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Bethlehem Catholic cuts down Pottsgrove in 4A playoffs

SLATINGTON >> They’ve both ridden the emotion train to successful destinations this fall.

But Friday evening, Pottsgrove’s 2016 season came to an abrupt end at Northern Lehigh High School’s Bulldog Field. The Falcons saw their entry in the PIAA Class 4A playoffs derailed by Bethlehem Catholic, 51-20.

The District 11 champion Hawks (10-3) got their fire going with 24 unanswered first-half points. Pottsgrove (8-5) got its offense untracked in the second half, but the locals saw BeCaHi match them touchdown-for-touchdown in the third quarter, then tack on a final score inside the game’s four-minute mark to finish their season one week after a comeback victory over Interboro in the District 1-AAAA title game.

“That’s how our kids are,” Hawk head coach Kyle Haas said afterward. “Football is a game of emotion.”

BeCa took the emotion, and the momentum, out of Pottsgrove in a 17-point first quarter. Capping their first possession with placekicker Antonio Tavares’ 34-yard field goal less than four minutes in, the Hawks went up by 10 points little more than two minutes later when workhorse running back Randy Terry III (17 carries, 123 yards) went 14 yards around his left end to score at the 6:27 mark.

Pottsgrove's Ryan Finn (9) and Nehemiah Collins (24) team up to force a fumble from Bethlehem Catholic's Nicholas Petros in the second quarter Friday at Northern Lehigh High School. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)

Pottsgrove’s Ryan Finn (9) and Nehemiah Collins (24) team up to force a fumble from Bethlehem Catholic’s Nicholas Petros in the second quarter Friday at Northern Lehigh High School. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Pottsgrove showed every indication of getting on the board on the subsequent possession, driving the ball to BeCa’s two-yard line. But an untimely fumble was recovered by Nicholas Petros, who sprinted back to the Falcons’ end of the field with a touchdown at the 1:28 mark. With one quarter not yet in the books, the Hawks had their domination of the night’s proceedings well in hand.

“We made turnovers,” Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker said. “The first half was 24-0, but it could have been 10-3.”

A bad snap on their first punt attempt, which set the stage for the Hawks’ first TD, and a muffed exchange on a punt attempt at the start of the second quarter added to Pottsgrove’s woes in the early going. Though their defense did force turnovers of their own — Kolby Baldwin recovering a fumble by BeCa’s Petros at the conclusion of a pass completion from quarterback Javon Clements, then intercepting Clements (8-for-10, 233 yards) — the Falcons were unable to cash in on the opportunities. BeCa, in the meantime, completed its 24-point surge with Clements hitting Karin Powell (three catches, 116 yards) on a 45-yard scoring play 20 seconds before the first half expired.

“I thought our defensive line did a heck of a job,” Haas said. “I didn’t know how they (Pottsgrove) had done, because we had no common opponents. But our kids rose to the occasion.”

The Falcons came to life little more than a minute into the second half, quarterback Ryan Finn (86 yards on 13 touches) going in from two yards out. But the Hawks put the back-and-forth scenario into play, answering with an 11-play, 89-yard march capped by Daizhun Rhodes (5-44) bursting four yards up the middle at the 7:51 mark. A roughing the kicker penalty on Pottsgrove kept the stalled-out drive alive.

“We couldn’t get the momentum,” Pennypacker said. “We scored to make it 24-6, and they came back to score.”

Pottsgrove's Rahsul Faison tries to break a tackle after a short reception. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)

Pottsgrove’s Rahsul Faison tries to break a tackle after a short reception. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Rahsul Faison, working hard for the 31 first-half yards he collected on 14 runs, finished off Pottsgrove’s next series with a six-yard spring around his left end at the 6:38 mark. Going on to finish with 125 yards on 27 tries, his longest carry was a 57-yard burst through his left tackle on the previous set, taking the ball from the ‘Grove 41 to the Hawks’ two to set the stage for the first of Finn’s two TD runs.

“What our defense did was to contain him (Faison) in the first half, giving him just three or four yards,” Haas said.

It was BeCa’s turn to answer at the offensive end, and it did so with Clements going 10 yards off-center. Finn countered with a 64-yard burst through his right tackle with 3:39 left in the third, but the euphoria was short-lived with Clements and Tavion Banks collaborating on a 32-yard scoring pass at the 2:41 mark.

The Hawks applied the capper with 3:38 left in the game, Rhodes sprinting 18 yards around his right end. From there, Pottsgrove went four-and-out, giving the ball back to BeCa on downs with 1:34 left in their season; the Hawks subsequently ran off the clock with Clements taking three knees.

“Our offense matched theirs score for score in the second half,” Haas said. “It was a good football game between two good teams.”

It was a definite “down” end for Pottsgrove to a season that had its share of ups and downs. The Falcons’ regular season was marked by them going 4-1 for a share of first place in the PAC’s Frontier Division in the first year of that alignment, falling to Perkiomen Valley in the league’s championship game, then rallying for the 27-26 overtime victory over Interboro in the 4A title game.

“I didn’t expect us to be here,” Pennypacker noted. “Our seniors like Finn and (Adam) Girafalco were awesome, great leaders. We don’t have to be one bit ashamed of what we did.”
Pottsgrove’s future looks to be just as promising with players like Faison returning.

“We have a great nucleus coming back,” Pennypacker said. “Right now, I feel bad for our nine seniors. They’re heartbroken.”

A disappointed Ephraim Hurt-Ramsey stands by the Pottsgrove football team's postgame talk after its season-ending defeat to Bethlehem Catholic Friday at Northern Lehigh High School. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)

A disappointed Ephraim Hurt-Ramsey stands by the Pottsgrove football team’s postgame talk after its season-ending defeat to Bethlehem Catholic Friday at Northern Lehigh High School. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

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