”
Both teams held the same mentality of “winning the week,” and not making Friday’s night’s game any bigger than it had to be.
“Practice has definitely been intense all week,” Salomone said. “We’re going later, working harder but it’s worth it.”
“We just need to treat it like any other game,” Gibson added. “Just go out there and do our best.
“We just need to look at it as just another game,” PV’s Jahir Holmes said. “We don’t want to put this game on a pedestal and get emotional 10 minutes before the game. We need to go out and do what need to do.”
Prediction: Spring-Ford wins another on its home turf, tops PV 28-21