DOWNINGTOWN >> The Souderton football team came out swinging in the first half Friday night.
“They punched us in the mouth and I don’t think we were ready for that,” Downingtown East coach Michael Matta said. “We hadn’t played a physical game since Coatesville so I think we kind of felt oh, we’re the big bullies on the block and then we punched them, they punched us right back.”
Koby Khan rumbled for 147 yards and a touchdown on the ground in the first half while the Indians defense forced a trio of three-and-outs and intercepted East quarterback Bryce Lauletta twice on the Cougars’ first five drives.
Big Red knocked East down, but not out and the sides went into halftime of their District 1-6A first round contest at Kottmeyer Stadium even at 14 points apiece.
“First half we controlled things and the scoreboard didn’t indicate what kind of game it was in the first half,” Indians coach Ed Gallagher said. “I think we held them out of the end zone there and kept it 14-7, we’d of been fine.”
It was the Cougars who finally landed the decisive blows in the fourth quarter on a pair of Jeremy Jennings touchdown runs – the second a 59-yard dash to the end zone that made it 26-14 East with 3:22 left.
“Big players got to step up big in big games,” Matta said.
Chris Day’s 60-yard interception return for a touchdown 58 seconds later put an end to the bout as sixth-seeded Downingtown East advanced with a 33-21 over No. 11 Souderton.
“I think believing the program, that’s what we told our kids at halftime. We said we don’t need to make adjustment, we just got to do what we do,” Matta said.
Jennings caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter to finish with three scores on the night while Dan Liaudaitis had 102 yards on 25 carries for the Cougars (9-3), who earned their fourth straight win and reach the district quarters for the third consecutive season. East hits to road to face No. 3 Perkiomen Valley, a 55-28 winner over No. 14 Penn Wood.
Khan ran for a game-high 181 yards and two TDs on 31 carries for the Indians (6-5), who were playing in their first district game since 2010.
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) November 5, 2016
“For 10 months, we’ve been breaking out of every workout, every practice, everything we do with ‘Family,’ and we wanted to stay as a family,” Khan said. “So we came into this season wanted to be a family and not take anything away from that. So, we just did everything we could to go as far as we could. And I guess this is as far (as) we could, but I still love all of them.”
The loss was the fifth straight in the postseason for Souderton, which last earned a district victory in 2006 when it beat Downingtown East in the AAAA first round.
“First and foremost I’m really proud of the kids and their effort,” Gallagher said. “It was a pleasure coaching these kids because they grew and they fought through adversity and they did everything they had to do to make this a playoff team. And to compete with a team that’s (a) fantastic football team. That team was bigger, faster, stronger than us, but we didn’t quit and got after them. Proud of our kids, proud of our effort.”
With the game still tied 14-14 in the third, Souderton had a 36-yard Joe Curotto-to-Shane Day completion to the East 36 negated by a penalty with another flag backing the Indians up a total of 25 yards to their own seven.
“It was very deflating,” Khan said. “We had momentum going down the field, I think it was tied at the time, we had a lot of momentum going down the field and that penalty just brought us back. But we want to keep pushing, but it didn’t work out how we wanted to.”
Big Red was forced to punt and starting its drive at the Souderton 29, Downingtown East took the lead for good. Jennings capped the five-play series with his seven-yard touchdown run at 10:27 in the fourth. The Cougars not getting off the extra point put made it 20-14.
Souderton reached the East 31 on its next possession after Curotto connected with Day over the middle for nine yards on 4th-and-7. Big Red, however, went backwards from there and turned the ball over on downs at the Cougar 37.
Facing a 3rd-and-6 from its own 41, Downingtown East gave the ball to Jennings, who broke through the line and outran the Souderton defense for a 59-yard score with 3:22 left in the fourth. The Cougars could not punch in the two-point conversion, leaving the lead at 26-14.
“They found a way to crack a seam with their really fast running back,” Gallagher said. “We bottle him up for the most part but credit to him he found a way through that seam and we he got out there, he finished and he did what he had to do and he got in the end zone.”
Souderton’s comeback hopes ended on the next drive as Day intercepted Curotto and return it 60 yards for the pick six at 2:24. The Indians added a final touchdown when Khan scored on a two-yard run with 1:06 remaining.
“We came in wanting to win, we came in knowing that we could win. We wanted to be physical like we had been all year and (East) just outplayed us in the second half,” Khan said.
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) November 5, 2016
Curotto was 13-of-29 passing for 153 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Brandon Taragna had three catches for 50 yards, 28 coming on TD reception on a throwback screen that put the Indians up 7-0 at 9:29 in the second quarter.
“They didn’t do anything that we hadn’t seen. They did a couple passes that we haven’t seen,” said Matt of Souderton. “We knew they were going to run the ball with (Khan), we just didn’t do a good job.”
Ben Yerk picked off Lauletta – who finished 7-of-18 for 75 yards passing – on East’s next offensive play to set Souderton up at the Cougars’ 35. The Indians moved the ball to the 15, but the drive stalled and their attempt at a 38-yard field goal was blocked.
Downingtown East made it 7-7 on the ensuing drive, Lauletta finding Jennings for a 38-yard touchdown at 4:15 in the second quarter.
Khan started Souderton’s next possession with a 27-yard run and capped the five-play, 64-yard series reaching over the goal line for a six-yard TD run at 2:16.
But the Cougars marched 77 yards in less than two minutes, Lauletta scrambling for a 17-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-8 to make it 14-14 36.6 seconds to go before the half.
Top Photo: Downingtown East’s Jeremy Jennings celebrates with teammates after a 38-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Lauletta late in the second quarter of the Cougars’ District 1-6A first round game against Souderton on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Nate Heckenberger/For Digital First Media)