WARRINGTON >> Central Bucks South defended its new home turf like it wants to be back here come playoff time.
A goal-line stand, two touchdowns on fourth down and Sam Thompson’s arm and legs propelled hard-charging Central Bucks South to a 21-14 victory over rival Pennridge Friday night, in a game that Titans coach Tom Hetrick called the biggest win of South’s season thus far.
“When you come in at halftime, there’s always a vibe — in one direction or the other,” said Hetrick, whose team scored on the final play of the first half to get within 14-13, then produced the winning points on their first drive of the third quarter. “That certainly turned the vibe into a pretty good one for us and these kids were excited about the possibility of getting out there and doing it in the second half.”
Thompson, starting in place of an injured Jack Johns (hamstring), got it done for 7-2 South (4-1 Suburban One League Continental Conference). The senior rushed 24 times for 111 yards, completed 8 of 19 passes for 115 more and fired a perfect strike to Casey Sloms — on 4th-and-10 from the Ram 23 — to make it a one-point game at the break (the extra-point attempt would sail wide).
“Momentum really helped after that play,” Thompson said of the TD. “We just took it to ‘em in the second half.”
After the South defense forced a three-and-out by the Rams (5-4, 3-2 conference), the Titans marched 70 yards in 13 plays, pulling in front for the first time on Homecoming Night when Thompson connected with Cole Braccio for an eight-yard score, followed by a two-point conversion pass from Thompson to Tyler Watson, making it 21-14.
South’s fourth-down magic was key on the drive, as Thompson completed a 20-yard slant to Jack Gardy to keep the drive alive, and the Titans grinded out 42 yards on the ground to roll towards Pennridge’s end zone.
“We needed a push up front, the o-line got it in the second half, did really well, and our running backs found the holes,” Thompson said.
The Titans then forced another Ram punt but just before the third quarter expired, Pennridge began a drive that seemed destined to tie the game.
Nick Tarburton, who appeared to be out of the contest when an injured left shoulder — wrapped in bags of ice — forced him to the sideline in the second quarter. But early in the fourth, he was back on the field, carrying the ball on 4th-and-2 and battling his way for a crucial first down around midfield.
“I give that kid all the credit,” Hetrick said. “He hurt his shoulder earlier in the game and I’m sure he was on the sideline chomping at the bit.”
When the Rams drove it down inside the 10, facing a 3rd-and-Goal at the two, they again went to Tarburton, who moved it one yard closer to the end zone.
On 4th-and-Goal from the one, the Titans knew what — and who — was coming.
“(Pennridge) has some big ol’ boys and they can hand the ball off to (Tarburton),” Hetrick said. “It’s a matter of holding your ground and making that play. And tonight we did.”
South’s line crashed in, got Tarburton before he could get a head of steam, and — despite a strong second effort by Pennridge’s power back — stopped him a half yard short of the goal line.
South took over and immediately moved out of trouble, with Nate Norris breaking free for a gain of 21.
Pennridge got the ball back with five minutes to go but Matt Norris corralled Ram quarterback Jagger Hartshorn for a loss of 15, ultimately forcing a punt.
The Rams had one more chance late, but on 4th-and-6 at their own 43, a deep pass by Hartshorn fell incomplete down the left sideline.
“South played hard. Those kids are physical,” said Rams coach Jeff Hollenbach, whose team is still very much alive in the District 1-6A playoff hunt. “I think they won the battle inside and we struggled running the football (173 rushing yds — 85 by Hartshorn) and that’s the way it was.
“You go back to two or three key plays and the game turns around. It was a heck of a high school football game and (South) came out on top. It’s frustrating to me that we couldn’t stick it in there (at the goal line). That was a good drive for us and we were gonna hopefully tie up the game. That was certainly key at the end but we made our share of mistakes early on.”
Pennridge did score on its opening drive of the contest, as Hartshorn fired a short pass to Ryan Cuthbert, who made a couple tacklers miss and weaved his way into the end zone for a 19-yard score and a 7-0 lead.
But problems in coverage began to make things difficult for the Rams, and Thompson — on 4th-and-15 at the Pennridge 30 — hit Watson in stride down the right sideline to even things up at seven apiece.
The Rams again went in front on a 16-yard run by Hartshorn, but South scored on the final play of the half and never lost control. The Titans are now 1-1 on their new home turf but hope to be back on it again soon.
“If we can come back next week and bring the energy that we’re playing with right now and get another win, then certainly we would have that home field,” said Hetrick, whose team travels to William Tennent before playing — what they hope — is a home playoff game in the 6A bracket. “That’ll give us a third home game on this new turf and I think that means something to these guys. They don’t wanna say goodbye to it too early.”