TOWAMENCIN >> It was late in the third quarter with North Penn holding on tight to a 21-19 lead when quarterback Reece Udinski — on a 3rd-and-9 from the Spring-Ford 27 — fired a deep slant to wide receiver Ricky Johns.
Two Ram defenders converged on Johns, each delivering a hit. The two defenders went down, Johns remained up, and raced away to what would be the clinching score on a blustery, cold night at Crawford Stadium.
“They rang my bell,” Johns said of the play, “and the next thing you know I’m in the end zone.”
The touchdown was symbolic of the evening. The eighth-seeded Rams gave the Knights their best shot, but North Penn persevered and still pulled away to a 28-19 victory that sends them to next week’s District 1-6A Semifinals against Coatesville.
“That was really big. We needed to score on that drive,” Johns said of his third-quarter TD. “We had been stopped on the previous possession but that gave us momentum.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) November 12, 2016
Top-seeded North Penn (12-0) never relinquished it. The Udinski-to-Johns connection would be the only points of the second half, as the Knights’ defense shut out Spring-Ford in the final two quarters.
“The halftime adjustment was we had to tackle better,” North Penn coach Dick Beck said. “In the second quarter, we did not tackle well. (Spring-Ford) got a lot of extra yardage after the first contact.
“We tackled better in the second half and I think that was the big difference.”
After Spring-Ford (9-3) trimmed a 21-0 deficit down to just 21-19 at the break, the Rams received the second-half kickoff with the hope of pushing in front for the first time.
A 31-yard run by Matt Gibson provided quite a start, but a 1st-and-10 at the North Penn 42 soon turned into 4th-and-5 at the 37.
That is where Gibson — and Ram comeback hopes — were stopped cold by linebacker Owen Thomas, who corralled Gibson in the backfield for a two-yard loss.
The next three Ram possessions would be three-and-outs. Then, on Spring-Ford’s first possession of the fourth quarter, Johns — from his linebacker position — intercepted quarterback T.J. Pergine, setting the Knights up for one of their three clock-killing drives in the final period.
“I like to bait my quarterbacks,” Johns said. “I let them think I’m blitzing and then bail back to cover the slant.
“Our defense always plays well,” Johns said of a unit that surrendered just 51 yards in the second half. “We gotta keep improving but our defense has been amazing.”
Johns later supplied a 29-yard catch that would help allow NP to keep the ball until the final seconds of the game ticked away.
It was a night that began with North Penn scoring on its first three drives, quickly bolting to a 21-0 lead at Crawford.
A 60-yard run by Nick Dillon on the first play from scrimmage led to a seven-yard touchdown run by Jason Prince for the first points of the evening.
Then, on NP’s second offensive series, facing a 2nd-and-14 from his own 13, Udinski went back and uncorked what would be an 87-yard score to Johns, who caught the ball in stride and raced his way for six.
“I had to get a deep one on them. That was gonna be a tough match-up between me and (Stone Scarcelle),” said Johns, who hauled in seven catches for 192 yards and two scores. “He’s a great athlete. That was gonna be a big match-up this game and I just broke loose.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) November 12, 2016
The lead grew to 21-0 when Udinski hit Justis Henley for a 21-yard score on 3rd-and-Goal, as the Knights appeared on the brink of enforcing the mercy rule for the second straight week in the playoffs.
But Spring-Ford rallied back.
“We knew who we were. We’re a good football team, and that’s a big hole to climb out of,” Rams coach Chad Brubaker said, “but our kids were gonna play 48 minutes no matter what.”
A pair of rushing touchdowns by Selwyn Simpson — a four-yarder and a one-yarder — were sandwiched around a 33-yard TD pass from Pergine to Scarcelle, which came on 4th-and-9.
The Rams scored on all three of their second-quarter possessions and forced a pair of Knights turnovers to get within two points at the half. But the go-ahead score never came.
“(I told the guys) you lost to a good football team,” Brubacker said. “They played their hearts out. We felt like in the second half we needed that one more big play or one more break and it just never came for us.
“We made a couple mistakes and (North Penn) switched its front up a lot and caused us some problems. But I told the guys to hold their heads up high. They played well and were in that game for 48 minutes.”
With a contest that was as tight as it could be in the third quarter, the Knights came up with the play they needed, when Udinski fired a strike to Johns, who bounced off two tacklers and was free.
Said Beck: “Ricky making that play, splitting the defenders and walking in the end zone…That was probably the play of the game.”