MIDDLETOWN >> There’s no such thing as too much preparation.
For example, Neshaminy’s football team works on a drill every day where a receiver has to make a catch on a 50/50 ball with a defender all over them. The reason is so that when that very situation occurs in a game, the receivers go up believing they’re going to come down with the ball.
Oleh Manzyk showed why his team does that drill a couple times en route to 210 receiving yards and three touchdowns as he spurred his No. 2 seed team to a come-from-behind 26-21 win over No. 15 Pennridge in the first round of the District I 6A football playoffs Friday at Heartbreak Ridge. Neshaminy trailed 21-7 at the half.
“It’s a sideline drill where we have a defender in front of us and we try to beat a press coverage and get space on the sideline,” Manzyk said. “The goal is to catch the ball and stay inbounds.”
Pennridge’s entire effort was emotionally driven. Earlier in the day, the team had attended the funeral of former teammate Iziah Ramon-Lewis, a 2016 graduated who was killed last week.
“Our kids played their hearts out, I’m totally proud of what they did on this field, they deserved to win this football game,” Pennridge coach Jeff Hollenbach said. “It’s been a rough day. My heart goes out to my team.”
The Rams made a change at quarterback from the beginning, with junior Oliver Jervis taking over to start the game while senior Jagger Hartshorn lined up all over on offense including running back, receiver and even a few snaps at quarterback. Hartshorn also played at safety on defense, letting the Rams put their best cover guys on the outsides.
Jervis, a big-framed quarterback with a big arm, had some good moments, especially in the first half.
“For somebody to have never started a varsity game then start in a game like this in the playoffs with the compousre he did, I’m proud of what he did,” Hollenbach said. “Jagger did some great things. I wish we could have run the ball a little better. That hurt us in the long run that we couldn’t really establish the running game.”
Pennridge forced a punt on Neshaminy’s first possession then got a short field off a shanked punt. Hartshorn would put his team on the board first with an 11-yard run with 8:35 left in the first quarter.
Neshaminy was quick to answer after taking over at its own 16. After moving to the 29, quarterback Jones found Manzyk flying down the right sideline for a 71-yard touchdown to tie it. Manzyk was in a battle with Pennridge’s PJ Brown all night, with Brown’s coverage often forcing all that drill work to come into play
The Neshaminy defense tightened up and got a potentially huge play when it blocked a Pennridge punt and recovered at the Rams’ 32-yard line. Any momentum was short-lived as Neshaminy fumbled on the next play and Pennridge recovered.
After stopping the Rams again, Neshaminy was driving when Pennridge’s defense made another big play. Jones went to Manzyk again but this time, Brown had good coverage and picked the ball off at the Rams’ 10.
Jervis then connected with Ryan Cuthbert and the senior wideout did the rest, escaping a tackle and midfield and beating everyone down the field for an 81-yard score. Pennridge led 14-7 with 1:25 left in the first quarter.
Cuthbert picked off Jones two plays into the second quarter to stem a potential answer, Neshaminy’s third turnover of the half.
The Rams would later miss a field goal but got the stop and then much more on the ensuing drive. With Neshaminy backed up to punt, the Rams got a great jump and blocked the kick. Joe Devine scooped it up and ran it back 42 yards for the score with 3:30 left in the half.
At the half, the Neshaminy locker room was calm, Manzyk said.
“We got a big third-down stop right before half and we tried to keep rolling off that,” Manzyk said. “It was calm. They were running the same things we had practice. It just put your mind into it, make your reads and go execute.”
The only score in the third quarter was a remarkable effort by Manzyk. The receiver caught the ball around a corner and somehow stayed in bounds to run the rest of the way on his 76-yard reception.
Manzyk wasn’t done with his circus act, making three big grabs in the fourth quarter. His 21-yard grab on a 4th-and-7 moved the sticks that set up Jones’ five-yard pass to Tom Garlick. That grab by Manzyk had the Pennridge sideline up in arms as they felt the ball was dislodged when the wideout hit the ground.
After a dispute among the officials following a penalty flag on the extra point, Devine flew in on off the second PAT try and blocked it completely, keeping the Rams up 21-20 with 6:51 left.
Neshaminy forced a punt then Manzyk made another catch on the home sideline right near the paint and was ruled in bounds for a 22-yard grab. Pennridge’s coaching staff against protested the ruling but couldn’t overturn the call, which happened on the other side of the field. He then hauled in an 11-yard strike for the go-ahead score.
After Joe Robinson stopped Will Dogba on a two-point try, the Rams got blown up on a reverse play and couldn’t pick up the first down on a 3rd-and-21, leaving them a yard short and unable to stop Neshaminy from running out the clock.