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Johns, defense big in 2nd half when North Penn tested by Spring-Ford

TOWAMENCIN >> On a cold and windy Friday night, things seemed to be blowing out of the North Penn football team’s grasp just before halftime.

Less than nine minutes into their District 1-6A quarterfinal with Spring-Ford at Crawford Stadium, the Knights had a 21-0 lead and look on their way to doing what they have done all season – burying teams until a large pile of points.

The visiting Rams, however, would not go down that path. With North Penn derailed by penalties, an interception and a turnover on downs, Spring-Ford high-tempo spread attack found momentum and reach the end zone three times in the second quarter – Selwyn Simpson’s 1-yard rushing touchdown trimming the Knights’ lead down 21-19 just 75 seconds before intermission.

Bob Raines--Digital First Media Spring-Ford quarterback TJ Pergine gets off a pass as he is grabbed by North Penn's Ricky Johns Nov. 11, 2016.

Spring-Ford quarterback TJ Pergine gets off a pass as he is grabbed by North Penn’s Ricky Johns during their District 1-6A quarterfinal on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

“I started to get a little greedy. I should have stayed on the ground a little more in the second quarter,” North Penn coach Dick Beck said. “We got the wind to our back we’re thinking we can throw a couple deep and what happed was that the wind to the back it was really affecting the ball more than with the wind to the face. So I think that was a little bit of a mistake on my part.”

The Knights had won their previous 11 games by an average of 30.2 points. They trailed in games for a total 11 minutes, 4 seconds, all of that coming in the first half against Pennridge Week 5. Friday’s two-point lead at halftime was the smallest for North Penn so far in 2016.

“In the locker room we told the guys, ‘Hey, we’re still up,’” North Penn senior Dan Drop said. “Facing adversity for one of the first times this year and we just tried to battle. Our defense we just tried to keep our heads in the game, make tackles like we didn’t do in the first half.”

The NP defense made a stand on the opening drive of the second half and kept Spring-Ford stuck on 19 points – just the second time in 2016 the Rams’ could not eclipse 30 points. A great catch and run by Ricky Johns for a touchdown gave the Knights a nine-point cushion that turned out to be the final score, the 28-19 win sending North Penn into the semifinals to face Coatesville, a 41-21 winner of Ridley.

“I think the halftime adjustment was we had to tackle better. In the second quarter, we did not tackle well. They got a lot of extra yardage after the first contact,” Beck said. I can’t tell you how many time we hit them at the line of scrimmage and he fell for two or three yards. We hit him for a two-yard gain, he’d get five. So, when you’re doing that we start to press more on defense where everybody’s trying to get after the runner next thing you know we’re giving up the passes down the seams because the linebackers are really trying to be more aggressive.

“So, when we tackled better in the third quarter and actually in the second half, I think that was the big difference.”

With North Penn still holding only that two-point edge, Spring-Ford moved into Knights territory on the opening drive of the second half. On a fourth down inside the 40, the Rams elected to go for it but NP bottled up the run attempt and Owen Thomas made the tackle for loss.

“I think we sent a lot of pressure up the middle,” Drop said. “Owen Thomas came free, hold him up and we just swarmed to the ball.”

North Penn punted on the ensuing series, but pinned Spring-Ford deep in its own end and forced the Rams to go three-and-out, Thomas on third down again slicing into the backfield to send a runner to negative yardage.

Johns provided the Knights some much-needed breathing room on the next drive. On a third and long from the 27, Johns hauled in a Reece Udinski pass at the 15, took hits from two defenders but slid out of the tackles and dash to the end zone at 4:43 in the third quarter.

“They rang my bell and two seconds later I’m in the end zone, so that was just a great play,” said Johns on his second TD of the night, having scored on a 87-yarder from Udinski that made it 14-0 in the first quarter.

Johns helped maintain the nine-point lead in the fourth quarter first with his interception then later turning a short pass over the middle on third down in a big gain, allowing the Knights to salt away the final minutes.

“He was great tonight,” said Beck of Johns. “Reece was getting him the ball, but he made some really special plays. And that’s why he’s going to West Virginia. The kid’s a special player and we expect him to come up big all the time.”

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