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North Penn returns to District 1 final with 6A semis victory over Coatesville

TOWAMENCIN >> Once upon a time, it was a one-point game.

“We were pounding the ball, running the ball a lot, and then we just wanted to throw the ball out of two tights,” said North Penn linebacker and tight end Owen Thomas, describing the second-quarter play that broke open Friday night’s three-hour marathon of a district semifinal with Coatesville. “I beat my guy — or he tried to under-cut it or something — and I just caught it and took it to the house.”

Quarterback Reece Udinski saw a wide open Thomas streaking down the right sideline, hitting him in stride for a 68-yard scoring strike that sent the Knights into the locker room with a firm 21-13 advantage over the stunned Red Raiders.

North Penn would put the game away in the third quarter, going on to an impressive 42-25 victory over Coatesville as the Knights earned the right to stay home next Friday.

Home as in Crawford Stadium.

Home as in the District One (6A) Final, where the Knights have been 11 of the last 15 seasons.

And it was Thomas — playing inspired football in all three phases — who helped carry the Knights over the threshold.

“I can’t be more happy,” said the junior, who scored on offense, played a swarming style on defense and even blocked an extra point. “It’s amazing — 13 and oh. I’m just glad to be able to play another game with my brothers.”

Crawford Stadium’s next visitor will be No. 10 Garnet Valley, a 44-27 upset winner over No. 3 Perkiomen Valley. The Red Raiders were trying to generate their own upset on Friday night, but as the game wore on, North Penn’s defense put the squeeze on slippery freshman quarterback Ricky Ortega.

“We had to keep him in the pocket,” Thomas said. “If he gets out of the pocket, he’s a real dangerous player, and he showed that a couple times.”

Bob Raines--Digital First Media Ricky Johns (North Penn) breaks a tackle as he fights his way through a hole in the Coatesville line Nov. 18, 2016.

North Penn’s Ricky Johns breaks a tackle as he fights his way through a hole in the Coatesville line during their District 1-6A semifinal on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

Ortega hit Mekhi Alexander for a 37-yard score midway through the second quarter, giving Coatesville a 13-7 lead. But the North Penn defense would not surrender another score until the final seconds of the game, when the issue had long been settled.

In all, top-seeded North Penn held the versatile Ortega to three yards rushing and 20-of-34 passing for 214 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions, one of which the Knights converted into points.

“I thought the defense was the difference tonight, no doubt,” said Knights coach Dick Beck, who has directed North Penn to all six of their district titles and has them going for number seven next week. “Our guys are athletic up front — they may not be big but those kids can all run.

“I thought they did a nice job of keeping (Ortega) in. And (the d-backs) did a great job of staying with their guys. And a couple times (Ortega) threw it up we got interceptions.”

Andrew Roth got the first interception early in the third, as Ortega was under heavy pressure and threw into the teeth of the secondary. The takeaway and return set the Knights up at the Red Raider 38.

Running back Nick Dillon scored one of his four touchdowns on the night — this one a three-yarder, powering through a would-be tackler and over the goal line to cap a seven-play drive. By then the lead was 35-13, and that’s because the Knights began the third quarter much the same way they finished the second — by catching the Red Raiders off guard.

Udinski (11-of-17, 257 yds, TD, Int) fired a quick pass along the sideline to Hubler, who then pitched it to Dillon, and the running back raced away to complete the final 53 yards of a 61-yard hook-and-ladder.

Said Dillon: “That was a great thought by coach (Beck) just to put that play in. When I got it, all I thought about was ‘just go score.’”

“I thought we had a lot of kids really step up,” said Beck, who saw Dillon rush for 148 yards and saw Udinski pass former Downingtown East quarterback Pat Devlin for most passing yards (3,302) in a season by a District One QB. “I thought Nick really ran hard and I thought the o-line was very special tonight. For us it was a great night.”

After Frankie De Los Santos had a nice 85-yard interception and score for Coatesville, the Knights padded their lead to 42-19 with Dillon’s seven-yard TD.

No. 4 Coatesville (11-2) completed the scoring with a 38-yard connection from Ortega to Jadan Hudson.

It was back and forth early, with the Red Raiders pulling in front 6-0 — the extra point would sail wide — on a two-yard run by Aaron Young (15-158) and then NP went up 7-6 on a 17-yard run by Anthony Andrews.

Ortega hit Alexander to make it 13-7 Red Raiders until Dillon put the Knights in front for good on a one-yard pitch left and then Thomas had his team feeling good at the break, hauling in the bomb from Udinski.

“They made plays when they needed to,” Coatesville coach Matt Ortega said of the Knights. “North Penn’s a very good football team and they were preparing for this, but at the end of the day I’m just so proud of my team because I feel this team has a bright future.

“When you play a team like North Penn, our guys gotta see that there’s things we have to get better at. And obviously we gotta get stronger and that’s what’s great about playing in a game like this.”

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